Is Gaavah Ever Permitted?

V’ram levavech v’shachta es Hashem Elokecha ha’motzia’cha me’Eretz Mitzrayim mibeis avadim (Devarim 8:14)

In Parashas Eikev, the Torah cautions against haughtiness, explaining that it can cause a person to forget Hashem and all of His kindnesses. The Gemara (Sotah 4b) cites this verse as one of the Scriptural sources for the evils of the trait of gaavah (arrogance). The Rambam writes (Hilchos Deios 2:2) that regarding most middos (character traits), it is appropriate to adopt the middle path, not veering to either extreme. However, the Rambam continues and writes (2:3) that one of the rare exceptions to this principle is the middah of gaavah, regarding which a person should completely distance himself from any form of arrogance, and should instead conduct himself with extreme humility.

The Lechem Mishneh points out that the Rambam seems to contradict himself, as he explicitly writes earlier (Hilchos Deios 1:5) regarding the character trait of arrogance that most wise people adopt the middle path, and only the exceedingly righteous elect to go to the extreme, seemingly sanctioning some degree of haughty conduct.

The Yad Hamelech resolves this apparent inconsistency with a fascinating insight into human nature. He explains that when it comes to most middos, if a person takes an honest look at himself, he is able to acknowledge his faults. A glutton is aware of how much he eats, and a person with a fiery temper is cognizant of how often he gets angry. Even though on some level we rationalize and justify our conduct, we are nevertheless capable of at least recognizing what we are doing. The middah of gaavah is an exception, because an arrogant person by definition views himself as superior to those around him and therefore deserving of additional respect and honor. He justifies his approach to the point that even in his most introspective moments, it seems completely normal and appropriate in his eyes.

With this insight, the Yad Hamelech explains that in Chapter 1, the Rambam’s objective is to lay out and establish the general principle that a person should seek out the middle path with respect to every character trait, including gaavah. In Chapter 2, the Rambam proceeds to discuss how a person should act in real terms. Because it is impossible for a person to recognize that he is acting arrogantly, somebody who aims for the middle path for this trait will unwittingly end up seeking excessive honor, and therefore the Rambam writes that on a practical level, we have no choice but to adopt an extreme approach toward gaavah.

Q: If three adult men eat a meal together, they are required to recite Birkas Hamazon (8:10) together, with one of them leading the group by inviting the others to join him in saying the Grace after Meals. Generally, this honor is accorded to a Kohen, and in the absence of a Kohen, it is given to the most educated or pious member of the group. Under what circumstances would the most lenient of the men be required to lead the group?

Q: In discussing the sin of the golden calf (9:21), Moshe told the Jewish people, “Your sin which you committed, I took it and burned it in fire.” Although Moshe took the physical calf and burned it, what did he mean when he said that he burned the actual sin, something which has no physical manifestation?

Q: The Gemara in Menachos (43b) derives from 10:12 that one is required to recite 100 blessings daily. Are women included in this obligation?

A: The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch writes that in a case where three people are eating a meal together and two of them are stringent not to eat bread which was cooked by a non-Jew, while the third member of the group is lenient and is eating from such bread, he is required to lead the invitation to recite Birkas Hamazon. Since he is able to eat from the bread of the other two but they are unable to eat from his bread, he must serve as the leader of the group.

A: The Shelah HaKadosh explains that every action that a person does mystically creates a corresponding angel. Mitzvos generate good angels, while sins produce bad ones. Moshe recognized that simply burning the calf itself, while necessary, would not suffice to erase the spiritual effects of the actions. He therefore additionally took the destructive angel that was created through their sin and burned it as well. Moshe related this to teach that when repenting our misdeeds, we must sincerely regret our actions and accept upon ourselves not to repeat them in order to uproot not only the physical consequences of the sin but the spiritual ones as well.

A: Harav Shmuel Wosner, zt”l, notes that in listing the 100 blessings which a person should make each day, the Rishonim include many blessings from which women are exempt, such as the blessings on tzitzis and tefillin, without mentioning that women need to compensate for them. This indicates that women are not obligated in this mitzvah. This is also the opinion of Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, who adds that women are also exempt from a number of the blessings said during the daily prayers, and it is also the opinion of, lbcl”c, Harav Moshe Sternbuch. However, the Piskei Teshuvos quotes Harav Elyashiv, zt”l, and Harav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, as maintaining that women are obligated in this mitzvah.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.