When have you felt small? A few years ago I was at a Rabbinical Assembly convention where the CEO asked this question. It just so happened I’d been next to the six-foot-plus-tall Rabbi Steven Rein just minutes earlier, so I didn’t have to think too hard. And immediately after that, we were invited into a tight circle for a singing exercise, and I felt small again because of the sound that enveloped us.
When have you felt small? Take a minute to think about it.
This week’s parshah, Vayishlach, brings the twin brothers together again. The last time these two were together, Esau didn’t care much for his birthright blessing until it had been given to Jacob, and Jacob didn’t care much about his brother’s right to the blessing until his brother threatened to kill him. Now, 20 years or so later, we find the brothers on a path to meet again. Both are now married and are fathers of large clans, and have large flocks with them.
As Jacob prepares to reconnect with his brother, he again has a dream. This time he dreams in chapter 32, verse 11: “Katonti mikol hachasidim.” It’s often translated as “I am unworthy of all the kindness that you have so steadfastly shown your servant” But a literal translation would be “I am small compared to the kindness.”
In addition, the use of messengers between the brothers is a helpful reminder of the messages we might be sending to others through our actions and attitudes. Strife is often the result of one person or group of people seeing themselves as big, or bigger than others. On the other hand, when we feel small we often don’t stand up for ourselves, and we allow others to take more than their allotted space. There’s a balance between self-confidence and self-depreciation.
Preparing to go into this moment with his brother, Jacob in his dream state recognizes the need to find his own humility. It’s a valuable lesson both brothers learn. You don’t have to make someone else feel small in order to build yourself up.