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by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

"I have been diminished by all of the kindness and the truth which you have done for your servant, for I crossed this Jordan [River] with my staff, and now I have become two camps." [32:11]

When things go well for a person, when he or she "gets lucky," it is considered normal for a person to be very proud of him- or herself. We all talk about the "self-made man" and how wonderful it is to be one. And, of course, it's very nice to be a "success story" -- the problem occurs when we take credit for it.

The Torah condemns anyone who says "my might and the strength of my hand have made for me all this wealth." [Deut. 8:17] Pride and haughtiness are the very opposite of what G-d wants from us. As the Talmud tells us [Sota 5a], G-d says concerning a person who becomes haughty: "he and I cannot coexist in one world."

The Sfas Emes points out that Yaakov is displaying the very opposite behavior. Many commentators translate the beginning of our verse as "I am too small" -- I have always been small, been undeserving. But Rashi says "I have been diminished," meaning "I am even smaller than I was before."

The Sfas Emes says that whenever G-d bestows His kindness upon a person, this should bring that person to greater humility, embarrassment before G-d, and recognition of one's own lowly status. How is this possible? He answers: if a person will think and understand how completely unworthy he or she is, and then look at all the great kindness which HaShem has shown him or her nonetheless, then it is easy.

Our problem is that we assume we "deserve" it. We think this is the way it is supposed to be. We forget that, as we read in the Prayers on Shabbos and holiday mornings, we cannot thank G-d even for one of the thousands and thousands of things that He does for each and every one of us.

How often do we stop and thank G-d -- for breathing?



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