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Vayishlach(Genesis 32:4-36:43)

The Idol Within

In this week's Torah portion, Jacob says to his household, "Cast away the false god that is within you..." On this, the Sages ask: Which false god is 'within' a person? Arrogance.

In Jewish thinking, arrogance is akin to idolatry, for arrogance is worship of the self. Arrogance is a person thinking that he is the most important part of this world. Nothing matters more than me and my will. Judaism has little patience for the arrogant human being. The Sages say that God tells the arrogant man, so to speak, "There is no room for both of us in this world. Let Me in, or I will throw you out."

The traps of arrogance are many. Amongst the subtlest, the arrogant man is a puppet. He is so worried about his image in the eyes of others, that he will do whatever necessary to achieve this end. If people look up to a powerful person, then that is what he must become. If they look up to a wealthy person, then that is what he must become. If they look down upon a compassionate person, then that is what he must not become. He is no longer his own person as his values will swap and change to suit the expectations of the outside world.

By contrast, a humble person has no fear of what others think of him. (An arrogant person, though he pretends not to, thinks of little else.) As such, a humble person will stick to his values no matter what the world says. An arrogant person will stick to what the world says, no matter what his values.

Humility, the Sages tell us, is the key to greatness. An arrogant person may achieve much in the eyes of others. Yet he will achieve little in the eyes of God - and deep down in his own eyes, too. Though people may outwardly respect him, inwardly they despise him. No one likes an arrogant person for he will always do his best to make others feel small and insignificant.

Finally, the arrogant person will never find true happiness. For he knows, better than anyone else, that he is only an inflated balloon - full of hot air, but not much else.

Judaism says not to despise the arrogant man, rather to pity him (though not in an arrogant way!). For he is his own worst enemy.

December 6, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 13

(12) Anonymous, December 16, 2016 12:55 PM

Excellent article and very well written! Thanks for posting!

(11) Anonymous, November 26, 2015 7:02 PM

The best proof of this principle is living in the White House

As Judith said in her comment: "He thinks of nothing but himself, not what others think, but only what he thinks. He is the master of his universe, the center of his world". Having dealt with many such people, I can attest that they prevail by surrounding themselves with sycophants and Lenin's "useful idiots"; Saul Alinsky's now famous recipe. May G-d have mercy on the US and His people Israel.

(10) Anonymous, November 26, 2015 5:42 PM


Does this article include Donald Trump?

Jeff, November 27, 2015 9:50 PM

Look in the mirror first

From that snarky comment, it appears that you missed the point of the article. Who are you to say that Donald Trump doesn't speak the truth/ Who are you to say that Donald Trump doesn't love this country and isn't trying to help it recover from what he sees as failure after failure? Perhaps you disagree with him, and that is OK. But being dismissive is precisely what the article was talking about. Check the mirror Anonymous.

(9) Anonymous, November 26, 2015 3:04 PM

Excellent article! Thanks for posting!

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