The other day, my mother used a Hebrew expression I hadn't heard before:

אִם בְּאֲרָזִים נָפְלָה שַׁלְהֶבֶת מָה יַגִּידוּ אֲזוֹבֵי הַקִּיר

It apparently comes from the Talmud, and its literal meaning is roughly "If the cedars caught fire, what will the hyssops of the wall say?", but obviously its real meaning is figurative. milog.co.il explains it thus:

When the strong and the precocious are hurt or fail, one can't expect the weak and the simple to have a better fate. [translation mine, improvements welcome]

I can't think of an English analogue for this. The closest I can think of is to combine two expressions and get something like:

If even Homer nods, what hope do the rest of us have?

Is there anything closer? (Or even an English version of the same expression?)

  • Does this famous African proverb come close? When elephants fight the grass (reeds) gets hurt.
    – Lawrence
    Jun 3, 2017 at 3:14
  • Hmm... that might be a "major league problem" trying to come up with a good equivalent. Interesting question.
    – Tom22
    Jun 3, 2017 at 3:47
  • 1
    I haven't been able to nail down the precise quote, but during the Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinski scandal, I believe it was Bill Maher who made a statement, the gist of which was "If the leader of the free world can't get a little nookie, what chance do the rest of us have."
    – fixer1234
    Jun 3, 2017 at 9:59
  • Ecclesiastes 9:11 is antithetical: 'I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor ...' [NIV] Jun 3, 2017 at 10:51
  • The 'Homer nods' pairing is very good. In the Hebrew, caught fire is arson, spelled out as "If a torch fell among the cedars." The hyssops are dry weeds, instantly succumbing to fire. So Homer nods says that the greats may falter, like a saint succumbing to bribery. But it misses that he falls victim, other than to human foibles. Jun 7, 2017 at 13:44

3 Answers 3


From the Hebrew Bible and prophet Jeremiah 12:5 - it may have the same sense: "If thou hast run with footmen, and they have wearied thee, how wilt thou then contend with horses? And if in a land of peace thou thinkest thyself in security, how wilt thou then do in the swelling of the Jordan?"


In consideration of the underlying meaning of the quotations we may use the followings :

  • Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

  • The rash will undertake what the wise shrink.

  • He would bend the bows of Ulysses.


I think a more commonly used phrase would be:

Happens to the best of us!

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