There is something magical about first time accomplishments. Insert your own memories here. Was it a first successful tournament, business endeavor or creative accomplishment? Did you succeed because of physical strength, business acumen, or personal skills? The challenge is to reflect upon those first time achievements in a way that balances pride with humility, providing suitable inspiration for continued accomplishments.
Perhaps, in that moment of achievement you wondered if a Divine hand was there to support you. For me, wonder is code for God. Some might publicly acknowledge that a Divine intervention supports great accomplishments. Isn’t that why sports heroes and award winners often thank God in their speeches? (I know we sometimes cringe a bit when we witness excessive declarations of faith at public ceremonies). Perhaps, there’s a valuable lesson waiting if you are open to the possibility of Godliness as catalyst. Extraordinary experiences may best be understood by how we acknowledge the sacred and, in so doing, reject the profane.
Jewish tradition offers the potential for deeper significance and enrichment in the way we understand our first of a kind achievements. In the Book of Numbers opening chapters God claims the first born as sacred. Note that the Hebrew word for sacred is kadosh which means to set apart. Setting apart the first born or first fruits is a repeated theme in the sacred text.
What makes birth order so significant for God? Perhaps the text is offering a corrective device. In the ancient world, perhaps the greatest of accomplishments was the birth of a child or a new calve born. In Torah, God may be saying don’t be so self-satisfied by those first-born. The source of their lives is not you and your accomplishments are not solely in your providence. This is a transmission of Godliness, achieving our best selves through our relationship to God. The unspoken caution is if we take excessive pride in our initial achievements there is a risk that we become enamored with our own successes. The shadow side is the lust, hubris, or greed that makes our triumphs irreligious.
In other places Torah cautions against these cravings. We know that when cravings are unleashed they give rise to self-aggrandizement, excessive competitiveness, and selfish pursuit. No, Gordon Gekko, greed is not always good. The undoing of civil society comes from the power hungry for whom success is the only goal and their narcissism is unbridled. Harmful egotism is restrained when we believe that the first of our successes belongs to God.
Later in our prophetic tradition we are offered a simple directive and helpful mantra. Rather than tap into pride in your accomplishments do as the prophet Micah advised; “go humbly with your God.” Whatever your first conquests may be, acknowledge that your achievement is not solely your own.
For first time accomplishments, in life, love, or business, life is made holy when I share ownership of my successes with God. Accordingly, faith is a starting point for becoming my best self with sufficient humility and great appreciation.
R’ Evan J. Krame