From the Book of Samuel: Lessons on Living a Good Life

    November 2011          
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Samuel: Arrogance,
Anger and G-d

By Avi Lazerson

The lessons we can learn from the books of the prophets are innumerable. Each story gives us a different lesson on how to be a proper and true person. One such story is in the Book of Samuel where we can find a lesson as to the type of person that finds favor in G-d's eyes.

After G-d rejects Saul from remaining king since he disobeyed G-d's command concerning Amalek, G-d visits Samuel and tells him that He has selected a new person to become the king of Israel (see Samuel I, chapter 16). Samuel is instructed to go to Beit Lechem and visit the house of Yishi; there he will find the person designated to succeed Saul.

Once there, Samuel asks Yishi to bring in his sons. His eldest son, Eliav, comes in and Samuel is impressed with his stature and he is certain that this is the person that will be chosen to be the next king. He is tall, handsome and dignified just the type of person that possesses the proper attributes to be the next king.

G-d tells Samuel that he will not be the king. Samuel is told not to look on his height and mannerism for G-d has despised him. The verse continues, it is not the person's external appearance, for people see only with their eyes, meaning people see only the externalities of a person. G-d sees into the heart of the person; He knows what the inner essence of the person is (verse 7).

What is it that causes G-d to despise Eliav? Rashi, the classic commentator, explains that Eliav is prone to anger and Rashi sends us to view a verse in the next chapter of the Book of Samuel (Samuel I, chapter 17 verse 28).

When we look up this verse we see that it is talking about the battle that is taking place between the Philistines and the Israelites at the Eulla Valley. On one side is King Saul and on the other side is the Philistines. Each day Goliath who stands about eight foot tall, comes out and makes fun of the Jews. Three of Yishi's sons, including Eliav, are there with Saul.

In the meantime Yishi called his youngest son, David, to come in from watching the sheep and take some food to his sons who are serving in the army with King Saul. Yishi wants to find out how they are and he desires that David should bring word back to him. David obediently obeys his father's wishes and goes to see his brothers who are with the military camp on one side of the Eulla Valley.

The Israelites have been watching Goliath come out each day and make light of the Jews. He daily challenges them to send out their best man to fight him on a one-on-one basis. The Jews are unable to muster up courage to fight against the Philistines. There is a feeling of frustration in the Jewish camp. At this point David comes into the scene.

As David is asking the soldiers about his brothers whereabouts, Goliath comes forward again with his challenge. David sees the fear in the Israelites. His brother Eliav hears David speaking with the other Jews in the camp and becomes angered and says to David, "Why did you come down here? Why did you leave the sheep in the desert? I know your real desires of your deceitful heart was just to come down to watch the battle!"

Now let us just analyze this statement of Eliav for a moment. Eliav loses his temper at David - so what! Did not Moses lose his temper several time in his dealing with the Jews as they wandered around the desert? Why disqualify Eliav from being king because of anger and not Moses? Every one is subject to anger once in a while; it is a human characteristic.

There is an important difference here. Moses understood the people well, he was hand picked by G-d (who also lost His temper a few times when the Jews in the desert sinned). The difference is that Eliav presumed to understand the intentions of David and just attacked him for what Eliav perceived as foul intentions. He really should have not been so head strung and have accepted his gut feelings of David's intentions. Rather he should have questioned David first as to why he came rather than assuming a reason. Why should he have assumed that his assumptions were correct? People do make mistakes!

Assumptions should only be accepted when there is no ability to check or clarify. When an assumption can be clarified and the person does not clarify whether his assumption is correct then he is guilty of a grave sin, the sin of arrogance.

Arrogance is believing that what you assess to be correct is correct and that no further investigation is necessary. Thinking that you are so correct that you need not to check yourself is a condition that causes people to make grave mistakes. It should not matter how intelligent a person is, if he does not check whether his assumptions are correct, it is because he believes that he is so smart that no checking is necessary.

Arrogance is not one of the sins that are enumerated in the Torah. It is not even a sin by itself, but it leads man into many types of grave sins. So many people just assume that they are so correct in what they believe that they do not even bother to check themselves.

What would you think of a judge who hears one side of a court case and then gives his verdict saying that he understands the case sufficiently and there is clearly no need to hear the other side? Most people would be shocked and would say that the judge is not fair.

This was the flaw in Eliav that prevented him from being anointed king. That was one very big loss for him. Arrogance is a very serious flaw. It can ruin lives and relationships.

Don't be quick to judge a situation based on a newspaper report or a singular verbal report. It is possible that the reporter was one sided. Don't be quick to judge your friend or relative for an action that you initially perceive to be improper. Speak to him/her calmly and carefully and verify if your assessment of the actions were correct. You have much to lose if you don't.


from the November 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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