Balancing Self & Other


In discussing Hillel's philosophy with our Torah Study group at Temple Rodef Shalom, I argued that it was superior to the basic philosophy in Buddhism or Christianity. That is because it sees the both my individual happiness and my obligation to help others as important goals. And it invites a problem-solving process to find different solutions for each relationship and issue, as well as to find social institutions and laws that harmonize the self and others. 


The balance between care of self and concern for others is crucial in a balanced healthy personality. Think of the flight attendant on an airplane who reminds you that you must put on your own life vest and only then help someone (a child) after that.  If you don't take care of yourself, what good will you be for helping another.


Real name
William Berkson

William Berkson replied 1 month ago

Your case that you need to look after your own health to be able to help others is undoubtedly right, but I think Hillel goes farther than that. I read that even Thomas Aquinas agrees that you should look after your own well being to be able to help others. The traditional (later) interpretations that Goldin translates avoid the issue by talking about storing up good deeds as helping you on judgment day—or in the case of Maimonides, of doing good deed when young to build your character.

But I think because Hillel puts these as questions, the more contemporary reading of permitting self assertion, of working to advance your own career and personal life, is actually one that Hillel would have approved of. After all there is precedent in Ecclesiastes, who recommends that you "enjoy life with the woman you love" and that "all excelling comes from rivalry." Certainly Hillel wants us to find actions that serve others, as well as ourselves. But looking out to have a good life for yourself it seems to me is regarded as legitimate here...