At the festival of water-drawing, Simchat Bet HaSho’evah, one of the Sukkot celebrations in ancient days, Hillel is reported as saying, Im ani kan hakkol kan – “If I am here, everyone is here!” (Sukk. 53a).
Isn’t it strange to hear such an egotistical statement from a man whom we believe to be humble and modest?
If you take the statement in isolation it links up with his saying in Pir’kei Avot, Im ein ani li mi li – “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” (Avot 1:14).
The implication seems to be, “I can’t always worry about other people: I have enough to do to worry about myself”.
However, it is possible that the Ani he is talking about is not himself but God.
There are times when Ani refers to the Almighty, so what Hillel might be saying is, “If Ani is here, what more can one want?”
The water-drawing was a physical event involving physical people and physical things like water jugs and buckets. But such was the exhilaration of the moment that it was a foretaste of the Chassidic ecstasy in the presence of God, when no-one and nothing else really existed.
Without God, however, the event would fall flat because it would become pedestrian and humdrum.