My father would often tell us about his uncles. His uncle Moshe was a chassidic Jew, far removed from worldly matters. He was an extraordinarily humble man, without the slightest hint of pretense. If, for example, he needed to remove the sand that had collected inside his shoes, he would simply take off his shoes in the middle of the street and do so. It was as though he scarcely had a sense of self; in the Chassidic parlance, he had bittul.

A second uncle served as the rabbi of a shul in Shventzian, I believe, a town not far from Smargon. He was an arrogant man, and his egotism stood him in stark contrast with his brother.

My father once returned home from yeshiva in Lubavitch and brought along with him some Torah books to sell. When he approached this second uncle, he tried persuading him to buy from him by enumerating the various rabbis who had purchased from him as well.

Upon hearing my father mention the names of other rabbis, prefacing each one with the honorary title “Harav,” his uncle jumped up from his place. “Those are rabbis?! Who is the rabbi here?" Somehow, even calling someone else a rabbi in his presence conveyed an intolerable level of disrespect. "To think that I would have so much heartache1 from my very own nephew!”

“I didn’t mean to disparage you, uncle,” my father tried to excuse himself. “I was only trying to tell you that they bought from me as well.”

But his uncle remained unappeased. “But who is the rabbi here?! Such heartache from my own nephew,” he said again. He was completely oblivious to his own pomposity.

He was only placated when he went over to the Ark that stood in front of the shul, opened it wide and fervently quoted a short prayer: “Let them be silenced, the lying lips which speak arrogantly against the righteous, with pride and contempt!”2