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Run From Honor

Parshah Halacha – Parshat Vayikra/Parshat Zachor

The Dangers of Arrogance and the Virtues of Humility

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The Torah portion of Vayikra begins[1] by recounting how G-d called Moshe and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting (the Mishkan). The Midrash explains[2] that G-d called Moshe because, being humble, Moshe thought that since the Mishkan was completed, his job as the main prophet of the Jewish people was over and that it might be time for someone else to take over. As such, Moshe stood off to the side. G-d therefore called him and instructed him to enter the Mishkan and continue receiving the mitzvot on behalf of the Jewish people.
 
This relates to the verse,[3] “A man’s haughtiness will humble him, but one of humble spirit will merit to honor.” Ultimately, it is the humble people who shun honor, who will receive it. While the haughty people who seek honor will end up being humbled. To illustrate this, the Midrash contrasts the life stories of two humble people versus two haughty ones.
 
Moshe, the Reluctant Leader
When Moshe was first selected by G-d to redeem the Jewish people, he argued with G-d for seven days as he didn’t feel worthy of the position.[4]Even after he accepted it, whenever he completed a job, he assumed that his mission was over and that G-d would find someone else to carry on as the leader. In the end, he remained the leader and achieved the spiritual level described by King David in the Psalms,[5] “You have made him slightly less than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and majesty.”
 
King Saul – Hiding in the Cloak Room
King Saul, too, was very reluctant to take the position of leader. In fact, the Book of Shmuel recounts how, when Shmuel, the prophet, was advising the Jewish people to choose Saul as their king, Saul was hiding among the keilim (baggage).[6] The Midrash explains that when they first offered him to become their king he refused, saying he was unworthy. He would only acquiesce if the Urim VeTumim (breastplate) would single him out. Thus, he was “hiding” (i.e., waiting) for (the results of) the “keilim” (the utensils, i.e., the Urim VeTumim). In fact, it was this very humility that made him worthy of being the king, as the verse says,[7] “And Samuel said to all the people, ‘Have you seen (the one) whom the L-rd has chosen, for there is none like him among all the people?’”
 
Avimelech, the Unworthy Judge
Among the leaders of the Jewish people in the era of the Judges (Shoftim), there was one wicked leader. His name was Avimelech, son of Yiftach. He was the only leader who forced his way into leadership while the others were approached by the Jewish people who begged them to accept their role. The verse tells of his wickedness:[8] “And he went to his father’s house, to Ophrah, and killed his brothers, the sons of Yeruba’al (Yiftach), seventy men upon one stone.” The result of this terrible violence and lust for power was that Avimelech’s compatriots conspired against him, as the verse says,[9]“And G-d sent an evil spirit (i.e., a spirit of hatred) between Avimelech and the inhabitants of Shechem (who were his original co-conspirators). And the inhabitants of Shechem betrayed Avimelech.” In the end he died an ignominious death when a woman threw down a millstone on him as he was laying siege to a tower. Rather than having it said that he was killed by a woman, Avimelech asked his arms bearer to finish him of with his sword.[10] This was his punishment for murdering 70 of his brothers.
 
Yeravam, Scholar turned Idolater
Another person who was destroyed by his own arrogance and desire for honor was Yeravam, son of Nevat, the first king of the Ten Tribes (After Shlomo HaMelech, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, the Northern kingdom, consisting of ten tribes and the Southern kingdom consisting of Judah and Benjamin). According to our sages, Yeravam was originally a righteous and learned scholar. He is given credit for putting himself in personal danger to rebuke King Solomon.[11] The verse alludes to his being one of the most elite Torah scholars of his generation, as it says, “Two of them were alone in the field,”[12] referring to Yeravam and the prophet Achiyah HaShilono. The Talmud[13] interprets this verse to mean that all the other scholars were like grass while they were like the Cedars of Lebanon.[14] 
 
Despite his high spiritual stature, once the prophet appointed Yeravam as a future king and he established the northern 10 tribes as a separate kingdom, Yeravam turned against G-d. As it says,[15] “The king… made two golden calves, and he said to (the people), saying, ‘It is far for you to go up to Jerusalem; here are your gods, O Israel, that have brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ And he placed one in Beth El, and the other he placed in Dan… And he made the house of high places (i.e., houses of altars), and he made priests of some of the people who were not of the sons of Levi… And Yeravam made a festival in the eighth month (Cheshvan) on the fifteenth day of the month like the festival which was in Judah (i.e., Sukkot).”
 
What prompted Yeravam’s extreme turnaround? The Talmud[16] explains that it was all a matter of arrogance. The verse says,[17] “And Yehoravam said in his heart: ‘Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the House of the L-rd in Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again to their lord, to Rechavam, king of Judea, and they shall kill me and return to Rechavam, king of Judea.” The main issue was that only a king of the Davidic dynasty was allowed to sit in the courtyard (azarah) of the Bait HaMikdash. Thus Yeravam was afraid that if his subjects were allowed to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and go to the Bait HaMikdash for the festivals, they would see how Rechavam, king of Judah, was accorded this honor while he was not. This might lead the people to believe that Rechavam was the only Divinely ordained king, and they might return to his reign.
 
