The Talmud states that when Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai met someone in the street, he always initiated the greeting, and that never, in his entire lifetime, did he ever wait to be greeted first.
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai is one of the most outstanding personalities in Jewish history. After Jerusalem fell to the Romans, in 70 C.E., he served as both the political and religious leader of the Jewish nation for forty years. He is singlehandedly responsible for the survival of Israel during that difficult era.
When this great leader walked down the street, he undoubtedly engaged in important conversation with his colleagues and disciples on the vital issues of the day. We certainly could understand that he could not interrupt such weighty discussions to respond to people who greeted him, let alone to initiate greetings to others.
Still, the Talmud states that regardless of his preoccupation with the leadership of Israel, this great personality never waited to be greeted first, and not even the importance of his position could cause him to expect recognition from others.
The great Hillel prophesied about Rabbi Yochanan that he would be "a father of wisdom and a father to many generations." Rabbi Yochanan was a leader who followed in the footsteps of Moses, whose humility also paralleled his greatness."