1. Small Jacob
Jacob offers an impassioned prayer to G-d to save him from the hands of his brother Esau. He doesn’t come to G-d with a demand that He keep his promise to him. On the contrary, Jacob begins with a declaration – “I have become small!” He humbly asks G-d to save him and his family (Source 1).
2. Does The World Belong to the Young?
The Talmud quotes a saying to the effect of “When we were young we received the respect of elders, and now, when we are adults, we are considered like children.” The Talmud finds a source for this in the Torah (Source 2). When the Jewish people were “young”, G-d Himself went before them (Source 3), and when they grew up – after receiving the Torah, He sent an angel with them (Source 4). The Rebbe points out that there are scenarios where one has to be a “child” in order to receive “greatness.” The Tzemach Tzedek explains that this is the meaning of the verse, “for when Israel was young, I loved him.” Precisely because the Jewish people are “young,” this is why G-d loves them so much. Later, he cites a Midrash that illustrates this in detail (Source 5).
3. The Power of Humility
Haughtiness pushes away the Divine presence (Source 6). When a person behaves with haughtiness, G-d cannot “dwell” together with him (a story sbout Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel from Apta addresses this point). By contrast, when a person behaves with humility, the divine presence rests upon him.
4. The Advantage of Being Small
Greatness in Torah and mitzvot also brings with it self-importance. Smallness and lack of achievements also allow for self-nullification, and this is a tool for revealing the divine presence (Source 7). There are different degrees of self-nullification, Moses: Essential self-nullification, Abraham: Self-nullification like ashes – the category of the inanimate (domem), and King David: Self-nullification like a worm – the category of living creatures (chai). But even simple people can attain the virtue of self-nullification – and precisely because of their smallness and lowliness.
5. Humility and the Law
Self-nullification – “My soul is like dust,” assists in Torah study – “Open my heart in your Torah.” Indeed, we saw this with regard to Beit Hillel, when a heavenly voice exclaimed that Beit Hillel merited that the halacha was established like them because of their humility and self-nullification (Source 8).
6. Humility in Prayer – Optional Section
In the Amidah prayer, we speak directly to G-d, and we must therefore be in a state of complete self-nullification. For a “great” person, full of achievements, wisdom, etc, it is much harder to reach self-nullification. Such a person has to work very hard for this. It is much easier for a “small” (i.e. simple) person to reach a state of self-nullification.