Excerpted from the Kav Hayashar (Chapter 7):
In short, a person must reflect how much evil is caused by [arrogance]. Let him realize that it was not in vain that the Sages said that a haughty person is considered as if he worshipped idolatry (Sotah 4b). This is because he delivers his sould into the hands of powerful impure forces (chitzonim) so that it is only with great difficulty that he can escape them. Therefore it is as if he is under the dominion of foreign gods, Rachmana LiTzlan. Therefore, let the wise see and take heed, appreciating the severity of both the iniquity and punishment.
In any event, of that does a man have to be proud? If he is proud of his wealth, Hakadosh Baruch Hu has already declared, “Mine is silver and mine is gold says Hashem of Hosts” (Chaggai 2:10). Hashem can deprive a man of his wealth in an instant. In fact, we have already heard of several wealthy men who were murdered for their riches. Bandits set their eyes upon them, pursued them and struck them down, subjecting them to dreadful suffering before their souls departed. Some did not even merit burial, which is itself a terrible fate. We have observed that no adversary or mishap came upon the numerous others who traveled along the same road but only upon the wealthy man on account of his wealth.
Let a man reflect that many people have labored and wearied themselved, eschewing sleep, enduring the heat of day and icy cold of at night. They travel in the dark, in the rain and in the snow to amass a nest egg of a hundred or a thousand of more. Then just at the moment when they can at last rejoice in their portions and indulge themselves with the fruits of their labors – suddenly death strikes and they are compelled to abandon it all. They depart for the next world leaving to others all the wealth they labored so hard to accumulate. They gather one penny after another by the sweat of their brow until it adds up to the desired sum. But then they must leave it all in the hands of another.
Sometimes a man’s wife claims all of his wealth for her kesubah. Then after he dies she marries another man and gives him all her money, while the first husband’s children go barefoot and in rags, deriving no benefit from their father’s riches. They see their mother sitting and eating and drinking with another man, enjoying life with her second husband while they, the orphaned from the first husband, sit between the oven and the stove (like mourners on Tisha B’Av)! They look on as their mother enjoys meat and wine and other delicacies while they would be happy just to receive her leftovers! They sigh as they recall to one another that all wealth was once their father’s and now they have no access to it.
Let a man remember that this can easily happen through the decree of the Melech Malchai Hamlachim Hakadosh Baruch Hu. For with my own eyes I have seen many children who were raised in luxury but their delight (Oneg) was transformed into plague (Negah), sorrow and tribulations. After their father’s demise they went to his grave and poured out their troubles but they received no reply because the dead are too preoccupied with the reckoning they must give for their sins and transgressions. Let a man take all this to heart and he will surely not fall into pride over his wealth.
And if he is clever and proud of his intellect, let him consider that numerous clever people have been ensnared by their own cleverness. More numerous than those who sought out wisdom were those who trapped themselves with a single misspoken word and were unable to recover. For example, many have sought to display their wit before kings and nobles but afterwards were ensnared by a misspoken word and met with misfortune for which there was no remedy. By contrast, those people who nullify themselves, saying things like, “I do not know, enter and exit in peace.
This being so, what advantage does the clever person enjoy through his cleverness in worldly matters? No one is fed or earns his living through cleverness but only through whatever channel Hashem has granted him to provide sustenance for his household, and obviously not through cheating his colleague.
Therefore a person should remind himself that a day will come suddenly then his cleverness will come to nothing – on the day that he falls upon his sickbed and his wits are addled by the intensity of his illness. At that time even a young child will outshine him. Nor can his cleverness save him from the Angel of Death. What benefit is there, then, in such cleverness? Therefore let a person see to it that he does not take pride in his intellect.
Suppose that a man takes pride in his Torah study, in his fluency, his sharpness and his understanding in depth and increases strife, jealousy, hatred, lashon hara, anger, falsehood and mockery. When one considers the matter he realizes that every sin in the Torah is included within it. The damage that pride causes is very great. Woe to whoever indulges in it on a refulat basis. Fortunate is he to holds fast to the trait of humility and contrition, for this is a pleasing and praiseworthy trait that brings him in the World to Come and saves him from affliction in the grave.
There is no other trait that purifies and whitens the physical human being like the trait of humility. Through it the very substance of one’s body becomes spiritualized. Thus if a person adheres to this trait his entire life even his body will shine in the grave like a bright light and receive illumination from the holiness of the upper realms. Moreover, he will merit receiving esoteric insights into the Troah from the Heavenly yeshiva and body soul shine as one. All of this is achieved through the trait of humility.
The Tannaim and Amoriam, through the trait of humility, were able to regularly experience miracles, visits from Eliyahu HaNavi and Ruach Hakodesh. Therefore a person must Daven that me should merit this trait. As a rule, arrogant people only live half their years. Even if a person should want to be a community leader or Shul Rabbi, his pride causes him to think of those under him as nothing and to belittle his honor. This person will also live a short life, Rachmana LiTzlan.