The more flesh, the more worms;
the more possessions, the more worry;
the more servants, the more thievery.
The more Torah, the more life;
the more study, the more wisdom;
the more charity, the more peace.
I have edited this particular piece of wisdom a bit more than I normally do to remove some lines that come across today as rather sexist. I think they can be explained and we could learn from those lines – but, in the end, that becomes more of a distraction than it would be worth. If you are really curious – look it up somewhere else!
The more flesh, the more worms. At the most basic level this is an observation about the body – the bigger we are when we die the more the decomposition that will take place in the grave. At a higher level there there is the corresponding thought – since these bodies of ours, of every size and color, are destined for corruption and decay – are we spending too much of our time worrying about them, pampering them, and feeding them when there are more important things to be taking care of?
This is not to suggest that we ought not to exercise, eat right etc. – only to raise the question of proportion of effort, of time, of our resources. That some people in our city, our state, and our country are hungry right now should give me pause before I eat another unnecessary donut!
The more possessions the more worry. As with the first observation – it is certainly true that the more stuff you have the more worry you have. Worry about taking care of it, worry about using it, worry about others trying to take it away from you. Possessions can make your life easier in some ways but they tend to make it harder in other ways. We all see this in action every day. A car may be necessary where you live – do you need a second one (or a third…) with the attendant insurance costs, maintenance costs, etc.? I personally knew that I had overspent on a car when I found myself getting up in the middle of the night to look out the window to make sure it was still there in the driveway!
The more servants, the more thievery. This goes back to ancient times – there were the very very rich folks – and everyone else. Those who were very rich had lots of land, lots of stuff, and lots of servants. The more servants – the more folks there were who would put this or that in their pockets, who might take their pay without doing a full day’s work etc. A variation on the same theme that the more you have, the more you have to worry about.
The more Torah, the more life. In contrast to feeding the body which is destined for corruption, feed the spirit through scripture and reach for eternal life. Hillel was NOT against the body, he was not a dualist who always set the body and the spirit in mortal opposition to one another. But in their day, as in today, we have a world around us that glorifies the body and the material world and material things to the complete neglect of the spirit. Hillel calls us all to these more important (in the long run) activities.
The more study, the more wisdom. It doesn’t come easy. It will take a lot of work to re-orient ourselves and a lot of that work is study of our religious tradition in communion with others.
The more charity, the more peace. Peace doesn’t come through amassing stuff. Peace doesn’t come from buying an estate so large that you never see or worry about people outside your gates. Peace doesn’t come from having refrigerators and freezers full of food.
Peace comes when we are fully engaged in our community and world. Peace comes when we share what we have with others who are in need. Peace comes when we know who we are – one of God’s children, just like all of these other folks.