1) THE MIDDLE PATH
QUESTIONS: The Gemara discusses at length the destructive power of the trait of Ga'avah, arrogance, and the importance of avoiding it. The RAMBAM records the Gemara's discussion as the Halachah (Hilchos De'os 2:3; see also Shemoneh Perakim, ch. 5; Perush ha'Mishnayos, Avos 4:4; and Moreh Nevuchim, ch. 59). The Rambam writes (Hilchos De'os 1:4) that with "all traits," a person should follow the "path of the middle" and not lean towards one extreme or the other. This is how he understands the statement of the Gemara later (5b) that a person should constantly evaluate his ways. However, with regard to the trait of arrogance, the Rambam (2:3) writes that one is prohibited from conducting himself in the manner of the middle path. Rather, one must go to the extreme and be not only humble ("Anav"), but be lowly of spirit ("Shefal Ru'ach"), the extreme manifestation of humility.
The Rambam seems to contradict himself in several respects. (See LECHEM MISHNEH, Hilchos De'os 1:4.)
(a) The Rambam writes that arrogance is an exception and one should practice the extreme in humility. This is also implied by what he writes in Hilchos De'os 1:4 and 1:5. In 1:4, the Rambam writes that the proper way is to take the middle path, and he gives examples of the middle path for all of the Midos he mentions at the start of the chapter -- except for the Midah of humility. In the following Halachah (1:5), he discusses taking a Midah to its extreme (which classifies the person as a "Chasid"), and he gives the example of "Shiflus ha'Ru'ach." However, in the next chapter (2:2) the Rambam writes that if a person feels that he is arrogant, he should conduct himself with self-effacement by dressing shabbily and humbling himself before everyone until he has uprooted the arrogance from his heart, and "he returns to the middle path which is the good path."
Moreover, the Rambam writes (1:3) with regard to all of the Midos he mentions at the beginning of the chapter -- including the Midah of arrogance -- that the extremes are not the correct path and a person should not follow the path of the extreme.
(b) A similar contradiction in the words of the Rambam is evident with regard to the trait of anger. In 1:4, the Rambam groups anger together with all other Midos (excluding only arrogance), for which the middle path is the best. In 2:2, he also writes that if a person finds himself easily angered, he should follow the opposite extreme and act in a most placid, dispassionate way until he has totally uprooted the anger from his heart, and then he may return to the middle path. However, in 2:3, after he explains that one should take the opposite extreme of arrogance, the Rambam writes that "so, too, anger is a very bad Midah, and one should go to the opposite extreme, and not become angry even about things for which it is fit to become angry."
(c) There is a more general contradiction in the Rambam's description of Midos. The Rambam first writes (1:3) that either one of the two extremes of any Midah is not a proper path to follow. However, the Rambam later (1:5) writes that if a person is overly careful and leans a bit towards the extreme and does not take the exact middle path, he is called a "Chasid," and he is considered as one who conducts himself "Lifnim mi'Shuras ha'Din" (beyond the letter of the law). This implies that it is more preferable to lean towards one extreme than to take the middle path.
(a) The Rambam himself explains why he writes that a person should take the middle path with the trait of arrogance, while he also writes that a person should conduct himself with an extreme of humility. The Rambam (1:7) differentiates between external actions a person does based on these character traits, and the actual, inherent traits themselves. A person can feel one way while he trains himself to act in another way. A careful examination of the words of the Rambam shows that when the Rambam discusses the actual, internal feeling a person experiences, he calls it a "Midah Beinonis." When he discusses the action a person performs, he calls it a "Derech Emtza'is," and he discusses "walking" (an external action) on that Derech. Similarly, with regard to anger, the Rambam writes (2:3) that although a person should conduct himself with an extreme of patience, meaning that he should feel an extreme of patience, nevertheless there are times when it is necessary to express anger -- without feeling actual anger inside -- in order to rebuke those around him (such as his family members or his followers).
The same distinction apparently applies to arrogance. It is obvious that the Rambam does not prescribe that a person dress in shabby clothes all the time in order to avoid arrogance. Rather, the Rambam means that a person should teach himself to feel very humble and lowly in his heart. However, his actions should not express that humility openly, but rather they should express a middle-of-the-path approach. That is why the Rambam (in 1:3 and 2:2) -- in his discussion of the actions a person performs -- recommends that one follow the middle path even with regard to humility.
However, when the Rambam (in 1:5 and 2:3) writes that a person should take the extreme in humility, he is discussing the way a person should feel internally and not the path upon which a person should "walk," an allusion to his external acts. (See HAGAHOS MAHAR'I on the Rambam; see, however, EVEN HA'AZEL).
