Bob Schwartz

Tag: Hillel

Hillel on Buddhism

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?
Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers 1:14

Hillel didn’t know the Buddha and probably didn’t know those who followed the Buddha’s philosophy. Jesus didn’t know Hillel, but knew people who knew Hillel or who followed Hillel’s philosophy.

This is one of the most famous of all Hillel’s wise sayings, and contains the essence of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and all religions aimed at assisting human evolution.

One of the seeming divisions in Buddhist thought—a division in the thought of most religions—is whether the primary mission is individualistic or communitarian. Should I be enlightened first so that I can help others be enlightened? Should I be saved first and go the heaven first so that I can help others get there? Or should I work on the community first, and then I might achieve that aspirational state and status.

Or both at the same time? Yes, both at the same time.

Hillel could not be more Buddhist if he was in India, China or Japan rather than Palestine.

It’s not just a matter of one making the other possible. These are not just dependent conditions. Your enlightenment does not exist without the enlightenment of others. Your well-being does not exist without the well-being of others. Simultaneously.

We see those who proudly parade their faith around yet, aside from aggressive proselytizing, leave others to fend for themselves. It is as if they stopped at the first Hillel question and felt justified making it all about themselves. When they skip the second question—“If I am only for myself, who am I?”—the possibility of their enlightenment, salvation, heaven, or whatever prize they seek is a delusion, as distant as the diameter of the universe.

Matzo: Dealing with Eating the Bread of Affliction

Organic Spelt Matzo

Matzo is referred to as “the bread of affliction,” symbolizing the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, who didn’t have time to allow the bread to rise as they fled through the wilderness. Talk about flatbread, this is the ultimate.

If you are observing the Passover and avoiding bread for the next week, or even if you’re not, some thoughts about eating matzo.

  1. Put away the toaster. Save the counter space. You won’t need it for bread. And you can’t toast matzo. Even if you could, it would slip through the slot.
  1. Make matzo brei for breakfast. Matzo brei is kind of a cross between pancakes and French toast, made by soaking matzo in water, mixing it with eggs, and cooking it in a frying pan. Delicious all year round. You don’t have to Jewish and it doesn’t have to be Passover.
  1. Try all the varieties of matzo, or at least the ones that don’t seem a little extreme (Organic Spelt, I’m looking at you). Once upon a time there was only plain matzo, just like there used to be plain white bread. Now everything is mixed in: Egg, Yolk-Free, Egg and Onion, Spelt, Mediterranean, Whole Wheat, Garlic and Rosemary, and Everything (which actually doesn’t have everything, just garlic, onion and poppy seeds. Go figure.)
  1. Don’t try to make sandwiches. At the seder, the tradition is to eat a tiny sandwich of horseradish and haroset (a sweet paste representing the mortar of the building the Jews slaved on) between two pieces of matzo. The great sage Hillel supposedly created this sandwich, and his name is attached to it. Even this tiny sandwich throws matzo crumbs all over the place. A full-size matzo sandwich is not a good idea. No matter how wise Hillel was.

Happy Passover.