A guardrail for undue pride

Friday, 13 September, 2019 - 9:18 am

One of the good things that come with age is humility.

I don’t mean the humility in the sense that the word is usually used, which is humility in face of other people. That, actually, does not always come with age, and sometimes the opposite happens. I mean humility in face of the world, in face of the processes that we see, in face of Hashem.

The attribute of pride has earned many condemnations, and in my opinion justly. In this week’s parasha, on the passuk “You shall make a fence for your roof,” the Rebbe says that in terms of a person’s spiritual labors, this means a fence in front of the attribute of pride. If the simple meaning is dealing with the roof of an ordinary house, which needs a guardrail constructed so that no one will fall, when it comes to serving the Creator, the roof symbolizes rising up and feeling proud. And pride, as everyone knows, must have a railing and a fence that will limit it and prevent a person from falling as a result.

Usually, when we speak of pride, we imagine a person looking down his nose on others; perhaps even an arrogant person, who thinks and feels that everybody owes him something and that he is above everybody else. This is true, of course, but that is the easy form of pride. It can be seen clearly, and it is rather simple to know what to fix and how, because it is all out in the open. (By the way, usually we see this in another person and not in ourselves, but that is already a different topic.) The other form of the pride, the pride in face of the world, in face of the processes that take place in this world, which is really a pride in face of Hashem, the Creator of the World and its ruler – that is harder to identify. It’s a slippery attribute; the person doesn’t feel that he’s being arrogant.

For instance, if a person is working on a new project – a business one, or a social one – it is clear to him that if he does everything correctly and according to the book, he can expect that the result will be perfect. But life is not like that – there are always surprises, and then one can see if he is proud or humble. A person who relates to the world with unwarranted pride will get angry, will take it to heart and perhaps even fall into despair: I did everything right, so why isn’t it succeeding? But the humble person, the one who has already learned a thing or two in life, will accept the events with submission, maybe even with a smile, and say: “Well, everything is under Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence). I guess it still needs to percolate some more. Maybe there is a need here for a longer “cooking” period. And in general, no one owes me anything. The proud person might be angry, perhaps he will scowl and usually he will give up. The humble will take a deep breath, go off for Mincha and Maariv and start again the next day. Here comes the mitzvah of the guardrail – if you are like a roof, make yourself a guardrail.

So too in serving Hashem. The proud person will despair every time he stumbles and does an aveirah or engages in some forbidden pleasure. The humble person will feel pain, but will continue onward with the knowledge that he wasn’t born a tzaddik and that that’s the way of the world: failing is part of the process of serving Hashem.

The Admor Hazaken writes in Chapter 27 of the Tanya that if someone is saddened by his status and lowly spiritual condition, that means he is a proud person “who does not know his place, and therefore will feel bad that he is not on the level of a tzaddik.” A humble person is a person who knows his place, and someone like that, even if it hurts him that he did an aveirah or fell in some other way, will not fall into sadness and despair, because he knows that that is the way he was created: with a good inclination and a bad one. He knows his place. And the Admor Hazaken writes on in the Tanya that “therefore, a person’s heart should not despair and not feel so bad even if he spends his entire life on this war, because perhaps that is what he was created for, and this is his work.” In my opinion, this is the guardrail that a person should create for himself: not to fall into sadness and despair.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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