Dateline Manchester, New Hampshire, a week before the presidential primary. The setting was a CNN Town Hall meeting. The query came from Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett of Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, New Hampsire. Rabbi Spira-Savett (@TBArav) asked how Hillary Clinton balanced ego and humility in public life.
Here is his question:
Rabbi Simcha Bunim (Bonhart of Peshisch) taught that every person has to have two pockets, and in each pocket they have to carry a different note. And the note in one pocket says the universe was created for me. And in the other pocket the note says I am just dust and ashes. I want you to take a moment and think about what you would tell us about your two pockets. How do you cultivate the ego, the ego that we all know you must have — a person must have to be the leader of the free world — and also the humility to recognize that we know that you can’t be expected to be wise about all the things that the president has to be responsible for?
Clinton thought and then reflected on her difficulty of adjusting to campaigning and of being at the center of public scrutiny for most of her adult life, as the wife of a governor, as a First Lady, as a Senator, and as the former Secretary of State.
Clinton thanked the rabbi for his question and mentioned that she was a “person of faith,” and she was raised in her church and struggled with issues about ambition and humility, and service and self-gratification. She stated that she thought it’s incumbent upon each person to be as self-conscious as possible when they are in public life. She took a lesson from Jesuit Henri Nouwen, who taught that one should practice the discipline of gratitude
She added that, “… regardless of how hard the days are, how difficult the decisions are, be grateful. Be grateful for being a human being, being part of the universe. Be grateful for your limitations. Know that you have to reach out to have more people be with you, to support you, to advise you, listen to your critics, answer the questions. But at the end, be grateful. Practice the discipline of gratitude.” Later in the evening she said, “I am so fortunate that I still have my friends from grade school and every other phase of my life. And they keep me grounded, they keep me honest, they deflate my head, they deal with the universe in one pocket and the dust and ashes in the other.”
“Rabbi Jon” grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, attended Harvard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Some say that he needs help selecting neckties, but that is just a sign of humility (actually I saw nothing wrong with his blue sort of horizontal wavy sort of abstract sort of necktie.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim Bonhart of Peshischa (Poland) (1765–1827) graduated from yeshivas in Mattersdorf and Nikolsburg and was a disciple of the Magid of Kozhnitz and Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin. He was also a pharmacist. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (aka the Kotsker Rebbe) was one of his followers. I heard that he actually had more than two pockets.