Act; Don’t ReAct

From one of my favorite animal books, the astoundingly illustrated book, Journey to the Ants, I learned an important principle of how the world really works.  “If an animal is beautifully colored and acts with relative indifference to your presence it is probably poisonous or well armored.”

An example of this principle is the South American poison arrow frog.  Touching its dazzling colored skin can easily kill a human being.  The local natives use the toxin on their arrows.  No wonder these pretty little frogs make no attempt to hop away when approached; they just sit there.

We all know people who ooze fascination but who never take the initiative to connect; they just sit there.  Furthermore, reaching out to them often yields toxic results.  In general, people who fail to connect with others have absorbed a toxin.  They have been infected with either arrogance (I am too important to associate with you) or fear (you might spurn me).

Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes how God wants us all to initiate connection.  Be first to greet others regardless of the ever present risk of rejection.  Convert strangers into friends by introducing yourself rather than waiting for someone else to perform introductions.  In this area of life, as in all others, God wants His children to drive their lives rather than be driven.  He prefers for us to be proactive rather than reactive.  This is exactly how most parents try to teach their own children to behave.

Jacob, the third founding father of Judaism, practiced being proactive.  He was no victim of circumstance and seldom waited for a solution to materialize from somewhere else.

Notice the curious pattern occurring in these four verses:

 And Pharaoh said to Joseph…tell your brothers to return home…and take wagons from Egypt …and bring your father…

(Genesis 45:17-19)


…and they [Joseph’s brothers] came to Jacob their father…and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him his spirit revived…
(Genesis 45:25-27)


And Jacob embarked on his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba…

(Genesis 46:1)


And Jacob departed Beersheba and the sons of Israel transported Jacob their father…in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent…

(Genesis 46:5)

Clearly, Jacob did the first part of his journey, from Hebron where he was living south to Beersheba on foot.  From Beersheba onwards to Egypt he travelled on one of the wagons Pharaoh had sent.

Jacob wanted to launch this phase of his life with a proactive and willful action of his body, namely walking, rather than as a passive passenger on a wagon.

In so doing, Jacob was acting consistently with how he lived his entire life, acting willfully and seizing the initiative rather than awaiting developments.

When it looked as if his father was going to deliver the Abrahamitic blessing to Esau, he acceded to his mother’s request, disguising himself as his older brother and commandeering the blessing. (Genesis 27)  He could have waited to see if his father would have another blessing for him, but he didn’t.

When he arrived at the well it was blocked by a stone. The gathered shepherds were awaiting developments.  Jacob simply rolled the large stone away and uncovered the well.  (Genesis 29:10)

When Jacob saw the beautiful Rachel, he didn’t covertly ogle her while awaiting developments. Neither did he surreptitiously appoint a ‘wingman’ to approach her on his behalf.  Seizing the initiative, he planted a kiss on her. (Genesis 29:11) This is admittedly surprising behavior for someone we think of as a quiet saintly sort of guy, and there is a deeper meaning to the Hebrew text, but the straightforward meaning of the text still stands.  Being saintly does not mean reacting to life.  It means seizing life with both hands and acting.

This is one of the reasons that Solomon advises all of us with slight tendencies to laziness, to learn from the ant (Proverbs 6:6).  As Bert Holldobler and Edward Wilson abundantly demonstrate in their magnificent ant book, ants never sit around waiting for developments.

And neither should you.  Whether it concerns a personal relationship that needs initiating (although I’d recommend caution with that impulsive kiss idea) or a business action that awaits, be proactive and seize the initiative.

There’s another area in which I ask you to seize the initiative rather than wait. We have just released the third in our series of video DVDs.  Like its two predecessors it contains four shows that aired on the TCT television network. The format allows us to delve more deeply and conversationally into ideas that spring from ancient Jewish wisdom. This newest volume explores the power of blessings, why the word obey doesn’t appear in the Bible, what the brothers and Joseph really said to each other and even includes a rare disagreement between Susan and me. Get volume three by itself or purchase all three volumes at a discount.



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