Jewish Attitudes to Pride

Judaism frowns on excessive pride--but how much is too much?

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'Conceited people of this type, though they pretend mightily to be humble, cannot escape some mishap which causes their pride to burst forth, like a flame out of a heap of litter. Such a man has been compared to a house filled with straw. The house being full of holes, the straw keeps on escaping through them, so that after a while everyone knows what is within the house. The humility of his behavior is soon known to be insincere, and his meekness nothing but pretence (Mesillat Yesharim, 104-5).'

A Fine Balance

This whole question of pride is extremely delicate. Would Judaism frown on a man taking pride in his work or on a Jew taking pride in his Jewishness? And it can be argued that in some circumstances pride is the driving force for worthwhile activities. There must obviously be severe tensions over this problem.

A Hasidic master put it this way. Every person must have two slips of paper in his pockets. On one he should inscribe the words uttered by Abraham: 'I am dust and ashes.' On the other he should inscribe the words taken from the Mishnah: 'For my sake the whole world was created.'

In moments when the danger lurks of excessive pride he should take out the slip reminding him that he is dust and ashes. But when his self-doubt threatens to be completely stultifying, he must take out the other slip to reaffirm that the whole world was created for his sake.

Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.