by Rabbi Dov Greenberg

How and why a man changed his life after reading his own obituary…

The world’s most famous set of awards are the Nobel Prizes. Presented for outstanding achievement in literature, peace, economics, medicine and the sciences, they were created a century ago by Alfred B. Nobel (1833-1896), a man who amassed his fortune by producing explosives; among other things, Nobel invented dynamite.


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

The creation of the Nobel Prizes came about through a chance event. When Nobel’s brother died, a newspaper ran a long obituary of Alfred Nobel, believing that it was he who had passed away. Thus, Nobel had an opportunity granted few people: to read his obituary while 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 how he was going to be remembered, and that this was not how he wanted to be remembered.

Shortly thereafter, he established the awards. Today, because of his doing so, everyone is familiar with the Nobel Prize, while relatively few people know how Nobel made his fortune.

Shakespeare’s Mark Antony was wrong: the good we do lives after us. For most of us, it is the most important thing that we leave behind.

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