(b) The above answer explains why the Rambam (in 2:2) writes that a person should take the middle path when it comes to anger. In that Halachah, the Rambam discusses the way a person should act externally and not the way a person should feel internally. This answer, however, does not explain why he writes (in 1:4) that the middle path is the preferable path for the Midah of anger, for there he discusses the way a person should feel internally (which is why he does not mention humility in that Halachah). Why does the Rambam write that the middle path is the preferable way with regard to anger?
The Rambam apparently does not place the Midah of anger in the same category as the Midah of arrogance. The Rambam writes (in 2:3) that one is prohibited to follow the middle path with regard to arrogance and humility. In contrast, with regard to anger he writes that it is a sinful Midah and it is "fitting" for a person to follow the opposite extreme, but it is not required of him to do so. When the Rambam discusses (in 1:4) taking the middle path with regard to anger, he means that it is an acceptable (but not preferable) way of conducting oneself.
(c) When the Rambam writes that one who leans towards one of the extremes is acting "Lifnim mi'Shuras ha'Din," he specifies that the person leans only "a little" to the extreme. When he writes earlier (1:3) that following an extreme is improper, he refers to conducting oneself entirely in the extreme of the Midah (whether in action or in heart). (LECHEM MISHNEH)
2) AN EIGHTH OF AN EIGHTH OF ARROGANCE
QUESTION: Rebbi Chiya bar Ashi in the name of Rav states that a Talmid Chacham must have one eighth of an eighth of arrogance.
If arrogance is such a contemptible trait, why should a Talmid Chacham have any amount of it? Also, why is the amount of arrogance which a Talmid Chacham should have specifically "one eighth of an eighth"?
ANSWER: The KOHELES YITZCHAK (Parshas Yisro) suggests that the Gemara means as follows. The Gemara earlier derives the importance of humility from the fact that Hash-m chose to give the Torah on Har Sinai. "Hash-m passed up all of the mountains and hills and rested His presence on [the lowly] Har Sinai." If arrogance is so discouraged, why did Hash-m give the Torah on a mountain altogether? He should have given the Torah in a lowly plain or valley! It must be that while arrogance is shunned, a minimal amount of pride is appropriate for a Talmid Chacham (represented by the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai). (See also Hagahos ha'Ya'avetz here.)
How small was Har Sinai in relation to the other mountains? RASHI and TOSFOS in Ta'anis (16a) write that Har ha'Moriyah is the same as Har Sinai, upon which the Torah was given. How is this possible? Har ha'Moriyah clearly refers to the mountain in Yerushalayim upon which Shlomo ha'Melech built the Beis ha'Mikdash, as related in Divrei ha'Yamim (see Divrei ha'Yamim II 3:1; see also Bereishis 22:2). Accordingly, Har ha'Moriyah cannot be Har Sinai, which is situated in the Sinai desert outside the borders of Eretz Yisrael.
It must be that Rashi and Tosfos mean that the sanctity of Har ha'Bayis stems from the revelation of Kedushah which graced the mountain upon which the Torah was given. YALKUT REUVENI (Parshas Yisro, DH b'She'as) even suggests that Har ha'Bayis was temporarily "transported" to the Sinai desert in order for the Torah to be given upon it. (Similarly, the Gemara in Megilah 29a relates that Har Tabor and Har Carmel temporarily uprooted themselves from their places in Eretz Yisrael and traveled to the Sinai desert when the Torah was given.)
Since the Gemara clearly equates Har Sinai at the time of the giving of the Torah with Har ha'Bayis, it is not unreasonable to assume that the size of Har Sinai was the same as the area of Har ha'Bayis of Har ha'Moriyah -- 500 Amah by 500 Amah.
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 99) relates that when Hash-m sought to choose a mountain upon which to give the Torah, the chief contender for the honor was Har Tabor. The Gemara in Bava Basra (73b) states that Har Tabor was four Parsah by four Parsah. A Parsah consists of four Mil, which is the equivalent of 2,000 Amos. Accordingly, four Parsah equals 32,000 Amos. Har Sinai, which was 500 Amos by 500 Amos (as mentioned above) is exactly 1/64 of the size of Har Tabor. (If the gradient of each mountain was equal and uniform, the height of each mountain should be directly proportional to the length of one of its sides.) Hence, this is the source that it is appropriate for a Talmid Chacham to retain one part in 64 (an eighth of an eighth) of pride for the sake of the Torah! (Koheles Yitzchak, Parshas Yisro, in "Pirchei Nisan"; Chanukas ha'Torah #207, in the name of Rav Heschel of Krakow. For many additional approaches to this Gemara, see DIVREI SHALOM, volume 5, chapters 113-124.)