Success in life is not, as is popularly claimed, who you know. Neither is it what you know. While those two are both important, success in life ultimately depends upon what you are. And by that I mean whether you are a petty, little person or whether you are a great giant of a human. Tiny little people fail, those with huge and humble hearts succeed.
What is more, a big-minded individual on the wrong track can more easily navigate a turnaround than someone small who tends to remain stuck where he is.
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that while on route from Egypt to the Promised Land, Israel encountered several nations including Amalek, Amon, and Moab.
The Amalekites, intending genocide, attacked Israel from the rear, targeting the weak and vulnerable.
Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt; how he confronted you on the way and struck at your rear, all who were weak straggling behind you, when you were faint and weary…
God’s response to the Amalekites was to declare them Israel’s permanent enemies deserving of total obliteration.
…you shall blot out all memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens, do not forget.
The Amonites and the Moabites refused to give even the basics of bread and water to the Israelites. God’s response to them was that they could never be accepted as converts to the faith of Israel.
An Amonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord… Because they did not meet you with bread and water on your way out of Egypt…
Amalek must be wiped out. However, prior to that, any individual Amalekite may convert to Judaism. Jewish history actually contains examples of this happening. In contrast, Amonites and Moabites may not be attacked, but they may not convert.
One would think that intending to commit genocide and terminating the people of Israel is a greater evil than failing at hospitality. Yet, mysteriously, Amonites and Moabites are permanently disqualified from becoming Jewish.
One clue to solving this mystery is that selfishness easily explains the actions of Amon and Moab. By ignoring the hungry Israelites they saved themselves both the trouble and cost of feeding the tired travelers. Amon and Moab gained by their meanness.
However, when Amalek attacked, they had nothing to gain. Indeed, their attack carried costs which they were quite content to bear. They were driven by ideology. An evil ideology to be sure, but they were not driven by the pettiness of Amon and Moab.
Here is a timeless truth of this story. God wants His people to grow to greatness.
In order to make sense of it all, we must understand the distinction between great and small as clearly as we understand the distinction between good and evil. There are actions which are great and good, just as there are actions which are great and evil. A soldier risking his life to save the lives of his comrades or parents selflessly devoting themselves year after year to the nurturing of their children are actions that are both great and good. Stalin was undeniably evil; he was capable of such incalculable wickedness because his personality and abilities were great.
There are actions which are small and good just as there are actions which are small and evil. Smiling rather than scowling when we are out and about is a small and good action whereas failing to remove from the sidewalk the fecal mess deposited by your dog is a small and evil act.
Amalek is great and evil whereas Amon and Moab are small and evil. Most small and petty people remain forever that way. They do small good things or small and bad things, but they are always small.
However, those of greatness, even if they use their greatness for evil, are capable of transformation. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells of a notoriously successful and ruthless robber. One day he encountered a rabbi who inspired him. His great powers that had been dedicated to evil, soon turned to good. He ended up marrying his mentor’s sister and became a great rabbi whose wisdom is taught to this day.
We can similarly transform our lives by shedding the shackles of smallness. When we stop thinking small, stop acting small, stop harboring trite jealousies and thoughts, and stop seeing ourselves as capable only of small achievement, anything becomes possible. Striving for greatness of soul and spirit opens the way to never-imagined vistas of brilliant opportunity. But the key is escaping the prison of pettiness.
Learn to give generously of both your emotional and material self. Learn to be magnanimous towards all. Ignore insults the way a high-flying jetliner ignores delinquent on the ground futilely throwing stones at it. Learn to spend your time only on pursuits that befit a great human being. Let all your speech be worthy of posterity. Learn to be great.
I realize that I have given you true and worthy advice in much the same way that I might advise an aspiring painter, “Just put down on canvas what your soul sees.” It’s not so easy. Knowing what to do doesn’t translate to being able to do. My advice is to start with speech, and I’d like to suggest using my audio CD, Perils of Profanity: You Are What Your Speak as a guide. Its scope is more than just profanity, though that is a scourge of our time, and it provides a worthy tool for enlarging your income, your social life and most of all, yourself.