One of the followers of Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch (the “Mitteler Rebbe,” 1773–1827) was known for studying and praying with great devotion, and displaying a kind and gentle manner to others. Yet he still had a serious character flaw. He greatly admired his own virtues. Afraid that he was growing arrogant, the chassid decided to approach his rebbe for guidance.

After hearing the chassid describe his predicament, Rabbi DovBer was silent for a moment, and then responded:

When G‑d created the world, He created both good and evil. After these two elements came into being, they came before G‑d and asked for their respective missions. “Spread the light of goodness and kindness in the world,” G‑d instructed the Good Side. “This is achieved by making people aware of their Creator.”

Evil asked, “But will I be able to do my job? Will people really listen to me?”

G‑d then instructed the Evil Side to combat the good, thereby giving people the choice and opportunity to overcome adversity. The Evil Side asked, “But will I be able to do my job? Will people really listen to me?” When the Creator responded in the affirmative, the Evil Side asked to be told its name. “You will be called the Serpent,” said the Creator.

Upon hearing this, the Serpent became worried. He was afraid that his name alone would frighten people away and doom his mission. “Have no fear,” reassured G‑d, “you will succeed.”

Indeed, the Serpent was successful in misleading Eve to sin, convincing her to eat from the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and to share her sin with Adam. After Adam had eaten from the same fruit, G‑d banished the pair from Eden, and thus began all of life’s challenges.

However, when Adam and Eve realized their sin, they repented completely and managed to atone for their folly. Seeing the holiness that now permeated their lives, the Serpent came before the Creator again. “Destroy me,” he implored. “I will never be able to succeed now!”

“Have no fear,” responded the Creator. “I will change your name to ‘Angel of Death.’ No one will recognize you.”

The Evil Side—disguised as the Angel of Death—did his sinister work for generations, until our grandparents Abraham and Sarah began spreading the knowledge of G‑d in their surroundings. Forlorn, the Angel of Death complained again that his job was too difficult, well-nigh impossible. “Fear not,” said the Creator, “I will change your name again. From now on, you will be known as ‘Satan.’ No one will recognize you.”

So, Satan began his career. His work went well, until Moses made his appearance. When he began teaching Torah, Satan was ready to throw in the towel for good. He appeared before the Creator asking for a merciful end; now he truly felt useless. Again, his name was changed. This time, he was renamed “Arrogance.”

Again, his name was changed. This time, he was renamed “Arrogance.”

Arrogance now began his career. This time, his disguise was so good that he even penetrated houses of Torah learning. The more a true scholar studies, the more he realizes how little he really knows. However, under the influence of Arrogance, people would study and not be humbled by their knowledge. Instead, they assumed airs of superiority and looked down with disdain at the unlearned. Of course, they sugarcoated these feelings by claiming to defend the dignity of their knowledge, not their own person.

This continued until Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov arrived in this world. He revealed the true unity of G‑d, before whom all are equal—no matter their level of scholarship.

Again the Evil Side came before the Creator, disguised as Arrogance, asking for a merciful end. Again his name was changed. This time, instead of plain Arrogance, it would be known as “Fear of Arrogance.” Being less bold than plain old Arrogance, Fear of Arrogance could do its work in peace.

“Now, listen here,” concluded the Mitteler Rebbe. “You should know that Fear of Arrogance is Arrogance, who is Satan, who is the Angel of Death, who is the Serpent himself! Quickly, throw him out of your house, because your life is at risk!”1