Rise up, judge of the earth, give the arrogant their deserts! (94:2)
Psalm 94 is recited as the Psalm for Wednesday, the fourth day of the week. As with the other Psalms of the day (except for the Psalm for Shabbat), the Talmud posits a connection between this day’s act of creation and something in the Psalm. In this Psalm, the assumption is that those who are in need of punishment for arrogance are those who worship the sun and the moon, created on the fourth day of creation. Arrogant people act as if they are the center of the world, as if the sun and the moon rotate around them.
I find arrogance to be perhaps the ugliest of the negative character traits. It sometimes masquerades as self-confidence, a positive character trait. The difference is that self-confidence is rooted in the essential core of a person’s identity. Confident people have a strong center because they know who they are and understand their abilities and limitations. Humility and self-confidence are symbiotic traits. When they don’t know or understand something or they fail at some task, they are able to admit their deficiency which enables them to learn and grow.
Arrogant people, on the other hand, are not humble. Arrogance is a shell protecting a weak core identity. To admit failure is to admit that their essential nature is weak. To an arrogant person, projecting an image of strength is critical. When they don’t know or understand something, they are more likely to deny or blame to preserve their strong image, rather than show weakness by admitting ignorance.
It’s easy to see why the Psalmist delights in seeing the arrogant receive their comeuppance. Perhaps if they are punished as they deserve, it will be like receiving a dose of humility that will teach them a more pleasant way of relating to others.