Great events can arise from small differences. In “Les Miserables,” Victor Hugo writes of the battle of Waterloo: “If it had not rained on the night of the 17th and 18th of June, 1815, the future of Europe would have been changed.”
No breakthrough in 20th-century medicine was driven more by serendipity than the discovery of penicillin. The first penicillin spore was carried by a random London wind through an open window and landed in one of Alexander Fleming’s petri dishes. Fleming recognized the significance of this breeze-borne visitor, but it has been said that penicillin discovered him rather than the other way around.
When philosopher Bertrand Russell was imprisoned for pacificism, the prison warden asked him, “What do you do for a living then?” Russell answered. “I think.” “Well then,” asked the warden with some asperity, “do you think you could clean these toilets?”
The Talmud teaches that one should be “soft like a reed, and not hard like a cedar (Ta’anith 20a.). Medieval philosopher Bahya Ibn Pekuda comments on that passage, “Therefore the reed is privileged to be fashioned into a pen used for writing Torah scrolls.” It is surprising for those who think the Torah rigid and inflexible that even the implement used to shape its letters is chosen for flexibility.
The Talmud relates that God gave the Torah on Sinai because Sinai is a small mountain. It is intended to teach us humility; great things can come from unassuming places.
If this is true, asks a later sage, why not give the Torah in a valley? That would really teach humility! His answer is that for a valley to be humble is no great feat. The key is to be humble if you are a mountain. Thinking yourself worthless is not humility. To understand that you have gifts and blessings and yet remain modest is an achievement of character.