Rather than risk the loss of his throne, Yeravam fabricated gods, holidays and temples to keep his subjects from going to Jerusalem. Thus, in his arrogance, he destroyed himself both in this world and in the world to come. (His family’s destruction was foretold by the above-mentioned prophet Achiyah, “Therefore, I shall bring disaster on the house of Yeravam, and I will cut off from Yeravam every male child… and I will expunge after the house of Yeravam as one expunges dung, until it is completed. The dead of Yeravam in the city the dogs shall eat, and the dead in the field, the birds of the heaven shall eat, because the L-rd has spoken.”[18])
 
How Honor Removes One From this World
The Peleh Yo’etz (by Rabbi Eliezer Papu[19]) writes:[20]
“The Mishnah says,[21] ‘Jealousy, pleasure seeking, and honor remove a person from the world.’ The reason for this is that each of these is an evil trait which leads to many other bad behaviors that can destroy a person’s body and soul. One who seeks honor will end up suffering his entire life. He will constantly be striving to receive honor. To achieve this, he will toil to become wealthy and spend a lot of money in order to obtain honor. After all that, if even once he is not accorded honor, or if someone treats him in a way that he feels to be disrespectful or inappropriate, he will feel wounded. If he is able, he will start a fight about the matter. The “fire” of this fight will reach the heavens.”
 
The Root of All Arguments
The Peleh Yo’etz continues:
“In fact, all of the arguments in the world stem from arrogance, namely, that a person wants his glory to reach the heavens, and he thinks he’s deserving of honor and that his word should never go unheeded. If someone disrespects him or doesn’t listen to him, he will bear a grudge and take revenge from that person. He will harm him however he can. If he cannot do so, he will at least shout at him and implant an everlasting hatred for him in his heart. He will gnash his teeth over the fact that he can’t do anything more to harm him until the ‘slighted’ person will go with sorrow to his grave. This is his punishment in this world. How much greater is his punishment in the next world!
 
“Chasing honor is not the primary problem. Rather, honor is a ‘secondary impurity’ that results from arrogance which causes many other ‘children of impurity’ since what comes from something impure is also impure.”
 
Embrace Disgrace
“It is proper to run from honor as one would run from fire because it is a fire that destroys absolutely.[22] One must strive with all his might and use all of his pure thoughts to distance himself from all bad traits which a person’s evil inclination desires. The punishment for bad traits is very difficult, especially the ones which (as mentioned above) remove a person from this world. One should think to oneself, ‘What am I and what is my life? I’m a putrid drop, dust and ashes, maggots and worms,[23] a vessel full of excrement. I am nothing, of no substance. What will I receive and what will be added to me if I am honored by people like me or if they disgrace me? Both I and they are vanity of vanities. If I am honorable in front of the King of Kings, then what do I care about the imagined honor of fellow-man? And if I am disgraced in front of the Most Honorable King and the hosts of heaven, why do I deserve life, and why do I get honor from people? The day I was born should be obliterated.[24] I must be a sinner and despicable on high. If I was deserving of honor, Heaven would have arranged for me to be honored. Since this isn’t the case, I must be a sinner and my sins are preventing me from being honored. In fact, the one who cursed me was [subconsciously] told by G-d to do so.’[25]
 
“For this reason, one should humble his heart and accept G-d’s judgment with joy [when he is embarrassed or shamed]. One shouldn’t become angry or fight with the person. Why should a live person [who is still able to do teshuvah] complain about his sins?”[26] (i.e., Since the embarrassment is actually a punishment for one’s sins, rather than complaining, one should simply do teshuvah.)
 
Judge the Insulter Favorably
“Another important matter to consider [in not getting angry when mistreated] is that one should always judge others favorably.[27] [Thus, there may be a hidden reason the insulter behaved that way and his intention wasn’t bad.] Each person does what is proper in his eyes to the extent that he understands… [In addition, one must realize that] there is no way for a person to make other people like him… All one can do is ask the merciful G-d to give us good counsel [so that we’re wise enough to behave in a manner that earns us respect].” 
 
Flee from Honor Like from the Sword
“[As explained] one should one not pursue honor as it causes great harm and it involves worthless toil because when one pursues honor, honor will flee from him. (i.e., the harder one work to achieve it, the less he is deserving of it.) [In addition,] even if one is accorded honor, he should run from it like one who runs from a sword. Because it’s very likely to cause him to stumble and to become despicable to G-d as he will become haughty of heart. Rather one should gird himself and conquer his desire to enjoy honor. It is therefore best to run away from honor if possible. One shouldn’t think that he’s deserving of honor but that he’s running from it in order for it to chase after him [since it says running away from honor will cause the honor to chase after him]. Such a [supposedly] humble person is cloaking himself in arrogance and his end will be despicable. Honor will not run after such a person but rather will depart from him.
 
