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Arrogance leads to forgetfulness

01/28/2021 02:24:15 PM


There is a Rabbinic teaching about how anger and arrogance make a person forget their learning (Talmud Pesachim 66a). The truth of such an axiom is apparent wherever one observes the irrational behavior of one whose temper gets the better of them. How many verbal sparring matches have seen words thrown around that were immediately regretted once vocalized? Thus, it isn’t so much of a stretch to understand why our sages would teach such an idea. After all, if you can’t think clearly and objectively because you are angry or full of yourself, then it’s likely that you are not applying the full breadth of your learning. It is as Ben Zoma used to teach, “Who is wise? The one who learns from all others” (Avot 4:1).

While our personal experience might be enough to convince us of the truth of this Rabbinic teaching, our tradition situates such wisdom in our Bible. In the Haftarah for parshat B’shallach, the prophetess Deborah sings a song about the Israelite’s victory over the Canaanite army led by Sisera. Similar to the Song of the Sea, which Moses and the people sang after witnessing the Egyptian army’s defeat, the Song of Deborah encapsulates the military defeat of the Israelite’s foes. As the Book of Judges will explain, the victory is secured because of the prophetess’ involvement in the campaign. Therefore, it is accurate when the poem declares “Deliverance ceased, ceased in Israel, Till you arose, O Deborah, Arose, O mother, in Israel!” (Judges 5:6). But considering that Deborah is the author of the poem, these come across as arrogant to the sages. And when the poem continues and states “Awake, awake O Deborah! Awake, awake, strike up the chant” (Judges 5:12), the sages use it as evidence to suggest that Deborah loss access to her prophecy and learning because of her arrogance.

While the Song of Deborah doesn’t get as much attention as the Song of Sea, which is read daily as part of our morning liturgy, it is my prayer that we still will have opportunities to remember its message – at least this particular reading of the sages. Not being quick to anger, or having humility, indeed are worthy attributes. Though sometimes it is easier said than done. While we obviously strive to act rationally and wisely, we know that we often miss the mark. Yet, if we remember to keep our cool and our egos in check, to any extent more than we do currently, then we indeed will move ourselves towards wise actions and a more intentional future.

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784