Pri eitz hadar, “the fruit of a beautiful tree,” is commonly accepted as referring to the esrog tree. In Sefer Likutim, the Arizal says that the letters of the word esrog: aleph, taf, reish, gimmel form an acronym for the pasuk in Tehillim 36:12, Al tevoeini regel gaavah, “Let not the foot of arrogance come to me.” Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, explains this pragmatically. The pasuk in which David Hamelech deplores arrogance and prays that it not affect him in any way, is truly a pasuk fitting for the esrog. This could be termed the “esrog’s prayer,” for the esrog is the one fruit that has a right to be arrogant. It is a beautiful fruit, completely unblemished, with nary a spot and bumps out of place, perfectly symmetrical, and very expensive. It is the specie of the “four species” that symbolizes the Torah Jew who observes mitzvos, studies Torah and performs acts of lovingkindness. It is the fruit replete with laudatory qualities, the fruit that all other fruits “envy.” Thus, it prays to Hashem not to allow it to become arrogant, to elevate itself above others.
In Shaar Avodas Elokim 4, the Chovas Halevavos relates a dialogue between a chasid and his students. The chasid said, “If you would not have sins, I would fear something even greater than sin [He was thankful that his students had not achieved spiritual perfection.] “What is greater (more egregious) than sin?” they asked. “Arrogance,” the chasid replied. Clearly, the chasid could not fathom that a sinner would have the audacity to arrogate himself over others. What does he have to lord over others: his sins?
Rav Galinsky relates a well-known episode concerning a middle-aged couple who came to Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita, to seek his sage advice concerning an “issue” which was causing tension in their relationship. Apparently, the husband was quite well-to-do. Yet, despite his enormous wealth, he drove a ten-year-old car, which his wife felt was demeaning. She had decided that the time had come for them to purchase a new car. Indeed, she had already selected the color!
Rav Shteinman looked at the husband and asked, “Nu, so what is the problem? [As if he had nothing else with which to occupy his time.] Why do you not buy a new car?” “Rebbe, I fear an ayin hora, becoming the victim of an evil eye.” (If someone will notice the new vehicle and become envious of its owner, it could create an evil eye, which is a sort of spiritual curse).
Rav Shteinman heard this and was impressed. Apparently, this individual did not want to bring attention to himself. He must be a person replete with qualities which people envy. “Tell me,” Rav Shteinman asked, “can I test you on Shas?” “What – am I a Kollel fellow; that I study all day, so that I can master the entire Talmud?”
“I understand,” countered Rav Shteinman, “Perhaps you have mastered one or two sedarim of the Talmud?” “Rebbe, I said that I am not a Kollel fellow; I have not mastered an entire Seder.” “Perhaps you are proficient in one meseches, tractate?” “No, not even one tractate. I am a simple layman,” the man replied, somewhat agitated.
“Let me see,” replied Rav Shteinman, “You have neither mastered Shas, nor are you proficient in even one Seder. Worse, you claim not to have completed even one tractate! Yet, you fear someone’s envy? Why would anyone be envious of you?” (The sage was intimating that if his only quality was wealth, it was not worthy of envy. Thus, he had nothing to worry about concerning ayin hora.)
Rav Galinsky concludes with a powerful statement from the Ohaiv Yisrael, the Apter Rav, zl, who said, “There is no reason to have a discussion concerning arrogance. All one has to remember is, ‘Nine Apter Ravs (individuals of such distinction) do not comprise a minyan, quorum. Ten baalei agalah, wagon drivers (representative of the simple, usually illiterate Jew), create a minyan, which is a setting for kedushah and Kaddish. It becomes, a place to which the Shechinah, Divine Presence, comes and goes.”
It is not who one is, with whom he is affiliated, from whom he descends, or how much money he is worth: it is before Whom he stands – Hashem Yisborach; and, before Him, we are all the same. Even the esrog, by itself, without the support of the other three species, each representing another aspect of Klal Yisrael, does not effect the mitzvah. It requires all four minim, species. Moshe Rabbeinu clearly represented the esrog of Klal Yisrael. Yet, when the nation sinned with the Golden-Calf, Hashem told him Lech reid, “Go down,” from your high position (Shemos 32:7). A leader is only as exalted as his flock. When the flock fails, he fails.
I will add that, when one is endowed with a special gift, be it exceptional acumen, illustrious lineage, material abundance, all of which he uses properly for the betterment of others – while it is no reason to arrogate oneself – he is certainly worthy of kinaas sofrim, the envy of scribes, which spurs one to greater growth. One who truly cares about achievement is spurred on by the desire to emulate, and even surpass others. This form of jealousy may not be the ideal, but, if it serves as an incentive, it cannot really be that bad.