In a previous proverb (12-15), Mishlei praised the virtue of humility and associated it with wisdom, which is described as the readiness to seek advice. Mishlei now turns to the converse of humility, which is arrogant pride. Pride may be driven by a hunger for honor, but a consequence of this foolish hunger can easily be tragedy. A person who refuses to listen to expert opinion is on the way to making tragic decisions.
In contrast to a prideful person, a humble person shuns honor. If he is honored, the honor comes to the humble person in recognition of his humility. He does not allow the honor to distort his character. Whereas the prideful person is corrupted by honor, the humble person is enobled by it.
לִפְנֵי שֶׁבֶר יִגְבַּהּ לֵב אִישׁ וְלִפְנֵי כָבוֹד עֲנָוָה
(12) A man’s prideful heart precedes tragedy
and humility precedes honor.
This is a proverb of consequences. A person should recognize that his character, whether good or bad is likely to influence the course of his life. In turn, his character will be formed by the goals that he sets for himself.
A person who values honor will end up as prideful. Tragically, such a person will encounter the consequence of pride, which distorts his judgment of himself and the opinion that others have of him. Because of the high opinion he has of himself he doesn’t realize that he has incurred the wrath of Hashem. Thus, the possibility of tragedy is far from his mind.
Conversely, a person who shuns honor will end up as being a humble person. Hashem will reward his humility and people will respect his undemanding nature. And so his humility may very well end up bringing him the kind of consideration that is the fruit of honor.
(12) Preceding tragedy — לִפְנֵי שֶׁבֶר
there is like to be a man’s prideful heart — אִישׁ יִגְבַּהּ לֵב.
And preceding honor — וְלִפְנֵי כָבוֹד
there is likely to be humility — עֲנָוָה
(1) A person who is driven by selfish ambition is attracted to behavior that runs counter to the will of Hashem. Thus, Hashem grants him his wishes only in order to let him suffer the natural consequence of his own character defect. (מצודות)
(2) A prideful person thinks he is deserving of extra consideration. Therefore, he tends to make inordinate demands on those around him. This leads to resentment and ultimately rebellion. In contrast, the humble person thinks of himself as undeserving and he therefore expects less of those around him. As a result, they tend to find him a pleasure to associate with. That pleasure translates into honor and respect. ( רשר”ה)
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