The Faculty of Jewish Studies
The Office of the Campus Rabbi
Beware, Lest Your Heart Grow Haughty (8:14)
Dr. Meir Gruzman
Department of Talmud
At the outset it must be stated that the Torah does not specifically prohibit haughtiness in the usual language of negative prohibitions: one does not find verses such as "You shall not be proud," or "Your heart shall not be uplifted". [Note: The JPS translation, which is used here throughout, adds the words "Beware, lest" in the title verse for the sake of clarity. The literal translation would be: "And your heart shall grow haughty," Hebrew ve-ram levavekha.]
Notwithstanding, several Scriptural passages speak out against pride, such as: "Everyone who is proud in his heart is an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 16:5); "Whoever has a high look and a proud heart will I not tolerate" (Psalms 101: 5), etc. If we add to these the numerous condemnations of pride in rabbinic literature, such as: "The Shechinah laments over every man who is haughty in spirit"; "Every man in whom there is haughtiness of spirit deserves to be cut down like an Asherah"; "Every man in whom there is haughtiness of spirit is as one who worships idols" or "is as one who denies the existence of G-d" or "is likened to one who has erected an altar to idolatry," etc. (see Sotah 4b - 5a), the result is a categorical negation and delegitimization of the attribute of pride. Since the Torah does not word this character flaw in the negative, what is the source for this prohibition and what is its deeper meaning?
Long ago, the Talmud posed the same question: "From where can we learn a prohibition against haughtiness of spirit?" Two sources are cited: Rava points to the verse in Jeremiah, "Listen and pay heed - do not be proud" (Jer. 13:5), while Rav Nahman bar Yitzchak quotes a verse in our parashah: "Beware lest your heart will be uplifted". In order to comprehend the teaching of Rav Nahman bar Yitzchak it is necessary to examine the verse in its entirety within the context in which it appears.
"Take care lest you forget the Lord your G-d and fail to keep his commandments, His rules, and His laws, which I enjoin upon you this day. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and your flocks multiply and your gold and silver and gold increase and all that you have will be plentiful, then your heart will be uplifted and you will forget the Lord your G-d who has brought you out of the
Land of Egypt from the house of slavery...and you will say in your heart:
My own power and the strength of my own hand have won this wealth for me. Remember that it is the Lord your G-d, who
gives you the power to get wealth" (Deut. 8: 11-18).
According to Rav Nahman bar Yitzchak, the words "then your heart will be uplifted"(ve-ram levavekha) are not a part of the factual description of what may occur, but constitute a prohibition against pridefulness [exactly the way the JPS Bible understood the verse]. On the basis of Talmudic rule that says: "In every place where it is written 'beware', 'lest' and 'do not' the reference is to a prohibition" (Sotah 5a), Rav Nahman is of the opinion that this phrase too should be linked to "beware" and "lest" which appear before it in verse 12, and that this is the Biblical source for the prohibition against pride.
Rava preferred, so it would seem, the source in Jeremiah because the prohibition is specifically worded: "Do not be proud", similar in style to other prohibitions in the Torah itself, while Rav Nahman bar Yitzchak preferred the verse "Then your heart will be uplifted" precisely because it is found in the Torah rather than in the Prophets and, as we know, greater importance is attached to the precepts of the Torah than to those written in the books of the prophets which are defined only as (a less authoritative) oral tradition.
Maimonides in his Mishne Torah follows the opinion of Rav Nahman bar Yitzchak, saying: "And it was also said that anyone who uplifts his heart denies the existence of G-d, as it says: Then your heart will be uplifted and you will forget the Lord your G-d" (Hilchot Deot, chap. 2, halachah 3).
Nahmanides disagrees. He is of the opinion that the source for the prohibition against pride is to be found within those verses in the Torah which define the proper behavior for a king, specifically: "That his heart be not uplifted above his brethren and that he may never turn away from this commandment to the right or to the left" (Deut. 17:20). He goes on to explain:
"The Torah here hints at the prohibition of pride, for if the Scripture forbids pride and haughtiness to the king, it is all the more true for others who are not worthy of it, for the warning is given to one who may be worthy of grandeur and greatness so that his heart should be humble like all his brothers of lower station than himself, for pride is a terrible attribute, hateful to G-d even in a king, for greatness and grandeur belong to the Lord and praise is due to Him alone, and in Him let man take pride".
Rabbenu Yonah of Gerona agreed, writing of the verse in question:
"We have been warned to remove the attribute of pride from our souls, so that the great man should not act haughtily toward a lesser man and even the king should not lift his heart up over his brethren, and even though he rules over them during his reign, yet his heart should be humble" (Sha'arei T'shuvah, section 3).
