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    Being little – Vayyishlach

    katontiFaced with a probably unpleasant encounter with his brother Esau, Jacob asks God to protect him.

    His prayer begins, “I am unworthy of all the love and truth which You have bestowed on me” (Gen. 32:11). Literally the Hebrew katonti means, “I am too little (for) all the love and truth…”

    The sages say that one should always regard himself as far less than his forebears and predecessors (Sotah 4a). That is why even great rabbis have always tended to write the word hakatan (“the little one”) after their names.

    Some of course might say this is a mere affectation and Shakespeare could have said, “You protest too much, methinks” (Hamlet III:2:242). It could even be suggested that continually calling yourself little or humble is a form of boasting (do you remember Uriah Heep in Dickens’ “David Copperfield”?).

    The truth is that in comparison with those who came before us we are in some respects really pygmies. Even if we are not, it is still good to wonder whether we are worthy of the privileges which previous generations bequeathed to us.

    However, that’s not where we should leave the discussion. Alexander the Great wondered whether he as a young man was worthy of the role which became his. Then he reflected, “There must still be victories which I can win”.

    We all ought to be grateful for distinguished predecessors who may have been greater than we are, but they still left us enough challenges to overcome, enough responsibilities to fulfil, enough potential to make our own mark.

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