We read in Parashat Vayechi the famous story of Yaakov’s blessings to Yosef’s sons, Efrayim and Menashe, which he conferred with his hands placed on their heads. The Torah tells that Yaakov intentionally placed his right hand on the head of the younger brother, Efrayim, to symbolize the fact that Efrayim would produce a larger and most prominent tribe than Menashe.
In describing this incident, the Torah relates that Yaakov placed his hand upon the head of Efrayim “ve-hu ha-tza’ir” – who was the younger of the two sons (48:14). The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 6:4) explains the word “ha-tza’ir” in this verse to mean “she-hitz’ir et asakav,” which literally means, “he made his affairs small.” According to the Midrash, it was because Efrayim followed this practice, of “making his affairs small,” that he produced a large and powerful tribe.
The expression “she-hitz’ir et asakav” is generally understood to mean that Efrayim viewed his accomplishments as “small.” Rather than pride himself for his achievements, he regarded them as “tza’ir,” always expecting more of himself and feeling that he could do things even better. And for this reason Efrayim earned a uniquely prominent stature among the tribes of Israel.
If we feel too proud of our accomplishments, we are likely to begin feeling complacent and allow ourselves to underachieve henceforth, figuring that we’ve already reached impressive achievements. Chazal here teach us that the proper attitude to have towards our achievements is “tza’ir” – to acknowledge what we’ve achieved, but to keep it in perspective, recognizing that we always have room for improvement and can always do more. This way, our achievements will serve us as stepping stones leading us to even greater accomplishments, rather than diminishing from our ambition and drive for greatness in the future.