Test of Arrogance
I am a high school student, and have a dilemma that has been bothering me for some time. I hope you can help me.
After a test, my teacher posts the highest marks on the bulletin board. I have gotten my name posted a few times so far, and then afterwards everyone looks at the bulletin board and comes to congratulate me. But I am worried that all this attention is making me arrogant. I considered asking my teacher not post my name, but then I figured that the recognition I get from having my name posted is helping to open doors to career and social opportunities.
What should I do?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
It is fantastic that you are so concerned about this issue. Arrogance restrains us and inhibits us, because we become unnecessarily concerned over how we appear in the eyes of the others. That's why the Talmud identifies arrogance as one of the things that "removes a person from the world."
As for your question, I think you should have the teacher continue to post your name on the bulletin board as often as she likes. Don't run from the challenge. Rather, look at this as a good opportunity to work on developing humility - an opportunity you would not have if your name was not posted.
Here's a tool to help you conquer the challenge: The key to improving humility is to remind yourself that everything comes from God. If you catch yourself feeling somehow superior to other people, turn the feeling instead into gratitude to the Almighty. Thank God for giving you the strength and ability to do well on the tests in the first place. Learn to distinguish between "pleasure" and "pride."
Being both proud and humble is a tricky balance. The following story may shed light on how to attain this balance:
There was once a rabbi who carried two slips of paper in his pockets. In his left pocket was written the verse from Genesis 18:27: "I am but dust and ashes." In his right pocket he carried another slip of paper that said, "For my sake the world was created." (Midrash - Vayikra Rabba 36:4)
Before he would go to pray each day, he would reach into his left pocket to remember that in reality man was made from the "dust of the earth" (Genesis 2:7). He would then think how impossible it is to do anything without God helping him. How can the heart beat without God making it pump? And how can the lungs breathe without God willing it so?
While praying, he would reach into his right pocket and pull out the paper that said, "For my sake the world was created." And then he would remember the great love the Almighty has for every human being. He would have great feelings of self-esteem, and would ask God to fulfill all his needs and requests.
May the Almighty help you strike that perfect balance!
For more ideas, see Rabbi Noah Weinberg's 48 Ways essay, "Subtle Traps of Arrogance." http://www.aish.com/sp/48w/48953876.html