“He [Hillel] used to say, if I am not for me who is for me, if I am for myself what am I, and if not now when.”
Hillel begins by saying no one other than myself can “be for me.” The idea, as many of the commentators (Maimonides, Rabbeinu Yonah) understand, is simple. The inspiration required to face life cannot come from without. No one else can turn us on, can give us the zeal to live up to life’s challenges. Our teachers, parents and rabbis may momentarily startle us into proper behavior — maybe a midterm will force us to study Torah — but it will be transient. The only way to truly accomplish in life and achieve our goals is to feel that sense of excitement and fulfillment about growing into life’s challenges. We must know what our goals are, and *we* must want to realize them.