This week’s haftorah opens by Ezekiel recalling the exiles being led from Egypt and the subsequent decimation of the Pharaoh Meanwhile, over at this week’s Parshah, it’s raining plagues as Moses lobbies for his people’s freedom.
“When I gather in the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they have been scattered.. then they shall dwell on their land…and dwell upon it securely.”
Flash forward a few centuries, and Egypt is again about to receive some godly punishment—this time a forthcoming flood of conquering Babylonians. Why is Egypt in trouble this time? Ezekiel says their first sin was to renege on their promise to aid Israel when they were being attached by the Babylonians, and secondly, they’ve been arrogant—attributing their success to the Nile and not to G-d. But “the river is mine and I have made it,” and as such, an angered G-d is going to reward Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, for conquering the evil nation of Tyre by offering Egypt as a spoil.
Then in a very specific prophesy, Ezekiel suggests that following the Babylonian stomping, Egypt will be desolate for 40 years, after which people will return to inhabit it, but it will no longer be an important nation to be reckoned with.
Perhaps a warning from history itself—nations rise and fall in power. Even if they are still inhabited, once powerful nations will no longer be what they once were in their glory days. One could argue that, along with many, many other economic and political variables, arrogance indeed still plays a role in a nation’s declining empire.
While you probably don’t have an empire you’re trying to sustain, you can scale that warning to personal success in general. I grew up in Ohio, so the phrase “too big for your breeches” was an oft-cited remonstration from older folks pointing out when the eagerness of youth who have tasted a little success, let themselves become cocky. And when you’re cocky, you look silly—like little kids pretending they’re adults while still wearing short-pants.
Divine smiting notwithstanding, nobody likes cocky, arrogant people, and you just invite people to knock you off your pedestal.
So by all means, grow, succeed, do great things. But be humble and helpful, respect the promises you’ve made to others, and recognize that you’ve had help along the way. Otherwise, you may not be a force to be reckoned with for long, and you’ll always have to look over your shoulder for advancing Babylonians!