Pride - Positive and Negative
- HaRav Avigdor Nebenzahl
- Jan 19, 2012
We find in the parsha, "these were the heads of their fathers' houses, the sons of Reuven ... the sons of Shimon ... these are the names of the sons of Levi ... Amram took his Aunt Yocheved as a wife and she bore him Aharon and Moshe ... they were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; this was the Moshe and Aharon" (Shmot 6:14-27). We can ask the following basic question: why did the Torah insert the biographical background of Moshe Rabenu only at this point. Should it not have been written in Parshat Shmot when we are introduced to Moshe Rabenu, perhaps before the pasuk: "a man went from the house of Levi and he took a daughter of Levi" (Shmot 2:1), or perhaps at the conclusion of the Torah when we part from Moshe Rabenu? Why is it written specifically here in the middle of the story of Moshe's life?
The parsha opens with Hashem appearing to Moshe Rabenu and promising to take the Jewish people out from Egypt. Moshe relayed this to the Jewish people but they refused to listen. Hashem then commanded Moshe to speak to Pharaoh, Moshe responded that the Jewish nation did not listen to him before why should they listen to him now. We then read: "Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them regarding the Children of Israel and regarding Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt" (Shemot 6:13). Before we are even told what specifically Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, the Torah suddenly "changes the subject" and informs us of Moshe and Aharon's lineage. Is now the time to discuss Moshe and Aharon's background?
Perhaps we can explain as follows: it is human nature for someone to attribute his successes to himself, boasting "I am a self-made man" - it did it. The tendency when it comes to faults, however, is to attribute to a faulty upbringing - "his father is crazy, his mother was mean". The Torah is teaching us that when it came to Moshe Rabenu the opposite was the case. Up until this point, Moshe did not experience much success - he slay the Egyptian and had to flee to Midian, he spoke to Pharaoh on behalf of the Jewish people which resulted in Pharaoh increasing the workload, he then tried speaking to the Jewish people and the Jewish people paid no attention. Until now Moshe's life had not been a glaring success.
At this point Moshe rises to greatness - he smites Pharaoh one plague after another, he lead the Jewish people out from Egypt, brought them the Torah, and lead them through the desert until just outside of Eretz Yisrael. Here at this point, rather than attributing the success exclusively to Moshe Rabenu, we are told that Moshe had a father and a grandfather - it was not only in his merit that he rose to greatness but the merit of his ancestors as well. This is the lesson we must learn here - a person should not be so proud and haughty as to credit themselves with all their successes. A person should never be too proud to admit that he did not succeed at something.
The Ramban cites the pasuk: "Hashem malach geut lavesh" "Hashem has reigned, He has donned gradeur" (Tehillim 93:1) and explains that pride is the clothing of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, a human being should not be proud. To a certain extent too much pride is a rebellion against Hashem.
The Torah explicitly states that Moshe Rabenu was the most humble of all men (see Bamidbar 12:3). When Hashem prayed on behalf of the Jewish nation following the chet haegel he does not say: "please Hashem save the Jewish nation on my merit because I am such a great tzaddik", on the contrary he pleads with Hashem: "remember, for the sake of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yisrael, Your servants, to whom You swore by Yourself and You told them, 'I shall increase your offspring like the stars of heaven, and the entire land of which I spoke'" (Shemot 32:13).
Chazal comment: "anyone who depends upon his own merit in prayer - they make the fulfillment of his prayer dependent upon the merit of others. But anyone who depends upon the merit of others in prayer - they make the fulfillment of his prayer dependent upon his own merit.
For example, Moshe depended upon the merit of others in his prayers on behalf of the Jew s as it is stated: 'remember Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yisrael you servants' (Shemot 32:13), they therefore made the fulfillment of his prayer dependent upon his own merit, for it is stated regarding the result of that prayer: 'and He spoke to destroy them, were it not for Moshe, His chosen one, who stood in the breach before Him to turn away His wrath from destroying' (Tehillim 106:23).
