Fleeing from Honor

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26 Apr 2007

A Lesson For the Children: Moshe had studied for many years until he had reached this glorious moment. And now, finally, he reached the end, and he was appointed rabbi of a small town. He was still young, and his heart was filled with emotion and pride about his new position. He was sure that the members of the community would consult with him about many questions, that they would stand up to show respect when he entered a room, that they would speak to him from a distance and with great respect, as befits a community rabbi.

But at the same time, Moshe knew that it was not right to have a desire for honor. As is well known, pride is one of the worst possible traits, which a man must avoid and completely remove from his heart. But what could he do, if his evil inclination would not give him any rest?

Moshe remembered the lesson of the sages: “If anybody flees from honor, the honor will pursue him.” He realized that if he would not show pride and would not demand to be honored, the people would pay him even more respect, because they would appreciate that he is so modest. In this way, honor could pursue him. If that is the case, Moshe said to himself, the situation is not bad at all. I will wait patiently, overcoming my desire for honor, and in the end, “I will have no choice” but to accept the respect of the people.

After making this decision, Moshe took it upon himself to reject any honor as much as possible. When he entered the synagogue, the people stood up to honor their new rabbi. But Moshe immediately waved them aside, and said, in a false voice: “You shouldn’t stand up. Really! Did you stand up for me? There is no need. Please sit down.” And the people sat.

After the prayers, one of the congregants came to ask him a question about halacha. He began respectfully, “Honorable rabbi…” But Moshe immediately cut him off and said: “There is no need for that, my friend. My name is Moshe! Just Moshe!” At affairs the new rabbi refused to sit at a table with prominent leaders of the community, and he said: “No, no. I do not want any of this special honor! My place is here, with the regular folks!”

The people of the town really appreciated the way the rabbi acted. At first, they tried to convince him to act like every other rabbi – to sit in a prominent place, to respond to respectful titles, and so on. But he refused to let them do this. However, in the end, most of the people did not like this exaggerated stubbornness. If the man was a rabbi, then he should at least accept his own worth. Why did he disparage himself so? Perhaps, they began to feel, he really is not such a learned man. (Is he really a Torah giant? After all, they said to themselves, he is such a young man.) Slowly, the attempts to show him respect stopped, and Moshe was treated the same as any other member of the community. Nobody stood up when he came near, he was given a seat in the middle of the synagogue, when he gave a sermon most of the people whispered among themselves, and fewer people came to ask him halachic questions.

Moshe saw what was happening and to be honest he was quite disappointed. He had expected a different reaction, but now he did not know what to do to regain the respect that he had lost. One day, he decided that he needed to consult with somebody, and he went to see his teacher, one of the true Torah giants of the day.

“Please advise me, my respected rabbi,” he began in a trembling voice. “All my life I have been careful to flee from special honor, why then doesn’t it pursue me?”

And the rabbi replied, “The honor acted just the way it should. It tried to pursue you. But it saw that all the time you were looking back, to see if it was there. It could not accept this. Every time you looked back to search for it, the honor went further away, until it disappeared completely…”

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il).

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.