It was the moment of truth. After thirty-four long years, the dreaded
confrontation between the brothers was about to take place. Jacob had
spent all these years in self-imposed exile to avoid Esau’s murderous
designs, and now he was coming home with his new family and wealth,
hoping that his brother’s anger had subsided. But apparently, it had not.
Esau had responded to the news of his brother’s arrival by mobilizing
his forces and marching to meet him with four hundred armed thugs.
In desperation, Jacob cries out to Hashem to save him and his
family from his vengeful brother. “I am diminished by all the kindness
and truth You have done for Your servant.” He then goes on to recounts
his rise from the sad plight of a destitute fugitive to the great prince he
What does he mean by the expression “I am diminished by all the
kindness”? The commentators explain that all his good fortune has
depleted his store of credit with Hashem, and he has little merit left to
stand him in good stead.
But if so, the question immediately arises: Isn’t he defeating his
own purpose with this argument? On the one hand, he is calling out to
Hashem for deliverance, yet on the other, he is admitting that he has no
right to make such a request.
The commentators explain that when Jacob described himself as
“diminished” he was not referring only to his credit with Hashem but also
to himself as a person. Hashem’s kindness had “diminished” him,
making him feel humble and unworthy. The sudden rise in his fortunes
could easily have gone to his head. Here he had been a ragged fugitive,
and now he had a beautiful family, many children and spectacular
wealth. He could have assumed fine airs and become arrogant and
conceited, attributing his successes to his charisma and his cleverness.
But he did not. On the contrary, the more Hashem gave him, the more
humble he became.
This then is what he was saying to Hashem. In all these years, I
have only been humbled by all You have done for me. Now, too, if You
come to my assistance and deliver me from my brother, I shall not think
for a moment that my battlefield prowess and fearsome reputation have
saved me. I will recognize that everything is a gift from You, although I
have done nothing to deserve it, and I shall become more diminished
A king sent his armies into the battlefield against his enemies. One
by one, his armies were victorious. Led by able generals, the soldiers
fought valiantly and not only defeated the enemies but also conquered
their lands. Presently, the king realized he was amassing quite an
empire, and he turned his attention to organizing his imperial
For grand vizier of the new empire, he decided to choose one of his
generals, but which one? The competition was fierce, and many
delegations appeared before the king to recommend their respective
Finally, the king chose a solid but rather undistinguished general.
“But why didn’t you choose one of the others?” asked the queen.
“Surely there are a number of generals who are far more talented than
“You are quite right,” said the king. “But you see, the grand vizier
will accumulate a lot of power over the years. The man I chose will
know that those powers came to him only because he was loyal to me,
and he will become even more loyal. But those talented generals, as
you call them, are already so full of themselves and their own
accomplishments, they will think all that power is coming to them. Next
thing you know, they’ll want my throne as well.”
In our own lives, Hashem constantly showers us with innumerable
blessings, the company of our loved ones, the roof over our heads, the
food we eat, the clothes we wear, the ground upon which we walk, the
very air we breathe. Every step we take, every sound we hear, every
fragrance we sniff, every beautiful sight we behold, all these are gifts
which we have not earned through any special merit of our own, yet
sometimes we tend to take them for granted. In fact, some people may
even be resentful that they have not received more. Such an attitude will
certainly not earn us divine good will. Only by being humble and
appreciative can we assure ourselves of a steady flow of blessings from
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.