On June 4, 1944, recognizing how easily D-Day could fail, Gen. Eisenhower prepared the following:
“Our landings…have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold… The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
As a family member or business professional, learning to accept responsibility is profoundly valuable. Learn to say, “I messed up and I accept all consequences.” The character strength needed for this is increasingly rare and we need to acquire it ourselves before we can hope to influence others.
Hebrew reveals one aspect of owning one’s actions. Referring to Leah and Rachel’s sibling relationship in Genesis 29, two words are used, GDoLah and K’TaNah, older and younger. Earlier, when Lot and his daughters flee the destruction of Sodom, we encountered two other words BeCHiRah – firstborn, and TZeiRah – younger (19:31). In chapter 19 we find a clustering of the root letters TZ-R. Lot escapes to the city of TZoaR whose name occurs six times in this chapter. The associated word TZeiRah — younger— appears four times. In just these few verses, the TZ-R root is used ten times; more than in the rest of Genesis all together. Word clustering is one of the ways that ancient Jewish wisdom unpacks Scripture’s deeper meaning.
(read from right to left)
|מ צ ר י ם||צ ר||צ ע י ר ה||צ ו ע ר|
|im ya R TZ im||R TZ||ha R ie TZ||R a o TZ|
The word root TZ-R means narrow and confined. These letters, for example, form the basis of the name miTZRayim—Egypt, Biblical nomenclature for a place that confines and restricts one. What was restricting about Lot’s city of refuge, TZoaR? A refuge from any kind of stress is by its nature somewhat confining. Anyone made homeless by financial mishap or family misfortune and who becomes dependent on others recognizes the limitations of refuge.
What is the connection with a younger child? Inevitably, being the younger is a somewhat restricting role. Younger children by definition come into a family that has been shaped by the presence of the older child. They feel their older sibling’s power advantage. Similarly, the younger or junior partner is usually at a slight disadvantage in any negotiation.
None of this implies that younger siblings or partners can’t rise above their circumstances and of course, those seeking refuge can and often do exceed those who initially have a home advantage. Many ambitious immigrants eventually outperform long-established citizens.
Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Rachel took an active role by stage-managing Leah’s marriage to Jacob. Knowing his future father-in-law to be a rogue, Jacob had pre-arranged signs by which Rachel would assure him that she, and not a substitute, was under the wedding canopy. Rather than allow her sister to be embarrassed as the subterfuge was uncovered, Rachel passed these signs on to Leah. Rachel’s compassion for her sister as well as her transcendent understanding that Leah was destined to be a matriarch in Israel, overrode her personal desire to marry the man she loved. Possessing such noble leadership qualities made it inappropriate to call her a TZeiRah.
By contrast, Lot’s younger daughter instantly agrees to her older sister’s questionable suggestion. She unhesitatingly submits to her sister rather than taking charge of her own actions. She acts as one who is limited and confined, a follower rather than an independent spirit.
We all start life as a TZ-R. We are restricted by finding ourselves born into a specific body, family, place and time. Yet, our souls can always soar. Each of us has the choice to be like Lot’s younger daughter or like Rachel. We can point to our circumstances and say, “There’s nothing I can do to improve my situation,” or we can turn our liabilities into assets and focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Accepting responsibility puts us on the path to greatness.