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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.

Published: December 6, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) mike, December 12, 2008 12:04 PM

time to think

If I may make a suggestion to those who are being told that you are arrogant. Try to let someone else complete a thought. If someone is speaking and stops for a second wait another second to see if they are just taking a breath. Many times I have been cut off while taking a breath in the middle of a sentence to be told the answers to all my problems and all my future problems. Listen to the words that you actually say. I have a lot of people tell me, if only you would or if you just did this and the this usually seems to be the things in there own life that they are having a hard time with and/or have said they are having a hard time with. I only want to suggest that you might see some of your things you yourself wish to work on. If it takes you 5 to 15 minutes to get your point across then expect to let the other person have the same amount of time to respond. I would also suggest speaking to the person you respected enough to stop and think about whether or not you might be arrogant. Talk to those who know you well BECAUSE NO ONE CAN LISTEN TO ONLY A SMALL PORTION OF YOUR LIFE AND TELL YOU EXATLY YOU NEED TO DO, it takes time and someone in which you can hold a conversation with. Stopping anything that one does often is not simple, just as one who is heavy has become so gradually over time it will take many very small steps to get you to where you want to go. I am not guaranteeing this will work but a thought maybe it might help someone. Yes, I know this appears to be arrogant and maybe or hopefully it is because I do not know I usually never get past my first breath.

(6) Judith, December 12, 2008 9:50 AM

Arrogance a born trait?

Out of four children we have one who is arrogant. 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. No amount of talking, explaining, or Torah study does anything to change this trait in him. My prayers hit a tin ceiling and bounce back. I have finally decided that there is nothing I can do, that whatever change needs to come will have to come from one who is much greater than I.

(5) Anonymous, December 11, 2008 7:50 AM

the idol within

a very inspiring article. thank you.

(4) Jossef, December 9, 2008 8:02 AM

Insecurity

Arrogance is nothing but a disguise for deep-rooted insecurity

(3) Anonymous, December 8, 2008 8:34 AM

But how does an arrogant man change his heart and become humble? It is more than just a matter of making a decision on one's own. I think the tragedy is that the arrogant man does not see that he is arrogant, and, even if he does glimpse what he is, he had no power to alter course. I think that God makes some men arrogant for a reason. Perhaps to cause others to grow spiritually. But it is a fact that no man has the power to change what he had been made to be by God. Why God makes men such as they are is a mystery of Divine Providence.

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