Tzemach Tzadik by Rabbi Leone di Modena Chapter 28 Greatness


Back to chapter 27 about cowardice

Translated by Ralph Anzarouth and an anonymous friend


Greatness [of heart], which is magnanimity, always involves thinking, talking and carrying out things which are effective, exalted and noble; it also involves rejoicing and taking pleasure in benefiting and doing good to one's fellow man and sharing one's possessions [with him]. As in the words of the philosopher: "One should rejoice more in giving to others from what he has than when receiving from them. Also, one should give generously and with a good heart and repay evil with good and plenty in exchange for little".

We can compare this noble trait to the bird of prey know as the falcon, which even when it feels itself dying of hunger, it will not eat anything despicable and putrid; and it will only prey upon large birds. In this respect it is said (Exodus 35,21): "Every person who is driven by his heart etc." and (ibid. 35, 26): "All those [women] whose heart drives them with wisdom etc.". In other words, their greatness of heart raises and motivates them to do so1.

Further (Proverbs 15, 15): "The good-hearted person is always feasting". Alexander [the Great] said: "It is better to die than to live as a despised ruler".

It is related in Roman literature concerning King Pyrrhus who was an enemy of the Romans, that one of his doctors wrote to them that if they would pay him a certain amount of money, he would give their enemy poison to drink and thus kill him. However they responded to him that it would not be proper to commit such an act since it was their way to conquer their enemies by force of arms rather than by deceit and trickery. They immediately sent messages to Pyrrhus to warn him to beware of that specific doctor, since he had written to them in the above terms.

Note of the translators: [1] These passages from the Bible speak about those who volunteer their possessions and skills to the building of the Tabernacle.

The whole book Tzemach Tzadik in Hebrew (printed in Rashi characters) can be downloaded in PDF format and read online at Chapter 28 about greatness is found at pages 57-58.