Monday, July 1, 2013

Who is Honored?

Last week, I raised the third of Ben Zoma’s famous four Talmudic questions: Who is rich? Thank you for sharing your insights and answers, which will make their way into my sermons on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Please keep them coming this week!

As promised, the answer to last week’s query: Who is rich?  Those who rejoice in their portion.

Now, on to this week’s question: “Who is honored?”

According to the Mussar masters, honor is one of the most challenging soul traits to keep in balance.  It tends to challenge us in two ways.   First, as with wealth, so, too, with honor: no matter how successfully we pursue it, there is never enough.  There are so many stories of actors who spend their whole careers focused on getting an Oscar—and then, when they finally win one, they cannot stop obsessing about attaining another.  The ego’s maw is limitless.  As a result, Pirkei Avot teaches that honor (along with lust and envy) “take a person out of the world.”  The pursuit of honor prevents us from enjoying the present and being grateful for the gifts that we have.

The other—related—issue of honor is that we tend to by hyper-judgmental of others rather than honoring them.  Perhaps by withholding honor and praise from those around us, we think we can hoard it for ourselves.  In other words, we try to lift ourselves up by putting others down.  This is the recipe for a sad, bitter, and ultimately lonely life. 

Since this is my last e-Torah for a few weeks (I’ll be back in August), I’ll end with Ben Zoma’s answer: Who is honored?  One who honors others. 
But I want to know your thoughts.  Who do you think is honored? 
Send me your thoughts at