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Honor Sets the Stage

Debbie Greenblatt

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


What does honor look like? Is it the pomp and
circumstance we witnessed at the last inauguration of the American president? Is
it the nice things people say about the honorees at your local school or shul
dinner? Is it the way you’re treated if you can afford to fly first class? In a
society in which nothing is sacrosanct and honor can be bought for a price, it
is no wonder that we have some confusion over the definition of kavod (honor).

Even our Torah sources need to be illuminated if we
are to grasp the role of kavod in our
lives and relationships. We learn that if you chase kavod, it runs away from you. Conversely, if you run away from kavod,
it will chase you. Should we be running towards or running away? Do we want to
be caught or not?

We learn in Pirkei Avos (4:28) that jealousy,
physical desire, and honor remove a person from the world. That makes honor seem
like something we would want to stay away from. At the same time, the Navi
(Yeshayahu 43:7) tells us that everything that the One Above created was
created for His kavod. That certainly
sounds positive. Let’s try to understand the concept of kvod Shamayim, honor of Heaven, as a key to clarifying the
above-mentioned sources.

Our Creator created a world in which His presence is
hidden. Through our actions, we attempt to demonstrate that He is always here,
that what is hidden not only exists, but also constitutes the true reality. Kavod, then, reveals what is hidden
beneath the surface, and allows us to respond to the inner, truer dimension of
existence. Finding that inner dimension in each aspect of Creation, and in
every interaction with another person, is the way we indicate kvod Shamayim.

At the same time, kavod that is external is only a display. A person who is chasing
that outward display would by definition be moving himself away from true kavod, whereas a person who runs away
from any outward manifestation of honor is a person who understands that true kavod is internal. Similarly, a person
who focuses on external kavod is
removed from the olam, whose root is the word he’elem, hinting to
the inner spiritual aspect of the universe.

With this understanding, Rav Yechiel Yaakovson shlita
teaches that kavod means relating to
another person in a way that indicates that he has internal, and therefore
eternal, value. What engenders our respect needs to be the inner spiritual
dimension of an individual. For example, when a Torah scholar enters the room
and we stand for him, it is an acknowledgement of the eternal value of the
Torah he has learned.

It is important to note that when we give honor we
are not saying that the person is perfect. Even great people sometimes make
mistakes. If relating to another person hinged on perfection, no one on the
planet would be deserving of honor. On the other hand, if it is about the
internal and eternal aspect of the individual, since we all have an eternal neshamah,
it would seem that everyone is worthy of our honor.

Every human being is in need of honor. Honor is an
indicator to a person that his life has meaning and substance, that he is not
simply a passing shadow. If a person feels a lack of kavod in his life, the best way to obtain it is by infusing life
with greater depth, seeking more inner meaning. The worst way to attain it is
to seek an external expression of honor, devoid of internal growth.

Giving another kavod
doesn’t mean we always stand up when they enter the room. It is sometimes as
simple as being truly interested in what they have to offer because we
appreciate their inner self.

I was once touring the north of Israelwith my
children. In a place called Tzippori, we encountered the remains of a Roman
amphitheater carved into the mountain. It was very hot and I plopped down on
one of the bleachers to catch my breath. Before I knew it, each one of my kids
took their turn on what was left of the Roman stage. My high-school-aged
daughter performed the lines from Shakespeare that she had learned by heart as
a school assignment. My bar mitzvah boy said over his pshetel. My kindergartener
sang the songs from her siddur play.

I sat in wonder as the ramification struck me. On
the stage of life, every person needs an audience in order to perform. When we
indicate to someone that she has internal and eternal value we create the space
that encourages a child, student, spouse, or client to become the most they can
be. When we honor another person, we become the audience in anticipation of the
performance of the actor.

We sometimes falter in the giving of kavod, especially to our nearest and
dearest. Often it is because we are right, and we feel it is imperative that we
make that point. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in a caustic or biting
comment that cuts the person down. In a relationship with kavod at its core, we always try to maintain a vision of the
internal value of the person. We give them credit for their intelligence,
reasoning, and discernment, whatever may have just transpired.

A woman once shared the following with me. She is
married to a highly intelligent man who teaches computer science at a
university level. In their community, there is a main shul where many community
functions take place, and it is not unusual for them to drive together to the
shul several times a month. As she tells it, to get to the shul from their
home, one takes a left out the door, drives till the corner, takes another
left, and drives a short distance to the shul. It would therefore drive her
crazy when her husband would take a right out the door, and go the “wrong way”
to the shul. “He was making a circle, and it would drive me nuts,” she said.

As a result, many sarcastic comments and even a few
insults came out of her mouth on these short rides to the local synagogue,
until one day she caught herself. What am I doing? she asked herself. This
is the person that I value most in the world. He is an intelligent person. How
does it hurt me when he goes the “wrong” way? I get to spend an extra minute
with the person I love most in the world. For that I am going to demean him?

is beyond who is right. It is maintaining the vision of the person as an
internal as well as external being. Giving a person credit for having a neshamah
focuses our view on what is essential, while having to be right is about ego.

There are many ways to increase the kavod quotient of a relationship. When
you feel a biting comment about to surface, don’t just restrain your words;
replace them with a positive thought. As in a diet, it’s not enough to take the
chocolate cake off the counter; you need to have the carrot sticks ready in the
fridge. One replacement thought that works for me is the teaching of the Vilna
Gaon that for every single moment that a person is chosem piv, which
means he zips up his mouth before the words escape, he will merit to benefit
from a hidden light that is unimaginable by any angel or living creature.

A relationship is like a living organism. Honor creates
the environment in which it thrives. Before responding to any action, try to
build in a two-second delay — enough time to ask yourself, “Do I want to damage
this most important relationship?” We can do damage control afterwards, but
wouldn’t it be wiser to invest our energies in building rather than fixing?

The Mishnah teaches us, “Who is the one who is
honorable? The one who honors others” (Pirkei Avos 4:1).
The ability to give honor is reflective. If you can identify the kavod in yourself, then you can extend
it to others. And yet it is a formula as well. Look for what is a reflection of
the eternal dimension in others, and you will discover it in yourself as well. Giving
honor will make you an honorable person.


$$$Pull Quote$$$

Every human being is in need of honor. Honor is an
indicator to a person that his life has meaning and substance, that he is not
simply a passing shadow


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