Chizkiyahu, by contrast depended upon his own merit in his prayer, as it is written: 'remember now the manner in which I have walked before You' (Yeshayahu 38:3), they therefore made the fulfillment of his prayer dependent upon the merit of others, for it is stated: 'and I will shield this city to save it, for My sake and for the sake of My servant David' (Melachim 19:34)". (Berachot 10b)
Moshe prayed on behalf of the Jewish people by mentioning only the merit of the forefathers and not his own merit, therefore Hashem helped the Jewish nation in the merit of Moshe Rabenu. Chizkiyahu HaMelech was a tzaddik of such high caliber that he was worthy of being Moshiach. When Chizkiyahu was ill and Sanherib was about to conquer Yerushalayim, G-d forbid, he prayed to Hashem to save the nation on his merit. Hashem responded through Yeshayahu HaNavi that He will redeem the nation, not for Chizkiyahu's merit, but for His own sake and in the merit of Dovid HaMelech. Moshe prayed for salvation on behalf of the forefathers, so Hashem saved the nation on his behalf. Chizkiyahu prayed for salvation on his own merit, so Hashem saved the nation on behalf of Himself and Dovid HaMelech.
Chizkiyahu later recalled "behold, my longing for peace, bitterness intensified against me" (Yeshayahu 38:17) - Hashem answered my prayers in a bitter way by telling me that He was saving the nation for the sake of Dovid HaMelech.
The non-Jews have divided the book of Ezra into two books - Ezra and Nehemiah. According to our tradition, Nehemiah is part of Ezra (the two books combined are called Ezra). In fact, Rashi in several places cites psukim from the book of Nehemiah and states: "as is written in the book of Ezra." Given that the majority of the psukim were written by Nehemiah, Chazal ask: "why is the book not named after Nehemiah the son of Chachaliah? R' Yirmiyah bar Abba said: 'it was not named for Nehemiah because he took personal credit for his achievements, as it is stated: 'remember me, my G-d, for good'". He said this on more than one occasion (see Nehemiah 5:19 and 13:31) - see Sanhedrin 93b.
Pride can also prevent a person from becoming a talmid chacham. The Mishna states: "who is wise? He who learns from every person" (Avot 4:1). One who is proud and thinks there is nothing he can learn from others will never become a chacham. Pride therefore can prevent a person from becoming a chacham.
What I have just said applies outside Yeshiva. In Yeshiva, the yetzer hara wages the opposite battle. The yetzer hara tries to convince a Yeshiva bochur that he does not learn well, he has no chance of success at learning Torah. Such a person will remain an am ha'aretz. Pride will spur him on to learn. He must appreciate the greatness of what he is doing - I am privileged to learn Torah. I would label this sort of pride "kosher pride". We must be proud that we are learning Torah and are not amei ha'aretz. In the tefilla prior to entering the Beis Midrash we thank Hashem for having granted us our share among those who dwell in the Beis Midrash and not among those who sit on street corners. This is true pride - this can help us succeed. We feel good that we are in Yeshiva, we are proud to learn Torah. We become better people with every word of Gemara, Rashi, Tosafot.
R' Chaim Sonnenfeld zt"l had a brother, a simple Jew, who lived in Chutz la'Aretz and owned a store as a means of livelihood. He once asked his saintly brother R' Chaim: "why should I bother learning Torah? You are a Gadol, you can accomplish something. I will never become a Gadol beYisrael, why should I bother learning Torah?" R' Chaim responded to his brother by asking him: "When you opened your business did you have any expectations of becoming the Baron de Rothschild? You do not expect to reach such a level of wealth even if you were to keep your store open from morning until night. Yet, you do not hesitate to open your store, for you wish to earn whatever you need to make a living. If in mundane physical matters you are willing to try to accomplish whatever you can even if you will never become a wealthy man, should spiritual pursuits be any different? You may not become a R' Akiva Eiger, but should you not try to be the best you can?"
The fact is that over the generations there have been many who were not blessed with great ability who with great diligence went on to become gedolei Torah. When a person has the will he can become a gadol baTorah - even if he does not become a Rav Eliashiv he must realize that every word of Torah makes him into a better and greater person.
