So from all my times learning i've basically come to the conclusion that nobody simple becomes great in a certain way, the protagonist, if you will, is pretty much born with the gift. or inhabits that potential.

I've learned this out from the Chumash, Tanakh etc all of our forefathers, judges, prophets... etc or the ones that I've read about either started out rich, highly intelligent,or VERY mighty showing great potential etc.. so that they could have been anointed by a prophet for something great etc.. I can think of one person that became very wise from another prophet and that was Elisha, when Elijah threw his cloak onto him. but even Elisha, it seems like he came from a wealthy background.. am i wrong?

So my question is as follow, has there ever been a prophet or somebody
1. that started from absolutely nothing,
2. and showed no potential or anything of that sort that became a great person from Jewish History?

And when I say started out from scratch i mean it, from the bottom of the barrel, literally, and became great either, in wisdom, wealth, lordship, or anything that we affiliate with greatness without being a bad person in obtaining what he/they/she obtained?

Looking forward in reading the answers. Thank you.

  • 1
    Two subjects must be treated separately 1- gifts. Deduction, geometric spirit, abstraction, memory . 2 the course of the life. You perhaps already seen person less intelligent than you but who reach greater degrees. So me people at end found great capacity inthemselve. The legend of the natsiv is known. To go up every time is called to grow
    – kouty
    Nov 8, 2016 at 19:13
  • In Pri Haaretz is written that HaShem want avoda at teach level
    – kouty
    Nov 8, 2016 at 21:37
  • One of the prerequisites of prophesy is wealth -- judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/17744/…
    – Menachem
    Nov 8, 2016 at 23:00
  • Edited title to match it with content.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 9, 2016 at 0:18
  • @Menachem That's just an aggada, so presenting it as a fact is a bit misleading. If I recall, Rambam interprets it non-literally anyway.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 9, 2016 at 0:21

2 Answers 2


The answer that comes to mind immediately is Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva was one of the greatest of the tannaim but he grew up a poor, uneducated shepherd until he famously began learning Torah at the age of 40.

Another example (though perhaps not exactly what you're looking for) is King Yoshiahu. While Yoshiahu was indeed the son of a king, his parents were evil people. He managed to overcome such an upbringing and bring Judaism back to the Kingdom of Judah.

  • For Rabbi Akiva the problem was environmental
    – kouty
    Nov 8, 2016 at 19:15
  • You answered very clearly the socioeconomic sid but the cognitive side seem included in the question. Every body imagine Rabbi Akiva as a low average IQ person
    – kouty
    Nov 8, 2016 at 21:22
  • To amplify, didn't Rabbi Akiva have to start, at 40, by learning to read? Nov 8, 2016 at 22:01
  • 1
    Sources for the history of R. Akiva would improve this answer.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 9, 2016 at 0:21
  • Avot deRabbi Nathan contains a large text about Rabbi Akiva. Concerning cognitive level. Nothing show that he was not high but he was in very law pedagogical milieu
    – kouty
    Nov 9, 2016 at 3:45

King David is a shining example.

Yishai, David's father, thought that he was a mamzer, and that's why David was always in the field shepherding the flocks. (See Shmuel Alef 16:11) Yishai was embarrassed to have him in the public. Also, David had red hair, which resembled Esav's red hair. (Shmuel Alef 16:12 mentions he had red hair; look at the Hebrew!) This also embarrassed Yishai. (Both of the things are the reasons Yishai did not initially show Shmuel HaNavi David when he came to see his sons.)

But we know that King David was one of the most important personalities in the entire Tanach. He even merited having the Messiah come from his line!

I would say this was a good example of a seemingly nobody becoming someone everyone remembers and respects and regards as righteous.

Here's a Chabad article about the whole thing: David's Birth

It should be noted though that Yishai had a brilliant Yichus, and he served on the Sanhedrin during his time. The reason why David is a nothing to something is because of the reasons listed, not because of his lineage. PLEASE SEE CHABAD ARTICLE.

  • This answer would be improved with sources.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 9, 2016 at 7:33
  • @mevqesh - Added one of the sources, still hunting the others down.
    – ezra
    Nov 10, 2016 at 0:12
  • Hatslaha rabba. So far, none of the sources state anything about his lowly origins, the question of the OP.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 10, 2016 at 3:34
  • Shmuel Alef 16:11 seems to imply David was rejected by his family.
    – ezra
    Nov 10, 2016 at 3:45
  • 2
    Then put that in the answer; not just that he had red hair!
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 10, 2016 at 3:49

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