Hillel (born according to tradition in Babylon c. 110 BCE, died 10 CE in Jerusalem) was a Jewish religious leader, sage and scholar associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud and the founder of the House of Hillel school of tannaim.
He is popularly known as the author of the saying: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
This aphorism is a three-part admonition: first, do not expect anyone else to stand up on your behalf unless you have first learned to stand up for yourself; second, perform and share the obligation to do good deeds; and, third, postpone no duty. This heady subject arose at table this evening while dining with our friends, George and Bobbie. It wasn’t a topic I had anticipated. It most certainly highlighted the simmering philosophic bent of our hosts both of whom in their singular and respective ways embraced the cerebral elements of sharing a meal.
There was however a very practical side of this otherwise ethereal discussion; namely, George prompted me to reduce the strength of over-the-counter pain killers I am currently taking and to opt instead for not only a reduced medicinal régime but also a heightened intellectual assault. The plausibility of the proposal coincided with what I had in my own unprofessional manner lately attributed as a peculiarity in the management of my spinal and limb pains. In a word there appeared to be a direct relationship between my mental well-being and my physical well-being. The distinction was never a dramatic one between physical immobility and mental breakdown; but there was certainly a correlation between health and anxiety. George briefly illustrated the thesis by instructing that the object was not to remove the source of the anxiety but rather to accept that it exists without further absorption or qualification. So for example if you are anxious about pleasing someone, accept that you do so without punishing yourself for doing so. Like most axiomatic truths and other compelling adages, it sounds all too simple. Yet its latent relief is instantly conceivable. For my part the connection was that when I have succeeded to rise above worrisome apprehension I have coincidentally observed that my so-called medical conditions commensurately subside. George was quick to add that the prescription is not one designed to surmount an underlying severe medical condition such as a tumour; but otherwise the data seems to support the theory that many traditional ailments (especially those associated with aging) can be treated by putting one’s own mind – instead of one’s physician – in control of the disruption.
No doubt to those other than septuagenarians and octogenarians the confab is but another panacea to avoid the inevitability of growing old. Amusingly the discussion flowed from a prior assertion by me that in an effort to defeat my aches and pains I had tried everything from examinations by spinal surgeons to over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, plant-based CBDs and medicinal marijuana, all without apparent success. Undertaking this further non-invasive and non-drugged remedy was at least worth the try – not to mention the predictable improvement of my kidney and liver conditions.
I would be remiss not to remark upon the delightful meal. It was unquestionably healthful from start to finish – a collection of many different vegetables, an exotic rice dish, wholesome cheese, bread and butter, simple but delicious fish and fresh fruit. Afterwards there was strong black coffee (exactly the way I like it) and shortbread – oh my! The little dog Annie was a sweetheart, always well-behaved and a positive stimulus in what was already an uplifting evening in the country!