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An article donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys

Small Men and FEAR!

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Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, FL. He is also the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics. He writes articles for the Religion News website under the title of "Martini Judaism." 1

His article  on 2019-JAN-09, was titled "What was the president really saying last night?" Rabbi Salkin discussed the President's ten minute Address to the Nation from the Oval Office about U.S. border security with Mexico and his proposed WALL! 2

Rabbi Salkin pointed out the main theme for Trump's message "was fear. Fear of ‘them’. Fear of being overrun. Fear of crime."

He pointed out that "The Talmud (Shabbat 77b) tells us there are four kinds of fear (eimah), in which the strong fears the weak:"

Later in his article he says:

"Frankly, I don’t see those fears falling into any Talmudic category of fears."

I thought: wait a minute. Surely I, an Atheist, am not understanding something that this learned Rabbi missed? The Talmud is spot on! What are the fears the Talmud mentioned?

  1. When the scorpion fears the spider;
  2. When the elephant fears the mosquito;
  3. When the eagle fears the swallow; and
  4. When the lion fears the gnat.

The scorpion is well armed and carries his armament high for all to see as a warning" "Fear me I have a powerful weapon here." The tiny spider has no obvious weapon, and appears to all onlookers as innocuous -- something to be stepped on and crushed -- nothing to be feared. Yet, some spiders are poisonous and carry a powerful punch.

For the elephant and the lion -- the BIGGEST animal on land and the KING of the jungle: Those pesky mosquitoes  and gnats are constantly buzzing around and annoying them with their constant whines and getting into places where they have no business/right to be. They are calling for justice, fair treatment, honest dealings, equal opportunities, and respect.

And the swallow and the eagle? Perhaps it the swallow is only seeking shelter. Rabbi Salkin offers an explanation from Rashi, an eleventh century commentator on the Talmud. The sparrow/swallow creeps underneath the wings of the eagle and hinders it from spreading its wings. This prevents it from flying.

The lesson is pretty clear: Those that appear to be small and weak or innocuous can carry a powerful punch. They are to be feared by those that think their size or weapons or position or special privilege give them an advantage or rights the others don’t have or deserve.

I was struck by how different religious traditions came up with -- and pass on -- similar concepts in their teachings. Wisdom is cross cultural!

  • In the Bible we hear that:
    • Matthew 5:5: "The meek shall inherit the earth"

    • Matthew 19:30: "First shall be last and the last shall be first."

  • In the Tao teh Ching:
    • #78 we read "Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water; But, for attacking the hard and the strong, there is nothing like it."

    • #36 has a similar concept: "Herein is the subtle wisdom of life: The soft and weak overcomes the hard and strong." 3

  • In the teachings of Yoga and the Martial Arts we learn that true strength and power and confidence comes from self-control, self-discipline, self-respect. It does NOT come from shows of brute force, or accumulations and use of great weapons.

  • In the Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise by Sun Tzu, we are told to never underestimate the strength, power, or wisdom of an enemy. 4

  • Among American folk sayings we have " He is all bluster and no muster," and "He talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk."
  • In the Analects of Confucius, the sayings are worded differently but the general sentiment is similar: Those with less have more:
    • Book VII #15 "The Master said, "He who seeks only coarse food to eat, water to drink and bent arm for pillow, will without looking for it find happiness to boot."
    • Book IX # 28 reminds us that appearances can be deceptive: "The Master said, he that is really Good can never be unhappy. He that is really wise can never be perplexed. He that is really brave is never afraid." 5

Those that are truly brave would have nothing to fear from poor migrants seeking shelter under the wings of our great nation!

Bullies -- small minded and shrunken-hearted men AND women -- seek others that they think are smaller and weaker than they are. The bullies seek to demean, belittle, denigrate, demonize in order to make themselves feel BIG. They manipulate and use people’s fears and weaknesses -- again in order to make themselves feel BIG and STRONG. Some small people even manufacture a crisis to make themselves feel tough and powerful.

Confucius has a lot more to say about "Small Men"!

  • Book VII #36: "The Master said, A true gentleman is calm and at ease; the Small Man is fretful and ill at ease."

  • Book XII #16: "The Master said, The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others; he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse of this."

  • Book XIV #24: " The Master said, The gentleman can influence those who are above him, the small man can only influence those who are below him."

  • Book XV #20: "The Master said, The demands that a gentleman makes are upon himself; those that a small man makes are upon others."

  • Book XV #33: "The Master said, It is wrong for a gentleman to have knowledge of menial matters and proper that he should be entrusted with great responsibilities. It is wrong for a small man to be entrusted with great responsibilities, but proper that he should have a knowledge of menial matters."

  • Book XVI # 8: "Master K’ung said, There are three things that a gentleman fears: he fears the will of Heaven, he fears great men, he fears the words of the Divine Sages. The small man does not know the will of Heaven and so does not fear it. He treats great men with contempt, and scoffs at the words of the Divine Sages."

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Even Greek Philosophers have words of wisdom for us. In Epictetus' "The Art of Living," he says:

"Things themselves don’t hurt or hinder us. Nor do other people. How we view these things is another matter. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble."

Among our "attitudes and reactions" are our fears.

He also says:

"It’s much better to die of hunger unhindered by grief and fear then to live affluently beset with worry, dread, suspicion, and unchecked desire." 6

And more:

  • "Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself  by unwillingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others."

  • Talmudic scholars, The Writers of the Bible, Chinese Sages, American folk wisdom and Greek Philosophers have much to teach us for those that have ears to hear and eyes to see and an open heart and mind to comprehend.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Author - Jeffrey Salkin," Religion News Service, 2018, at:
  2. Jeffrey Salkin, "What was the president really saying last night?," Religion News Service, 2019-JAN-09, at:

  3. book cover Lao Tzu, "Tao Te Ching," Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

  4. book cover Sun Tzu, "The Art of War," translated by Stephen F. Kaufman. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

  5. book cover "The Analects of Confucius," translated and annotated by James Legge. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

  6. book cover Epictetus, "The Art of Living," translated by Sharon Lebell. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
Originally posted on: 2019-JAN-15

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