Mussar: Honor

“And one should not study Torah or do any good deed for the sake of honor, but only for the sake of the creator, Blessed be He, ultimately, the honor will come.” The Ways of the Tzadikkim

‘Who is honored? He that honors his fellow men as it is written (1 Samuel 2:30) For those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt.” Avot 4:5

“So then, whatever you want sons of men to do to you, to the same to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

The Hebrew word for honor is “kavod” or ”kaved”.  These two words share the same root word! The root essentially means “to make heavy” or “to carry a burden”.

What is the connection of making something heavy to honor?

Let’s start by looking at the fifth of the 10 commandments.

Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long upon the land which AdOnai your GOD is giving you.”

Why are we to honor our parents? Our parents are partners in creation with GOD.

As we honor GOD as creator we are also to honor our parents in their partnership with GOD. Our parents are the cause of our life in this world therefor it is proper to honor them. Our parents also represent GOD in the life of a child, functioning as the primary care giver and teacher. When honoring our parents it is important to remember that there is no limit to the honor due them. Like the four corners of our field, the amount of honor accorded is a reflection of the heart. In a similar way our honor of GOD is limitless and a reflection of the heart. Just as there is a promise associated with honoring our parents there is also a promise associated with honoring GOD.

1 Samuel 2:30 “Therefore ADONAI GOD of Israel declares, I indeed said that your house and your father’s house should walk before Me forever. But now declares Adonai, far be it from Me! For I will honor those who honor Me, but those who despise Me will be disdained.”

GOD promises to honor those who honor Him. We are still left with the same questions, what does it mean to honor and how is honor associated with something heavy?

What is another possible translation of “kavod” may be?

Exodus 40:34-35 “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Adonai filled the Tabernacle. Moses was unable to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud resided there and the glory of Adonai filled the Tabernacle.”

2 Chronicles 7:1-3 “ when Solomon finished praying the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of Adonai filled the House. The kohanim could not even enter into the House of Adonai because the glory of Adonai filled the House of Adonai. When all Bnei-Yisrael saw the fire come down and the glory of Adonai above the House, they bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, prostrating themselves and praising Adonai, “For He is good and His mercy endures forever.”

Both the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple were empty before the glory of GOD filled them. When the glory of GOD filled Solomon’s Temple the presence was so ”heavy” that the priests could not enter. The presence of GOD was symbolized by the “cloud of glory”, a heavy thick cloud”.

When the cloud of glory is present it is impossible for anyone to draw near.

The opposite of “kavod” is “qal”, translated as light. It is almost always used in the negative sense of dishonor or shame. We can now begin to understand a little more of “kavod” and its association with something heavy. When the descriptive term kavod is used in identification it is something important, significant, and impressive. It is much more than saying a few nice words, but it is recognizing the heavy value associated and acting accordingly.

Let me give you an analogy from the ancient world! Before modern times the heavier a person was the more respectable they were considered. Most people worked daily hand to mouth but the wealthy and the influential had abundance. To be heavy was a sign that they were important people. Those who served them knew just how important. They usually held your life and your livelihood in their hands. To show them honor was to show them respect that was due to someone of such stature.

A modern example would be the President of the United States.

We may not always like the people who old the office but we honor the office and by extension we honor the President. The same could also be said of a judge! When it comes to honoring our parents G-D is teaching us that our parents are to be honored because they are heavy in our lives. They are important, significant, and impressive and should be treated as such. There needs should be heavy with us!

There respect should be heavy with us! There counsel should be heavy with us!

When we were children their rules and laws should be of utmost heaviness to us.

Another important aspect of honor is the honor due to one another.

Luke 14:6-8 “Yeshua began telling a parable to those who had been invited, when He noticed how they were choosing the seats of honor. He said to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding, don’t take the seat of honor, for someone more highly esteemed than you may have been invited by him. 

Luke 14:10 “But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest seat so that when the one who invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you shall be honored in the presence of all those who are dining with you.”

How often we seek honor for ourselves. We want to be in the seats of honor.

We want to be important, powerful, and significant. When we chase after honor we will find our lives consumed by this vain pursuit and never truly find what we are looking for. Only when we run from our own honor and pursue the honor of others will we truly find honor. “Let the honor of your brother be as dear to you as your own.” Perkei Avot 

Romans 12:10 “Be tenderly devoted to one another in brotherly love; outdo one another in giving honor.”

Remember Zacchaeus the tax collector? He was despised and shamed by the local people. Like most tax collectors he probably deserved it. Yeshua invited Himself into his home and ate with him. To have an esteemed rabbi enter your home and eat with you was considered an honor above honors. Instead of shaming him, the Master showed Zacchaeus great honor, honor that he did not deserve. In other words the Master reached out to Zacchaeus and let him know how heavy he weighed on His heart.

G-D also promises to honor us when we honor Him, though we do not deserve such honor. We weigh heavy on His heart! When we begin to see others as He sees them we can begin to truly have them weigh heavy on our hearts as well. But if we show honor only to those we feel are deserving of honor do we expect any from G-D?

If we do not honor those around us who are made in His image can we really claim to honor Him? Honoring one another is an essential part of “love your neighbor as yourself”. Judaism teaches that honor is the realization that everyone is created in the image of G-D, and is to be treated with importance.

This of course has limits. We are not to honor those who commit evil, particularly those who do evil in the name of G-D. To honor those who bring dishonor to the Name of G-D is to ultimately bring dishonor to Him.

Honoring G-D, our parents, and our neighbors begins by recognizing how important others are to us. How heavy is their personhood, their needs, and their name.

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