Words of Torah: Jacob Feels Small

Most of the time we are blind to the grandeur, unaware of the mystery, dumb to the glory which has no words. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel talks about other moments, moments of “unmitigated concern,” instances when we “suspend all life-stifling trivialities” and allow ourselves to wonder (God in Search of Man).

Jacob had a moment like that. Terror and anxiety gave way to relief and peace. In the quiet after the tempest, the sky unusually deep and meaningful, he had a revelation.

qatōnti mikol hachasadim, קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים, “I am small from all the lovingkindnesses,” he said in Genesis 32:10. Like a man standing with enormous clouds behind him, Jacob saw himself realistically against the boundlessness of infinity.

hebrew, genesis 32:10

This phrase demonstrates an idiom in Hebrew, using “from” as a comparative word. “Small from all the lovingkindnesses” means compared to them. The enormity that spoke to Jacob was something specific, not just largeness as an existential reality, but the greatness of divine love.

Thinking psychologically, we learn from this episode how relative our view of life really is. Just before this revelation that came to Jacob, he could see only what he feared. The calm after crisis widened his perspective. His life had actually been filled with good things. The universe was not out to get him. The universe’s ruler was out to bless him.

“I am small compared to all your lovingkindnesses,” could be a prayer worth saying. It could enlarge our spiritual horizon.

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