Pride Goes Before The Fall

There is a Midrash about Pharaoh meeting Moses at the edge of the Nile River, before G-d
turned the water to blood. Why would Pharaoh, King of Egypt, be at the water’s edge at the crack of dawn? Kings like to sleep late. The Midrash explains that Pharaoh went early in the morning to meet his bodily needs, before other people awoke. He saw himself as a g-d, and he did not want people to see that he was merely human, with the same needs as every other human.

Pharaoh had a high opinion of himself. This caused him to become a proud, arrogant man, subjecting his people to plague after plague, refusing to let the Israelites go. Pharaoh was the epitome of the Biblical verse from Mishle, from Proverbs (16:18) “Pride comes before the fall.” Compare Pharaoh to Moses, the man who confronts and eventually beats Pharaoh. Nonetheless, Moses was known for his humility. If one is in a position of power, it is vital that one develop a strong dose of modesty.

I think about this as I watch the horrible events of January 6th playing on tv over and over. A riotous mob took over the Capitol building, threatened not only senators and congress people but also the Vice President, desecrated a sacred site, and caused the deaths of several people including a Capitol policeman. The tragedy is that they were encouraged by the President of the United States, who could not accept the fact that he had lost the election. People have a right to demonstrate peacefully. But when the demonstration turned into a riot, the President had the obligation to tell his supporters to stand down. And
so we witnessed a sad chapter in the history of our republic.

There is a lesson in all this. Too often people in a position of power forget their humanity and allow a foolish pride to overwhelmthem. This is true of Pharaohs and presidents. But it is also true of other people who have responsibility – doctors, lawyers, judges, businesspeople, athletes, entertainers and rabbis. This is the risk when people allow their position to become more important than their humanity.

The Rabbis were well aware of this danger. That is why Rabbi Yosi taught,” It is not the place who honors the person, but the person who honors the place” (Taanit 21b). Human dignity does not come from holding an office. Rather, a person acting ethically brings dignity to that office. Those in a position of power and authority have even more responsibility to be careful of their words and actions.

The greater the power, the greater the obligation. Those in positions of power must control that self-pride, and like Moses, learn the importance of humility.

Rabbi Scolnic