Kavod/Respect - Lesson 5 - Accepting Unwanted Honor

Although a person should run away from honor, he should be careful that his escape from honor does not have negative repercussions.



Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Notice a strength in someone and compliment them on it.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.



Lesson #5



Accepting Unwanted Honor


Although a person should run away from honor, he should be careful that his escape from honor does not have negative repercussions.  Imagine if our gedolim would refuse to lead us because they didn’t want to receive any honor.  The Chazon Ish, in his incredible humility, spent decades learning in virtual incognito.  However, when his greatness was discovered and he was asked to assume a position of leadership, he could not refuse for the sake of K'lal Yisrael, the nation of Israel.

Performing a mitzva that may bring us honor is certainly not considered an act of chasing honor, for this is not one's intention.  If we have the opportunity to make someone else feel good, we should not shy away for fear of receiving honor.  If making a siyum will inspire others to learn, then we are encouraged to do so.  No one should lose out because we are working on our middos, on improving our character traits.  We have ample opportunities to run away from honor when the honor contains no mitzva.

Even if deep down we know that we are only doing the mitzva because of the incentive of the honor, we should still not refrain from doing it.  Chazal, our Sages, tell us (Pesachim 50b) that a person should always learn Torah and perform mitzvos even shelo lishma, with ulterior motives, because ultimately he will come to perform them lishma, for the pure motive of serving HaShem. 

“Anyone who chases greatness, greatness will run away from him” (Eiruvin 13b).  On the other hand, Chazal tell us that “Anyone who runs from greatness, greatness will chase after him” (Eiruvin 13b).  Chazal commanded a person to run away from honor, for the chase of honor will hurt him and his avodas HaShem, serving G-d.  However, HaShem knows the weakness of man.  The Alter of Slabodka remarked, “If all of a person’s kavod would be stripped from him, he would cease to live.”

Honor for a person is like gas for a car.  It gives him the energy to continue his work.  It is incredibly valuable as a means but not as a goal.  Therefore, HaShem promised the one who runs away from honor that he will be rewarded with honor that will be far more valuable than the fleeting and insignificant honor people are chasing.  People will treat him with respect because he is an upstanding individual who actually deserves respect.

(Reproduced from Run After the Right Kavod by Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum, with permission of the author and copyright holders, Israel Bookshop Publications).


Story:  (based on a true story)

When I was in college, I lived in a wonderful dorm room in which each of us fell into a role.  I was the limudei kodesh (Jewish studies) learner and teacher, Cheryl was the politically active powerhouse, Hanna was heavily involved with scientific research and publishing, and Sharon did chessed non-stop, mostly behind the scenes.

After graduation we each moved on to different paths in our lives.  Hanna continued her research, I got a teaching job at a local school, Cheryl went to law school, and Sharon became a speech therapist.  Five years into her marriage, she moved to a small town a couple hours away from the rest of us and stopped working to stay home with her kids.

Within a few months, I began hearing from Sharon that while there was much chessed going on in her town and she had volunteered to help with several projects, there was very little learning.  The Rabbi gave a women’s shiur (lecture) on Shabbos that was accessible to all the women in her varied community, but there were many women who really needed more and nothing was happening.

Hanna, Cheryl and I all suggested that Sharon try to organize some learning.  After all, it would be a chessed to the community.  She began work and found a lot of interest in a weekly source-based shiur, but nobody to teach the actual class.  Many suggested that Sharon teach, but she was reluctant.

“Who am I to teach them?” she asked me.  “I’m not above them in my level.  I don’t know any more than they do, nor do I have teacher training.  And, I don’t want people looking at me like they will; my community is so small that by giving this class I’ll become the ‘women’s teacher’.”

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, wasn’t far away, and as the month of Elul progressed, more women approached Sharon to find out if the class was happening.  Sharon and I discussed the saying of Chazal:  “In a place where there is no man (to lead), you should be a man.  When there is someone else (who is equal to you), you should not be the man” (Brachos 63a).  It was a wonderful instinct for her to decline to give the shiur if there were others who could and would do just as well, but nobody was stepping up.  That left Sharon as the only woman standing, and we both knew that she was capable if she tried.

Sharon finally agreed to give a one-shot in depth shiur on teshuva, repentance.  After weeks of preparing, the shiur went beautifully.  All the women could sense her sincerity as they worked through the topic together.  Positive feedback lead to the creation of a four part series on the Avos and Imahos (forefathers and mothers) which eventually became a weekly parsha (Torah portion read on Shabbos) shiur.

By the end of the year, Sharon had become what she had been trying to avoid:  well-known.  She still wasn’t fully comfortable with it, but she realized that by giving herself over in this way, many women in the community were gathering together to learn in a way that they otherwise would not.  Many spoke of being inspired to grow through the frequent discussions during the shiurim, and Sharon took a certain pride in this that spurred her to keep doing more.

“If you were here, it would be better,” she sometimes told me.  But I knew that wasn’t true.  I liked the glory of being able to give over Torah, and enjoyed being looked up to by others.  I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I knew it was there and worked on myself regularly to step back and not cultivate it.  Sharon was pure in her giving, and everyone in her community knew it.  They flocked to her for advice and to her example in chessed, and the whole community grew because she stepped out of her comfort zone and took honor she didn’t want.

Discussion Question Options:

How does the Yetzer Hora use our knowledge of the need to avoid honor against us?

How can we know the difference between honor we should accept and honor we should not?

What approach can we take when we fill an honored role because it is needed, but we feel we are enjoying the honor too much?

Stretch of the Week:

Identify an area where your particular efforts are needed, and then act on it.


Stretch Of The Week