Tag Archives: Arrogance

The Non-sense of Arrogance

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Last Shabbat, while looking at the roofs of the neighboring apartment buildings (we live on the 6th floor), my husband and I noticed a group of pigeons drinking from a puddle of water on one of the roofs. A few minutes later, the calm was disturbed when a bigger bird, very likely a crow, showed up. It “crowed” (how much more apt can this word get?) in its usual loudness while it used its wide wings to shoo the pigeons away from the puddle. And so the pigeons did. But before the crow started to actually drink the water, it strutted its body first, head held high, looked to the left and then to right. My husband then commented: “See that gaavah [arrogance]? It has no sechel [sense].”

The rooftop where the pigeons usually go for a drink

The rooftop where the pigeons usually go for a drink. (The crow was not in sight during the taking of this picture.)

The Gemara (Eruvin 100b) teaches that some character traits can be learned from animals just by observing them such as diligence and honesty from ants, modesty from cats, chastity from doves, etc. In the case of our story above, we learn that the crow and many other types of animals are arrogant. Since it is in their nature to have these tendencies, we say that anything that animals do is without sechel. When we refer to sechel here, we do not just mean “common sense” in its simplest context since as was previously presented, animals do have some kind of sense. Thus, having sechel, especially when associated with human behavior, always involves acts and decisions done with wisdom.

According to the Torah, one of the most (if not the most) despicable and non-sense of all behaviors is arrogance for it ultimately leads a person to forget his Creator (Orchot Tzaddikim). Therefore, we are warned that “the abomination of Hashem are all who are proud of heart” (Proverbs 16:5) and that “one with haughty eyes and an expansive heart – him, I [Hashem] cannot bear” (Psalms 101:5).  On the other hand, the value that the Torah exalts the most is humility. The greatest of all Jewish prophets was positively described with only one thing: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).

We might think, it is so obvious why we see in the crow how non-sense its arrogance is. It did not do anything worthy of pride. It was born bigger than the pigeons so what is there to be proud about? Yes, so obvious yet, we see this kind of arrogance all too often in rich and intelligent people. But from this argument, we are also practically saying that it is all right to be arrogant as long as we did something worthy of it. For example, a persevering businessman who had his years of hard work rewarded with wealth; or maybe a studious scholar who after almost a lifetime of toiling in learning finally received honor from his peers for his extensive knowledge. Is there really sechel to warrant arrogance in these cases?

The Torah’s answer is of course no. As the Igeret HaRamban [Letter of the Ramban {Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman}] summarizes it:

For Indeed, of what should man be prideful? If he has wealth – it is Hashem who makes one prosperous. And if honor – does honor not belong to G-d? As it is written: “Wealth and honor come from You” (I Chronicles 29:12) – and how can one glorify himself with the honor of his Maker? If he takes pride in wisdom – let him understand that G-d may remove the speech of the most competent and take away the wisdom of the aged (Job 12:20). Thus, all men are equal before their Creator. In His fury, He casts down the lofty; in His goodwill, He elevates the downtrodden. Therefore, humble yourself so Hashem may lift you.

Then, there is the most despised type of arrogance: the one that takes pride in his religiosity or spirituality. This is the kind that most religious people are guilty of in varying degrees. This is the person who feels superior for dedicating his life to serving G-d, observing the mitzvot [Torah commandments], learning His Torah, etc. There is nothing more non-sensical than this type. Rabbeinu Avraham retells a story told by his father, the Rambam [Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon]: “He [Rambam]  heard that, on the night of Yom Kippur, an observant man declared, ‘I don’t know for what sin I should repent.’ My father remarked, ‘What an unfortunate man! If he would only know what he should, he would repent even for thinking he has no sin for which to repent’” (Hamaspik L’ovdei Hashem). We see here that ignorance regarding the truth about one’s self is the main reason a person is haughty when it comes to religious matters. And what is ignorance but a lack of sechel? That is why among the most righteous of individuals, humility is paramount and the most desired by G-d. In the Gemara (Chullin 89a), quoted in Mesillat Yesharim, it states:

[With reference to the verse] ‘Not because you are more numerous than all the nations did Hashem desire you’ (Deuteronomy 7:7), the Holy One Blessed be He said to them [to Israel]: My sons, I desire you, for even when I imbue you with greatness you diminish yourselves before Me. I bestowed greatness upon Abraham; he said, ‘And I am dust and ashes’ (Genesis 18:27). I bestowed greatness upon Moses and Aaron; they said, ‘And what are we’ (Exodus 16:7). I bestowed greatness upon David; he said, ‘But I am a worm and not a man’ (Psalms 22:7).

After everything that has been said, it is now understandably clear why arrogance is a complete non-sense. Wisdom begins when we learn that the more we know, the better we realize how much more there is to know, making all that we already know insignificant compared to what we are obligated to know.

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