April 26, 2023, Israel
The rabbis speak three levels of piety: the Righteous, the Average, and the Evil, or, High, Medium and Low. We are told that one must never think of himself as Righteous, that would be presumptuous and arrogant. We are also told it is forbidden for a man to judge himself as Evil. This is strictly against our principles, one must never declare himself a "Sinner", he is not permitted to make such a judgement. Even in court one must not testify against himself or speak ill of himself. We are told we must always look at ourselves as "Medium", as "We do not know the reward for fulfillment of specific commandments" i.e., we don't know what each commandment is worth, therefore we can never do a proper tally and know where we stand in terms of God's judgement.
Just as a way of example, one may fulfill many commandments such as attending prayer service, lighting candles, reciting prayers etc. And another may do one task that outweighs all of those. The Talmud speaks of two brothers who were known to tell good jokes, they cheered people up when they were feeling down. When Yehoshua ben Levi ascended to heaven he saw them, and they were greatly honored even though in their lifetimes no one thought too highly of them. We do not know the true value of each good deed, of each commandment. Therefore, we are warned, be careful about assuming your status, it may not be what you think. It could be higher, or lower. Best to assume you are in the Middle Level.
But the rabbis tell us there is another reason as well. The one who thinks of himself as Righteous may become haughty and complacent. He may think he "has it made", he already has enough points to secure his place in heaven, so he no longer has to try very hard. On the other hand, if one declares himself a hopeless sinner, not worthy of life or redemption, he will lose hope, and he too, will no longer try to become a better person.
This lesson can be applied to Krav Maga, to self-defense. All too often we see nothing but arrogance. A fighter wins a fight, great, there are two people, one will always win. So he prances about the ring, jumping up and down like a chimpanzee and shouting "I am number 1". He will not be champion for long, for while he is celebrating, another man, younger and stronger, is hitting the bag, and training hard to take his place. All glory is fleeting, the arrogant shall be brought low.
We see some black belts, strutting around in their fancy belts and treated lower ranks as if they were somehow lesser human beings. These black belts often see themselvs as Übermenschen, superior human beings. But pride precedes a fall. Better to take the lesson of the rabbis and view ourselves as Medium, as Average, not so high that we are untouchable, and not so low that we are hopeless, but rather as a work in progress, as people striving to improve. We should see ourselves on an endless journey of self-improvement.
Best to view surveillance cameras and see real crime. Best to see how professionals are caught by surprise and pummeled, often stabbed. Best to remain humble. Put your black belt in the drawer and focus on improving your skills. Life and violence are full of unpleasant surprises. How many marriages end in horrible divorce, did the couple see that coming? How many business ventures end in bankruptcy? So how can we claim to be so smart that we know how the fight will end. Enough of those tall tales people tell over a beer, enough exaggerated tales of past glory, of fights that never really took place. Enough of thinking you are at the top, when in fact, you and I, and nearly the entire world, are in the Middle.
Stay in the Middle, admit that with all your skill you are still average, and maybe then you will have a chance to improve and be able to survive reality.
Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.
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