Tzemach Tzadik by Rabbi Leone di Modena Chapter 29 Arrogance


Back to chapter 28 about greatness

Translated by Ralph Anzarouth and an anonymous friend


Arrogance and conceit are derivatives of pride and can take three forms:

The first involves displaying one's wealth, wisdom and honors in order that others will praise and respect him and spread his fame. When [King] Solomon said (Ecclesiastes 7, 1): "A good name is preferable to good oil", he meant that one's name is good when it is like the natural fragrance of the oil which emanates by itself since its quality is an essential part of it; as opposed to the person who seeks to publicize his name.

The second involves overt self-praise in respect of which King Solomon said (Prov. 27, 2): "Let others praise you and not your own mouth, strangers and not your own lips".

The third involves pretending to be more than one really is and speaking untruths in order to receive praise as a result of them; and this is the way of the hypocrites.

We can compare the trait of arrogance to the peacock. It rejoices in its colors, in that it exults and shows off its shades and delights itself in observing its own colorful feathers: it shapes them in the form of a circle and wheel in order to display its beauty, so that people will say "How beautiful this bird is! How beautiful this peacock is!"

King David said (Psalms 10, 3): "Since the wicked man exults over [fulfilling] his personal desire", in other words the evil man praises himself out of his huge desire to receive praise. King Solomon said (Proverbs 25, 14): "Clouds and wind, but no rain! Such is the man who praises himself with fictitious gifts! Our Sages of blessed memory said that the righteous speak sparingly and do much, whereas the wicked talk a lot and don't even do a little.

Cato said: "If you wish to be a good person, do not seek greatness and praise". Someone else said: "The hen makes such a noise over one egg, that the foxes will hear it". Tullio said: "A fraudulent name does not last long: judge the person by his deeds and not by his words, since most people will attribute to themselves deeds which they did not carry out".

It is written in a book that a certain pious man was on his way when [the prophet] Elyahu of blessed memory came and accompanied him. They were still on their way when they saw an abandoned corpse which was putrefying and giving off a strong smell. The pious man blocked his nostrils whereas Elyahu of blessed memory did not react in any way. They advanced a little further and met a handsome young man of very pleasant appearance arranging his hair. At this, Elyahu of blessed memory stopped his nostrils. The pious man wondered and asked him: "My master, why do you cover your nose in front of this handsome young man and did not cover it because of that rotting corpse?" Elyahu of blessed memory answered him: "You should know, my son, that in the eyes of the Lord the putrefaction and the stench stemming from his arrogance are stronger than all the corpses in the world", as it is written (Psalms 101, 5): "I cannot bear the haughty and the greedy".

The whole book Tzemach Tzadik in Hebrew (printed in Rashi characters) can be downloaded in PDF format and read online at Chapter 29 about arrogance is found at pages 58-59.