Hillel on Self-Interest and Altruism

Jacob Neusner, Invitation to Midrash: The Workings of Rabbinic Bible Interpretation (Atlanta: Scholars, 1998) 10.

Pirke Avoth is a part of the Mishnah dating to 250 C.E. It quotes Hillel (first century C.E.):

If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

This sounds like a reasonable contrast to those who talk like we should completely sacrifice ourselves. Of course we should be for ourselves, but we shouldn’t be only for ourselves. “If not now, when?” I read in a sermon that this means there’s no time like the present to do works of healing the world. That sounds like a good balance between self-interest and altruism.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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