There is no greater sin than that of arrogance. Jealousy, hatred and even murder all stem from arrogance. The arrogant man sees himself as distinct and above his fellow human beings and does not condescend to share their problems or come to their aid.
The arrogant man cannot abide the tiniest slight or the diminishing of his honor. He grows violently angry ever so quickly and never forgives the man who once quarreled with him.
The arrogant man loves only one man - himself. For his own pleasure, everything else and everyone else must be sacrificed. It is a terrible and yet universal trait, and the greater and more powerful the individual, the more important is it for him to take steps to guard against this arrogance.
The sin of arrogance struck even two great Jewish leaders of biblical times, the High Priest, Pinchas, and the Judge during his time, Yiftach. Here is the story of that tragic incident.
A Vow Unresolved
Sefer Shoftim tells us of Yiftach, who was preparing to go to battle against the evil Ammonites, who were persecuting the Jews.
Before leaving for the battlefield, Yiftach spoke to the Almighty, saying:
"If You, O G-d, help me to defeat Ammon and bring me home in peace, I will sacrifice as an offering unto You, the very first thing that leaves my door to greet me."
The Almighty was with Yiftach and helped him defeat Ammon and return in peace. Yiftach's happiness knew no bounds, but it all changed to horror as he approached his home and saw his daughter emerge from the doorway to greet him.
"Woe is me," cried Yiftach, "for I have vowed to sacrifice to the Almighty the first thing that came from my doorway to greet me."
Pinchas, The High Priest
When the people heard what happened they came to Pinchas, the High Priest, who was also head of the Sanhedrin and said:
"You have heard of the vow that Yiftach has made. You have it within your power to absolve him of this vow.
"We ask you to go to Yiftach in Gilad and absolve him of it."
And Pinchas replied:
"What? Shall I, Pinchas, the High Priest, who is of the seed of Aaron the High Priest, condescend to go to Yiftach? If he wishes to absolve himself of his vow let him come to me and then I shall release him.
Yiftach Also Refuses
When the people saw that Pinchas would not be moved and would not go to Yiftach, they hastened to Yiftach and said:
"Hurry, now, and go to Pinchas the High Priest, and ask him to absolve you of your terrible vow."
Yiftach, however, was just as arrogant, and he replied:
"I am Yiftach, the judge and leader of Israel. Shall I, the head of the people go to the High Priest? It is incumbent upon him to come to me and to absolve me of my vow."
No amount of pleading on the part of the people could move either Yiftach or Pinchas. Each man stood by his honor and dignity and would not deign to bow to the other.
When the Almighty saw this, He grew angry and declared:
"I shall lower them from their heights - these two arrogant men."
And so He did. Pinchas, the High Priest, was deprived of his power of the Divine Spirit and became as one of the people, with the High Priesthood passing from his hands, while Yiftach was stricken with a terrible disease and died.
Devorah, the Prophetess
The same danger of arrogance afflicted the great prophetess, Devorah, who joined with Barak, the son of Avinoam, in defeating the Canaanites who were persecuting Israel.
After victory had been achieved, Devorah lifted her voice to sing a song of victory and praise to the Almighty. However, as she spoke, she became impressed with her great role in the victory and said:
"How terrible were the days for the Israelites until I, Devorah, arose, until I arose to become a mother in Israel."
When the Almighty heard this, His spirit left her, and her voice grew weaker and weaker till the Jews thought she had fallen asleep, causing them all to cry, "Waken, waken, Devorah!"
It is little wonder that the Talmud tells us that, unlike the average man, who must bow four times during the Shemoneh Esrei, the king must bow throughout the entire prayer. For the greater the man, the greater the danger of arrogance, and the more powerful he is, the greater the danger that this arrogance will bring grief and tragedy upon his people.
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Page last updated - 08/28/2009