Shimon HaTzaddik teaches us: "on three things the world stands, on Torah, on the service, and on acts of kindness" (Avot 1:2). Does the world not stand on the merit of any of the other six hundred and thirteen mitzvoth, why were these three specifically chosen? It seems to me that these are the three primary categories of achieving closeness with Hashem, all other ways may be viewed as subcategories.
Man was created as a tzelem Elokim - in the image of Hashem. This means that we must try to emulate the ways of Hashem as much as possible and in this way to cleave to Him.
TORAH: By studying Torah we become close to Hashem on an INTELLECTUAL level and can gain some insight into His thoughts. We must realize that a human being in no way can comprehend Hashem's thoughts, as the prophet says: "As high as the heavens over the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Yeshayahu 55:9).
Through the Torah Hahsem gave us a glimpse of His "thought process". The child in the first grade learns Chumash as did R' Akiva Eiger. Moshe Rabenu learned Torah and has been doing so for 3,000 years in Gan Eden. Clearly Moshe Rabenu knew more than R' Akiva Eiger who knew more than the child in the first grade. There is no human being who ever was or ever will be able to master the entire Torah, as the pasuk states: "only Hashem understands its way" (Iyov 28:23). No human being has the ability to understand Torah to the fullest. We can, however, try to understand to the best of our ability. Moshe Rabenu learned much Torah over the years and he still does not know everything, R' Akiva Eiger knew much Torah and he too never learned everything. The child in the first grade will one day have the ability to grow in Torah. Everyone has the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Hashem's thought process and to become great in Torah.
AVODAH: Avodah refers to the korbanot offered in the Beit HaMikdash. Today that unfortunately we have no Beit HaMikdash, the tefilla has taken the place of korbanot. Avodah is the way we can approach Hashem emotionally. A person who stands before Hashem, speaks to Him, thanks Him for all His goodness and asks Him for everything which he needs feels a closeness to Hashem. When a person brings an offering upon the mizbeach he should feel as if he is the one who should be burned. Because Hashem decreed following Akeidat Yitzchak that He does not want human sacrifice, we offer an animal instead. A person, however, should feel the desire to be brought as an offering - this is emotional cleaving to Hashem.
GEMILLUT CHASSADIM is the way we cleave to Hashem through our actions. We cannot apply the idea of causality when speaking of Hashem, yet our minds can comprehend only a causal line of reasoning. When we attempt to explain why Hashem created the world, we have to conclude that it was to provide good for all His creations. Hashem "searched" for someone on whom to bestow this good, and because no one existed yet, He had to create the world. - He began with the ministering angels, continued with vegetation, insects, and the rest of creation and ended with the making of man. "Hashem is good to all, His mercies are on all His works." (Tehillim 145:9) Each element of creation serves a purpose and can receive Hashem's goodness. We find explicitly stated in Tehillim that the world is built on kindness (Tehillim 89:3)
The A-mighty acts in kindness towards the entire creation. Clearly, the main objects of His chesed are human beings, and first and foremost among them the Jewish nation, who received the Torah. Hashem's chesed, however, extends to the rest of creation as well, each according to his level. A non-Jew has a chance to acquire a place in the World to Come through strict observance of the seven Noachide laws. He could even convert to Judaism. The ministering angels have their own source of merit, while the animals and the rest of the world deserve to be objects of Hashem's chesed for their role in benefiting the righteous. (See Mesillas Yesharim chapter 1 for an elaboration of this idea) The entire world was created in order to serve the tzaddikim, and we find that even stones proclaimed: "Upon me shall the righteous one lay his head." (Rashi Bereishis 28:11). Indeed they were all amalgamated into one, in order to have that privilege. Human beings can never be like Hashem, but we should emulate His acts of chesed to the best of our ability.
We mentioned that the first pillar is Torah. With every word we learn, every kashya, every terutz we come closer to Hashem and to His thoughts. Chazal teach us "lefum tzaara agra" "reward is in proportion to the exertion" (Avot 5:26). The reward for learning Torah and keeping mitzvoth is commensurate with the amount of pain and exertion placed in it. One who finds learning more difficult, for whom it does not come easy yet he "plugs away" at it, will receive a greater reward for his pain.
