In a place where there are no people, strive to be a man. Rabbi Hillel Pirke Avot 2:6B
No People – Hillel’s saying is not an endorsement of the monastic life. He is not suggesting that we strive to become truly human in the wilderness. What Hillel means is this: there are plenty of communities where human beings exist but are not really persons. They live according to the impetus of their desires. They are subject to the winds of circumstance. They survive – but they do not thrive as partners in God’s restoration of the world. They are not truly human beings as God intended. They are missing the joy of being. In those places (and they are all around us), strive to be what God intended persons to be – fully human, the bridge between heaven and earth.
Does this mean your focus is concentrated on the spiritual appetites? Are you to be in constant meditation, memorizing your Bible, saying your prayers, walking with your hands lifted up to heaven? No. The rabbis realized that involvement in community, compassion for others and a deep sense of awe are the supreme characteristics of truly human existence. As followers of Yeshua HaMashiach, we don’t have to look any further than His story to see just how much these three elements impact the lives of those in His presence. We are called to be the same kind of engaged person, wherever we happen to be. Hillel exhorted his talmidim to strive to become men of God. Yeshua invites us to come after Him. The result is nearly the same.
Berkson notes, “When you maintain concern for the people you work with and for the community, and try to serve their needs, you build the kind of relationships that benefit you in the long run.” Being truly human not only blessed others; it benefits you as well. Wasn’t God clever to design it that way?
There is a significant leadership principle implied in this rabbinic statement – and in the parallel statements of Yeshua. Leaders who strive to be truly human will achieve that goal only insofar as they serve those around them. A leader is not the head of the pack because he is out front. He is only out front because others are willing to follow. One must be invited to be a leader. That occurs when the talmidim recognize the benefits of being followers. A leader who is not serving his followers is soon standing alone.
Yeshua never compels anyone to follow. His approach is always an invitation, an appeal to the benefits derived by the relationship with Him. Yeshua does not shy away from the self-interest of those who would come after Him. He knows that there are no followers unless there is perceived benefit. And He is more than willing to give benefits. Perhaps we would make a much greater impact on the community if we simply realized that being God’s man or woman means benefitting those nearby. If we are going to strive to make a difference, it will begin by asking, “How can I serve you today?”
Topical Index: Pirke Avot 2:6B, Hillel, human being, community, serve, leader
 William Berkson, Pirke Avot, p. 70.