Grapes and Humility - Jewish view on Life

    June 1998         
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Opinion & Society

Humility and Grapes

By Eliezer Cohen

Now what on earth do grapes have to do with humility? It is certainly difficult to find a connection, don't you agree? But in Hebrew, the word for grape is "Ah-nav" and the word for a humble person is also "ah-nav." True, there is a slight difference in the spelling, so it's not the same word, but we are going to see that there is a relationship between them.

Well, you may say, big deal, in English the word pear and pair are basically pronounced the same. There is no connection between them. Why should there be a connection between the two words just because it is in Hebrew?

Now, if we understand the development of languages as a random development, that some cave men came out of thier cave and pointed to a dog and said "arf." Then this "arf" became a standard sound for a symbolic audio representation of a dog. If this is true, then you are right, there is no connection.

However, if we understand that the Hebrew language is the language that G-d used to create the world, and every word and every letter has a divine meaning, then the relationship between words can be established. According to Jewish tradition, the letters themselves descended from upper spiritual worlds and these letters solidified, creating the present physical world. Now the Hebrew word is not just a audio symbol for an object, but rather its' root and stem, from which the object is created. The letters have mystical powers and the words create worlds. Now we can understand that Hebrew words by definition, have mutual relationships.

So what is the relationship between the grape and a humble person? Simply this:

A grape is something that by itself has no importance. No one buys one grape. Grapes are bought in bunches. A humble person is a person that sees no intricate self importance to himself. His role in life is an entity of importance only when he is together in a social structure. Together, with his society, he shares his life with others.

A grape is also something that improves when it is squeezed. Can you compare the worth of a cluster of grapes to the worth of wine that was made from it. Wine is a much more valuable commodity. Only when the grape is squashed does it reveal it's true excellence. The same is true of a humble person. Only under pressure can we see the true worth of a person. How many people stumble and sway due to pressures. A truly humble person is able to come out of a difficult situation unscathed.

As way of an illustration: A Jewish folk story:

  There were several Chasidim (pious Jewish men) sitting together and they were discussing their respective marital lives. The first man said: "I and my wife get on very well. We argue on the average of only once a month."

The second man said: "Hmm, that's not so good. My wife and I only argue once every two or three months."

The third man interjected: "In my house, we rarely argue. Perhaps twice a year, never more than that! My wife and I manage to work out our differences in a manner that precludes hostilities"

Finally the last man offered his: "In my house, there is never discontentment. No one every raises their voices. It is quiet and there is never any tension . Peace reigns supreme! We never have any disagreements in our house!"

"Wow!!!" the men were truly amazed at this man's uncanny ability to live in a serene home environment. "Tell us your secret; how is it possible?"

The man smiled and said, "It's really rather simple. I'm a bachelor. I live alone."

Yes, it's no great feat to live a nice life when there is no adversity, when nothing goes against you. But then again, the real character of the person is never revealed. He lives under a protective veil. But let adversity and pressures come to him, how does he cope? Only a truly humble person will be accepting of how G-d runs the world, even when it goes against the person's desires.

So there is what to be learnt from grapes and the Hebrew language. Now all we have to do is to assimilate this message into our own personality and we will also be a more precious commodity.


from theJune 1998Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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