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Tools For Growth: Shevet Mussar: Gratitude as an Antidote to Arrogance

The 24th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Eliyahu (ben Shlomo Avraham HaKohen) Ha’Itamari of Izmir, author of Shevet Mussar (according to some – 22 Adar) (c1650-1729).

According to family tradition, he is descended from Itamar ben Aharon HaKohen. In his book, Ve’lo Od Ela, Rav Eliyahu describes the earthquake that shook Izmir, on a Shabbos in 1688, and the many miracles that occurred to the Jews of the city. All of the
synagogues and batei medrash in the city remained intact, while all of the Moslem mosques collapsed. An hour after the earthquake, a huge fire burst forth and spread throughout the city, destroying what remained of it. However, the fire ceased at the Jewish Quarter, and did not penetrate it.

His other works included Me’il Tzeddakah on the importance of giving tzeddakah, Medrash Talpiyot, Yado BaKol, Medrash Eliyahu, Aggadas Eliyahu, a two-volume commentary on the aggados of the Talmud Yerushalmi, Chut shel Chessed on the Chumash, Dana Peshara, on Shir HaShirim, Rus and Esther, almost 40 sefarim in all.

We must understand that anyone who is arrogant is counted among those who deny the good they receive from God, and rather than occupy themselves in expressing their gratitude to the Creator, use their time to take credit for all that they have.

Therefore, all those who are arrogant, the Holy One, Blessed is He, and all the creations, even the members of his own family, will eventually come to hate him because his arrogance will inevitably be expressed in cruelty and anger.

A Wise Man said, “I am astounded how a human being can become arrogant when he is constantly walking on a fragile and broken bridge, and it is unreasonable for a person to rely on this bridge for he has no idea if it can protect him and keep him safe.”  A human being has no way of knowing if the qualities for which he takes credit will be sufficient to protect him from the problems of life and save him when he is challenged. (Shevet Mussar, Chapter 17:18)

A person who has chosen to work to remove all arrogance from his heart should begin, not by directly confronting his arrogance, for then he will certainly fail. He should begin by making an extra effort to be grateful to God for all the good he has, and to constantly express his gratitude to other people. The Shevet Mussar is teaching us that gratitude is a fundamental tool for dealing with arrogance.

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