What does ancient Jewish wisdom say on the topic of “pride”?
My whole life I’ve grown up in an Evangelical home, and between Sunday school and a Christian school I was constantly told that, “Pride cometh before a fall”. I remember at one point a teacher said Pride is one of the worst of sins because so many other sins are symptoms of Pride.
But in my own life, I think I could use more pride. It wasn’t because of obedience to God that I spent a couple hours cleaning my car last weekend or tidying up the lawn—it was that great sense of accomplishment I felt afterward which can only be described as pride! And I think it was the lack (or fear of) pride that kept me from cleaning my car for months or tidying up the lawn for weeks until it got too bad to ignore.
So it seems that pride is a very positive thing. We should have pride in our country, be proud of our kids, and proud of our accomplishments. And it seems what the Bible is talking about is not as much pride, as much as it is ego.
Are there two types of pride? I’m hoping ancient Jewish wisdom can help clarify the topic.
Congratulations on having a clean car and tidy lawn and for bringing this question to our attention. We had never paid attention to the popular mistranslation of Proverbs 16:18 that you cite, “Pride cometh before a fall.” While no translation is perfect, arrogance would be a far better translation of the Hebrew.
What is the difference?
Arrogance is perhaps best explained by another verse, Deuteronomy 8:17. There, the children of Israel are warned that when life is good they must be careful not to think, “My power and the strength of my hand made all this for me.”
Arrogance doesn’t acknowledge the source of all blessing as coming from God nor does it acknowledge the role other people play in our blessings. It is a self-centered, foolish and reckless belief.
Gratitude, on the other hand, spurs us to recognize the inborn talents and circumstances that were blessings of birth. It has us saying thank you to God and people for helping and allowing us to achieve our goals and prosper as we move through life. It even lets us absorb the idea that some of the things we struggled with were important milestones that led us to hone our sense of persistence and grit or make choices that spurred us on our path. Whether a plumber, pickle-manufacturer or physician, we can feel proud of the contributions we make to our achievements but cannot take sole credit for them.
The feelings you experienced upon doing what you were supposed to do, namely taking care of your possessions, was not arrogance. It was a deep satisfaction at a good job done well, a positive feeling we might unapologetically term pride.
On the flip side, Sean, we want to explain what humility means. Or what it doesn’t mean. It certainly does not mean belittling oneself and regarding oneself as worthless. This is not Biblical because it insults your Creator. He didn’t create you to be worthless. On the contrary, given all the hard work you’ve done on yourself since you were born, you are really something. It is just that you recognize that it wasn’t due to you. God created you with potential; gave you parents, teachers, and friends who helped you grow. And you did. You are a real somebody and you owe so much gratitude to so many for that.
Once we recognize and are grateful to God and those people who contributed to our accomplishments, we owe care and respect to what we have. Taking care of our car, lawn or children is an obligation—otherwise we are rejecting the gifts that are a result of our blessings and all our hard work.
Be grateful for all your blessings and take care of them,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin