Parashat Tazria: The Self-Destructive Power of Arrogance
Parashat Tazria introduces the laws related to Sara’at – a skin infection, similar to leprosy, that would befall a person as a result of certain sins. The Torah says that when a person sees a discoloration on his skin that might qualify as Sara’at, he must approach a Kohen, who, based on the Torah’s specific guidelines, would determine whether indeed this individual is a Mesora (person stricken with Sara’at). If the person is declared a Mesora, he must observe several very restricting laws, including leaving his city and living in solitude.
Interestingly, the Torah says about the person who sees a possible Sara’at infection on his body, "Ve’huba"– "He shall be brought" to a Kohen (13:2). The Torah speaks of the individual being brought to a Kohen, rather than going to a Kohen. The explanation is that the sins for which one would suffer Sara’at are sins which involve arrogance, particularly, Lashon Ha’ra – negative speech about other people. People who are arrogant are not likely to take the initiative to solve their problems, to seek the help and guidance of others. A person stricken with Sara’at, whose affliction is an expression of his plague of hubris, might naturally resist approaching a Kohen for guidance, and so the Torah says, "Ve’huba" – that his family and friends should bring him to a Kohen against his will to address his problem.
Numerous stories are told in Tanach and in Rabbinic literature warning about this phenomenon – the self-destructive power of arrogance.
During the time of the prophet Yirmiyahu, who prophesied about the impending destruction of Jerusalem, there was a false prophet named Hananya Ben Azur, who opposed Yirmiyahu. Hananya falsely told the people that G-d spoke to him and assured him that Jerusalem would be safe, and the people do not need to repent. Yirmiyahu, based on a prophetic message from G-d, proclaimed that if Hananya was lying, then he would die that year. The verse in Sefer Yirmiyahu (28:17) relates that indeed, Hananya died that year, in the seventh month. The Rabbis noted, however, the seventh month is Tishri – the month which begins the new year. Technically speaking, then, Hananya did not die during the year in which Yirmiyahu made his prediction, but rather the following year. The Rabbis explain that as the days passed following Yirmiyahu’s prediction, Hananya ridiculed Yirmiyahu, showing him that time has passed, the year would soon come to an end, and he was perfectly healthy. But right before Rosh Hashanah, Hananya suddenly took ill, and he realized he would soon perish. Before he died, he instructed his family to delay his burial until after Rosh Hashanah, in order to give the appearance that he died on Rosh Hashanah, after the new year began, thereby misleading the people into thinking that Yirmiyahu’s prophecy was not accurate.
Hananya obviously knew he was lying. And he knew that he would soon die and stand before the Heavenly Tribunal. And yet, even then, he could not bring himself to confess his wrongdoing and repent. He still insisted on maintaining his prestige, rather than humbly acknowledging his wrongdoing and thereby earning G-d’s forgiveness.
Perhaps the most famous, and most striking, example of the self-destructive power of arrogance is the story of Yerobam Ben Nevat, first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. G-d decided to divide Beneh Yisrael into two kingdoms, and so He sent the prophet Ahiya to Yerobam to instruct him to secede and form a separate kingdom. Unquestionably, if G-d chose Yerobam for this role, he must have been an exceptionally righteous and learned man. However, after he formed the new kingdom, Yerobam’s ego sent him in the wrong direction. As Yom Tob approached, Yerobam decided to station guards and set up a blockade to prevent his constituents from going to the Bet Ha’mikdash in Jerusalem, as is required on Yom Tob. He realized that if the people would go to the Bet Ha’mikdash, they would see the king of the Judean Kingdom – Rehabam – receiving royal honor, and his own stature would be compromised. He therefore decided to prevent the people of his kingdom from going to Jerusalem, and – shockingly – he built two temples in his own kingdom with golden calves for the people to worship, instead of going to the Bet Ha’mikdash. His preoccupation with honor and prestige led him so far astray that he caused all the people in his kingdom to worship idols.
Perhaps even more astoundingly, Yerobam later rejected G-d’s offer of forgiveness for this grievous offense. The Talmud tells in Masechet Sanhedrin (102a) that G-d compassionately told Yerobam that if he would repent, He would not only accept his repentance, but He would "stroll in Gan Eden" together with him and with King David. We would certainly have expected Yerobam to eagerly accept this offer, but he in fact rejected it – because he was told that David would be walking in front of him.
Such is the self-destructive power of arrogance – it causes people to ruin their lives, and even their eternal share in the next world.
This phenomenon is, unfortunately, very common. Marriages are strained, or broken, because one or both spouses refuse to yield. Siblings and other family members often endure a great deal of tension because people are too focused on receiving the honor they want. Business partnerships are destroyed because of power struggles.
One of the lessons of the Mesora is to beware of this self-destructive force. Let us ensure to never to allow a relationship to be destroyed because of ego, because of our insistence on receiving honor. Let us have the wisdom and humility to give in and yield, rather than allow the vain desire for honor to wreak havoc with our lives.