This divergence of opinion on the part of Nahmanides requires further examination. Why did he choose to base his opinion on a verse different from that which was brought by Rav Nahman bar Yitzchak: "then your heart will be uplifted"?
One might say that there are two kinds of pride: the pride of success and the pride of arrogance. The pride of success is the pride of the man whose business is flourishing, his wealth and property constantly increasing, his health is excellent and his family life successful. Such a man may mistakenly attribute all his achievements and successes to himself alone, gradually forgetting the Lord. He may remove G-d from the list of factors which made his success possible, saying: "My power and the strength of my hand have achieved this success for me" (Deut.8:17).
The words: "Beware that you do not forget the Lord your G-d" are directed at this type of pride, and this is why Rav Nahman bar Yitzchak indicates this verse as the source for the prohibition. Here haughtiness is not forbidden in the usual form of prohibitions, "You shall not be proud", because it is not viewed as a bad quality on its own which mars a man's character but as a factor in another prohibition, to forget the Lord. Driven by his pride the successful man may totally forget that G-d Almighty is the One who makes his success possible: " But you should remember the Lord your G-d for it is He who gives you the strength to attain success" (8:18)!
In other words: whereas it is reasonable for a man to be aware of his own achievements and what he himself has contributed to his prosperity, he is commanded to maintain a proper balance of awareness between his own sense of achievement, on the one hand, and a recognition of the hand of G-d, His guidance of men and events, and His share in the success, on the other. When a person takes all the credit for himself, even to the extent of eliminating G-d from the picture - this is the kind of pride forbidden in our chapter.
One example of such a "success story", a man who removed G-d from the picture and attributed to himself unlimited ability and achievement, is Ravshakeh, commander of the army of Assyria, who stood opposite the walls of the besieged Jerusalem and called out to its inhabitants and leaders: "Which of all the gods of the countries have saved their countries from my hand, that the Lord should save Jerusalem from my hand?" (2 Kings, 18:5). Here we have a proclamation filled with contempt for G-d, self-aggrandizement which relates success to the speaker alone. The reaction of the Lord was not long in coming and was delivered by the prophet Isaiah: "Can the ax boast against he who chops with it, can the saw make itself great against he who wields it?" (Isaiah 10:5). Ravshakeh, just like any other "success story, " must be made to face the truth: "For it is He who gives you the strength to attain success" ("Deuteronomy ibid.)!
The second type of pride is arrogance, the individual who lords himself over others. While the first kind of pride is affects the proud man himself-- it is a matter of how he relates to his own achievements-- this second sort of pride affects the way he relates to others. He sees himself as being superior to those around him and believes that he is better, wiser and more successful than they are.
Perhaps if this were true, if he really was better, it might not be a serious fault. The Torah does not intend for the talented man to deny his abilities or for the successful man to deny his achievements. The Torah has no interest in repressing man's true evaluation of himself. It is certainly proper and permitted for a talented person to know, to understand, and to recognize the fact that in a given field of endeavor, he is superior; that he has made a real contribution to advancing and developing some subject or another. That is not pride but reality, and reality does not have to be denied.
The problem begins when that pride is imagined and not real, when someone imagines himself to be superior to others. That kind of pride is negative and unacceptable. The Malbim, in his book Hacarmel, defined it as follows:
"Pride is imaginary and not real when it exists only within the arrogant person and not outside of him, when he imagines himself to be more than he really is, and he takes pride in himself though he has no quality above anyone else".
This is where the verse from the chapter dealing with the king comes into play. A king may be aware that he is a king, he is permitted to be aware of the fact that his people are satisfied with his rule over them, that he is accepted by his brethren. It is forbidden for him to allow his honor to be taken lightly and he must demand the observance of proper forms of respect for his dignity. He may ride in a fancy carriage, wear fine clothes, and enjoy the services of a staff of servants who accompany him at all times, bow down before him, and do his bidding. That is all a part of the role he plays and not forbidden pride.
Pride begins the moment the king imagines that he is better, more successful, wiser, and more talented than others - when there is no substance to support such imaginings. In the words "That his heart be not uplifted above his brethren," the Torah sought to prevent the king from being caught up in such imaginary assumptions, and if this is true of kings, then it is all the more so for others.
When Nahmanides proposed this verse from the chapter of the king (Deut. 17:20) as the source for the prohibition of pride, it may be that it was this second kind of pride he wished to illustrate, the man who thinks himself superior to others. He did not reject the source "Behold, lest your heart grow haughty", brought by Rav Nahman bar Yitzchak, for that verse deals with the pride of the "successful" person, as we have explained.
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