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  • Is Pride Really a Deadly Sin?

    Posted on February 22nd, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder 3 comments

    “Pride is, in the Jewish tradition, among the most serious of the vices, as humility is among the highest of the virtues. The Talmudic Rabbis, perhaps because of their awareness that scholars are easily tempted to lord it over the ignorant, denigrate pride in the most caustic terms.”

    –Rabbi Louis Jacobs  The Jewish Religion: A Companion

    How ought Jewish leaders think about pride? In Christianity pride is viewed along with wrath, greed, sloth, lust, envy and gluttony to be the seven deadly sins. These sins, stand in a category of their own because, among other reasons, their tendency to cause more sin. True Judaism does not buy into the framework of original sin, but if we take Rabbi Jacobs and the sources he sights, it would seem that we ought to leave pride alone all together.

    At first, I was completely comfortable with this approach. My chevruta and I have recently began making our way through Alan Moranis’s Everyday Holiness which uses the traditional Jewish approach to self examination mussar to lead readers to self improvement. The starting point for this work? Humility. The polar opposite of pride.

    Getting rid of pride is no easy task, no less a persona than Moses struggled to do so. According to our tradition, his understanding of the divine was greater than anyone before or after him. And yet, when it came to preparing for his death, he was not easy to accept his immiment passing. According to the Midrash Tanchuma VaEtkhanan, upon understanding that the authority of interpreting the Torah and receiving prophecy had passed from him to Joshua, Moses cried out and said “Rather a hundred deaths than a single pang of envy. Master of the universes, until now I sought life. But now my soul is surrendered to You.” And yet, when the angel was sent to bring him to God, Moses fought back claiming greater authority and power.

    Pride makes us take up too much space, makes us inflate our importance in comparison to that of other people. As leaders, it can trip us up as we step too far forward, expect too much recognition, or put our own needs ahead of the tasks that need completing. It can cloud our judgment. Pride can lead to a fall sense of importance. As a rabbinic mentor once told me, half the bad stuff they attribute to you is not your fault but at the same time, half the good stuff they attribute to you is not your accomplishment either.

    Yet as Moranis points out, false humility is just as bad as pride. We need to own our strengths and capabilities. Real humility demands stepping up and working to accomplish what we are capable of doing.

    Nonetheless, I was left wondering whether pride, like other elements of the evil impulse, ought to be managed but not entirely eradicated. Is it wrong to find joy in the hard work we do, in the skills we learn and use well? Sometimes, the desire for recognition pushes us to do the right thing. Sometimes our inflated sense of self gets us through what might otherwise be an impossible situation. Describing Sephardi Jews of Turkey, Rabbi Marc Angel explains that no matter how poor these Jews were, they held on to the memory of having once been part of the prosperous Spanish Jewish community. Generations had passed, still pride helped them cope with what were often difficult lives.

    Manage it, contain it. But in my humble opinion, pride is far from entirely negative.

    -Ruth Abusch-Magder



    3 responses to “Is Pride Really a Deadly Sin?”

    1. As of today, the deadly sin of the pride is something which can be duscussed for hours, finally not reaching one way answer. Going to extremes can be fatal, thus too much pride may make you feel dizzy and unrealistically significant. But the reasonable pride only means that you are apprecited human being who is well aware of its qualities.

    2. Rabbi Max Kadushin would apply this test to determine if “pride” (being proud) is a Jewish value: Is there a Hebrew word for it? There is. But in this case, pride (ga-avah) is similar to hautiness and arrogance. It is condemned in Ps10:2, 31:18, 23 and Prov. 29:23. And yet we might consider a distinction between being proud of who we are (musical, athletic, smart, Jewish…)–attributes we did nothing to achieve–and being proud of what we do–our true achievements. This calls for a balance of humility (anavah) and pride (ga-avah).

    3. Dear Ruth, The Baal Shem…and later chasidim speak to bittul hayesh. It does seem that in American society we often think that ego is “good” or that some pride is “necessary.” Ultimately, in order to reach the place of Shalom, letting go of all of this is required. Hatzlacha to all of us in our journey, reb

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