We have no way of relating to the immensity of the reward for Torah study. Perhaps a well-known Baraita can help to give us some idea of what reward is in store for us: We recite each morning: "these are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in This World but whose principle remains intact for him in the World to Come .... visiting the sick, providing for a bride ... and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all" (Shabbat 127a). What does the Baraita mean when it says that the study of Torah is equivalent to them all? Of course the real payment for mitzvoth is in the Next World, but let us try to understand things in terms that we can relate to. The mitzvah of visiting the sick does not only include inquiring about his welfare and wishing him a "refuah shlema betoch she-ar cholei Yisrael". Bikur cholim means insuring that he has proper medical care even if that entails having a doctor or nurse on the premises. There are sick people who need to be flown to Chutz la'Aretz for an operation (chas vechalila). Fulfilling this Mitzvah can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Similarly hachnassat kallah goes beyond dancing at the wedding and eating a piece of meat. To fulfill this mitzvah one has to make sure the bride has everything she needs, whether it is an apartment, clothing, furniture, a washing machine, dishwasher, clothing, or anything else. The expenses here too can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hashem's reward for performance of a mitzvah is certainly greater than the expenses incurred.
If after all this we declare that "the study of Torah is equivalent to them all" then the reward for each word of Torah we learn is at the very least hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even the histadtrut would not complain about such a salary. Learning Torah is worth even more, because Olam Haba currency is worth more than all the dollars in the world! If we truly understood the vast reward awaiting us we would not waste a single minute but would spend any free moment we have learning Torah, for time is money. In fact time is even more than money. Why then are we in need of mussar in order to inspire us to learn? The answer is that our minds may understand, but we need the mussar to inspire our hearts as well. Rav Yisrael Salanter was known to have said that when we learn, it must be not only with our sechel but with our hearts to. We must feel what we learn.
We gave some impression of the minimal financial value of every word of Torah. We must remember that the payment is in Next World currency. Chazal teach us: "Better one hour of spiritual bliss in the World to Come than the entire life of this world" (Avot 4:23). This means that one moment of the Next World is better than all the dollars, francs, euros, pounds sterling, all the best food, biggest houses, and newest automobiles belonging to the billions of people who have inhabited this earth from the time of creation. How can we not learn?
Having the opportunity to study Torah and electing instead to pursue other interests is the greatest accusation that can be leveled against a person. Chazal tell us that "For he scorned the word of Hashem" (Bamidbar 15:31), refers to "one who can be involved in Torah and does not do so" (Sanhedrin 99a). The pasuk continues "That person will surely be cut off, his sin is upon him" (Bamidbar 15:31) - "he will be cut off in this world and the next world" (Sanhedrin 99a). Why should he be cut off from the Next World? He, after all, did not violate the Shabbat, he did not eat non-kosher food, and he did not take that which belongs to others.
He showed that the Torah is insignificant in his eyes. Imagine two piles of paper before you, one of $100 bills and one of plain paper. If you were to ignore the bundle of $100 bills and opt for the paper you would be mocking the value of the dollar. (This in particular does not really concern me, this is America's problem.) If, however, one has pearls before him - the pearls given to us by Hashem - the Torah, and rather than taking it he wastes his time on nonsense, this is "scorning the word of Hashem",
If the punishment is so severe for one who does not learn, imagine the reward awaiting those who learn, after all "a measure of good is greater than a measure of retribution" (Sanhedrin 100b). Imagine the reward for becoming a talmid chacham. I recently read a story about a 90-year old man who had no interest in learning Torah for his entire life, passed away. Someone who knew him who was crying over the loss was approached by another person who asked: "why are you weeping, he has been dead his entire life, Torah is our life and he did not learn any." When we learn Torah, the reward is great and we are beloved in the eyes of Hashem. Learning Torah creates worlds. May we merit the arrival of the Moshiach and the building of the Beit HaMikdash speedily in our day. Ki MiZion tezte Torah udvar Hashem MiYerushalayim " "From Zion will the Torah come forth, and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim" (Yeshayahu 2:3).