A man’s pride will humiliate him, but a humble man will obtain honor. — Proverbs 29:23
Many of us may have experienced the annoyance of a friend, a sibling or a colleague, taking credit for something we did, a brilliant idea that we actually suggested first, a beneficial act that we initiated or some other effort where we should really have gotten credit. Conversely, we may have inadvertently taken credit ourselves in such cases, when in truth it was somebody else who was responsible.
Rabbenu Bechaye in Genesis 19:13 suggests that such crimes stem from undue pride and arrogance, that God doesn’t take kindly to the stealing of “credit,” and that he will punish such wrongdoers by humbling them and thereby teach them some needed humility.
Perhaps surprisingly, he learns this lesson from a poorly phrased comment by God’s angels. The angels were coming to destroy Sodom. They stated “we’re destroying;” when they should have said “God is destroying.” Their initial punishment was that they were not able to leave the place until they admitted that “God sent us to destroy.” Their further punishment was that they were banished from God’s presence for 138 years, for we only see these angels again generations later with the patriarch Jacob.
Even the greatest personalities were guilty of such missteps of arrogance, including Moses, Samuel and Deborah:
- Moses said: “Whatever is too hard for you to judge, you’ll bring to me.” Punishment: Didn’t know answer to question of the daughters of Zlofhad.
- Samuel said: “I’m the seer.” Punishment: When came time to anoint the next king, he thought it was Eliav (David’s brother); God reprimands him, saying he’s wrong, that man “sees the eyes, but God sees the heart.”
- Deborah said: “Until I, Deborah, arose.” Punishment: The divine spirit left her.
Rabbeinu Bechaye concludes that there is a particular danger for anyone who attributes any divine credit and honor to themselves. When we delude ourselves into thinking that we are due honor, when in fact it is God moving the pieces behind the scenes, we are liable to set ourselves up to being humbled in order to correct our mistaken notions.
May we retain our humility and always give credit where credit is due.
To Yoni Tocker on his Bar-Mitzvah and all those who deserve the credit for such a beautiful event.