“The obligation is for one to be truly humble and to believe with absolute faith that he is not worthy of any honor in the world due to his lowliness, [spiritual] poverty, lack of virtue, small-mindedness, and depth of sin. [One should think to himself:] ‘If people err and honor me, I should worry more, as this honor will bring me disgrace in the next world.’ [Since I’m not deserving of it.] One’s heart should tremble within him, saying, ‘If the people would only get a whiff of my sins, my neighbors would distance themselves from me and my area.’
 
“Even if one thinks that there are many more wicked and lowly people than him [who receive plenty of honor], one shouldn’t seek to be honored as those people are, for such comparisons can [only be made properly] by G-d [Himself]. Every person is judged according to his comprehension, knowledge, ability, and according to the additional goodness granted to him by G-d. Based on these factors, one’s obligation [towards G-d] may be even greater [than that of simpler people], as the verse says,[28] ‘He who increases knowledge, increases pain.’ Thus, it is possible that he did not serve G-d to the best of his ability… and [so] in G-d’s measurement, this other man may be greater, and he, less significant. In fact, (comparing his capabilities to his accomplishments) he may be more despicable than all of G-d’s creations, with none like him in terms of evil.
 
“This is a general rule to save one from all bad things – to run away from honor in this world. One will then see visions of G-d.”[29]
 
Public Positions
“One who is in a public position, however, should be somewhat particular about his honor in order that his ‘fear (respect) be upon the community.’ There is a time for this… as needed. (Nevertheless,) it is always good to be slow to anger. But if necessary, one should take revenge and bear a grudge like a snake for the sake of Heaven. This must be carefully weighed and be considered sevenfold (before proceeding).”
 
False Humility
The Shevet Musar[30] writes,[31] “There are people who present themselves as humble and pious, but they have ‘seven abominations in their heart.’[32]In the end their bad character will become known to all, and they will become a laughing stock. Their shame will not be erased in this world or in the next world.”
 
Six Tests of True Humility
The Shevet Mussar offers six ways to identify true humility. They are:
·        Bears Disgrace
One who, when embarrassed by others, does not take revenge (even when he is able to do so). Rather, he forgives the perpetrator. This is a true test of humility.
·        Accepts Suffering with Love
One who, when faced with pain, loss or trouble, accepts it with love (as he understands that everything G-d does is for the best). This, too, is a true test of humility.
·        Deflects Praise
One who, when praised for his good deeds, feels bad and says, “Everything I did is like a drop in the sea compared to what I should be doing.” If he’s praised for something he didn’t do, he will become angry at the one who praised him and say that what he’s saying isn’t true. This is also a true test of humility.
·        Wealth Humbles
One who, when blessed by G-d with wealth, children and success, humbles himself in front of G-d and towards his fellow man, including to people who are completely destitute. This is an absolute sign of humility.
·        Seeks Forgiveness
Another sign of true humility is if one realizes that he behaved improperly towards another person, he humbles himself before that person (asking for forgiveness) and seeks to appease him whether with words or with money. This is a great form of humility.
·        Speaks Softly and Is Trustworthy
The final sign of true humility is if one speaks softly to his family members and to all people and is trustworthy in his business and personal affairs. Such behaviors are signs of real humility.
 
May we all merit to “Walk Humbly with G-d.”[33]
 
[1] Levit. 1:1
[2] Midrash Tanchuma on the beginning of the Parsha (ot 3)
[3] Proverbs 29:23
[4] See Rashi on Exodus 4:10
[5] 8:6
[6] Shmuel I, 10:22
[7] Ibid, 24
[8] Shoftim, 9:5
[9] Ibid, 23
[10] Ibid, 53 and 54
[11] Sanhedrin 101b. See Kings I, 11:27
[12] Kings I, 11:29
[13] Sanhedrin, 102a
[14] Maharsha
[15] Kings I, 12:26-32
[16] Sanhedrin, ibid
[17] Kings I, ibid 27
[18] Ibid, 14:10 and 11
[19] Of Bosnia and Bulgaria, 1785 – 1828
[20] Entry Kavod
[21] Avot 4:21
[22] A paraphrase of Job 31:12
[23] See Avot 3:1
[24] A paraphrase of Job 3:3
[25] See Shmuel II, 16:10. See also Igeret HaKodesh of the Alter Rebbe (Vol. 4 of the Tanya), 25 who explains this concept
[26] See Eicha (Lamentations) 3:39
[27] Avot 1:6
[28] Kohelet 1:18
[29] See Numbers 24:4
[30] By Rabbi Eliyahu HaKohen of 18th-century Izmir, Turkey
[31] Middle of chapter 17
[32] Proverbs 26:25
[33] Micha 6:8
 
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Happy Purim!

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