Parshas Shemos - The Nobel Prize

By BJLife/Moishy Pruzansky

Posted on 01/04/18

When Hashem instructed Moshe to be His emissary to the Jewish people, Moshe was hesitant to accept his role, as he feared that it would hurt the feelings of his brother Aharon. After all, Aharon was older, and until this point he had served as the leader of the Jewish nation. To the contrary, however, when Aharon heard that Moshe was chosen by Hashem to lead the Jewish people he greeted Moshe with genuine happiness. Regarding this, the Midrash comments that had Aharon known that the Torah would actually praise him for greeting Moshe with joy, he would have gone above and beyond and would have even greeted him with a band of musical instruments (Midrash Rus Rabbah 5:6)!

Usually, a Midrash introduces a novel concept (chiddush) or stresses an extremely crucial component in serving Hashem. However, this Midrash seems to be stating a rather simple observation in human psychology. Wouldn’t anyone go above and beyond if they knew that the Torah would praise them for doing so? Why is it important for the Midrash to point out this simple fact?

The Nobel Prize is intended to be synonymous with great achievement and is supposed to be awarded to those who have contributed significantly to the overall benefit of mankind. Have you ever wondered who founded this award and why? Born in 1833, Alfred B. Nobel was a chemist, engineer, and inventor. He amassed his fortune by selling explosives from his armament factory to the military. Among other inventions, Nobel’s most famous creation is dynamite.

What motivated this Swedish munitions manufacturer to dedicate his fortune to honoring and rewarding those who benefited humanity?

The creation of the Nobel Prize came about through a chance event. In 1888, Nobel was astonished to read his own obituary, titled "The merchant of death is dead", in a French newspaper. The obituary was a complete mistake and was eight years premature. In reality, it was Alfred's brother, Ludvig, who had died. Thus, Nobel had a rare opportunity granted to few people to read his own obituary while still alive. What he read horrified him. The newspaper described him as "a man who had made it possible to kill more people more quickly than anyone else who had ever lived". At that moment, Nobel realized two things: that this was going to be his eternal legacy, and that this was NOT how he wanted to be remembered. Shortly thereafter, he decided to create an award system that would reward anyone who made any breakthrough that would benefit mankind in the fields of Literature, Peace, Economics, Medicine and Science. He thereby succeeded in making his name synonymous with life instead of death.

In reality, this Midrash is far from a simple insight into mankind's inner workings. Rather, the Midrash is providing us with one of the most important psychological insights into self-motivation of all time! If man indeed knew and took to heart what would be said about him after his passing, he would dramatically improve the direction that he was leading his life in.

Living Inspired

While we won’t have the opportunity to know what will be said about us after we leave this world, while we are still alive, this Midrash is providing us with an important tool in achieving greatness: think about what you WANT your legacy to be. The fact that even Aharon, in some sense, would have been inspired to greet Moshe with more enthusiasm had he known that it would be recorded in the holy Torah is not an insignificant point. Rather, it is a vital lesson in self-motivation and begs us to constantly ask ourselves: what would YOU want to be said about yourself after leaving This World?

Thinking about what will be said after one’s death should motivate one to rethink how he is currently spending his life. What do you want to be known for? No eulogy ever says he dressed well, lived extravagantly, took fabulous vacations or drove an expensive car. Rather, simple acts of kindness, being a loyal friend, developing pristine inner-character, being attentive and loving to one's spouse and children, and devoting one's life to serving Hashem are the essences of a life well lived and one that we would all be proud of.

Hashem decides how long our chapter on earth is going to be; it’s up to us to make sure that every paragraph and sentence count. Immortality lies not in how long you live, but rather, in how you live. Every day is a gift from Hashem and we should use it to it's fullest - by becoming the type of person that we can be proud of. This begs the question - how does one decide on which particular goals they should be working on in order to reach greatness? Many Sages recommend the following practical exercise: picture the person that you want to be in 30 years from now. Then, dedicate your life to becoming that person.

So, take a moment each day to ponder . . . how will YOU be remembered?


Partially based on an essay by Rabbi Dov Greenberg