Ben Zoma asks: “Who is worthy of honor?” And he answers: “The one who treats others with honor.”
Honor is a middah (soul-trait) that I’ve been learning. Alan Morinis writes about this in his book, 'Everyday Holiness.' He contends that it is difficult, as many walk through life with a judgmental attitude. The trappings of this are that these behaviors and thoughts are “the root of feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction in everyone around us” and never lead to anything positive. So, why do we do this?
Morinis contends that, “we set up standards against which to gauge others and then spend so much of our mental energy appraising how people measure up.” It is alleged that because we are anxious about how we ourselves are stacking up, we judge others. “When we find them wanting, we appear better and greater to ourselves.”
I found this idea reflective of my past. Do I still do that? On occasion, I had to admit that sometimes I do. I can think critical thoughts about others and I do notice if someone is shabbily dressed or exhibits unsavory habits that are not to my liking. However, when this happens, I quickly recognize my faulty thinking and choose a different interpretation.
An interesting point by Morinis is that we judge others because we, ourselves, are in search of our own honor. And when we are in a situation when we don’t feel valued, it can be devastating. A valid point, I believe. As I reflect now on childhood experiences, I felt this longing for honor but didn’t know what it actually was or how to articulate the feeling.
Growing up with a developmentally disabled brother was difficult, as I was often on the receiving end of unkind words when associated with him. I knew it was not good to ridicule others that are not like us but couldn’t quite articulate my underlying feelings of sadness and hurt for the way the both of us were treated. I just was angry. Stevie was relentlessly teased and the object of stares. I only wanted to tell those people that my brother was incredibly special and if they only would see him through my eyes, they too would see how much he contributes to the world. But, I did not have the words until I was much older.
We, as Jews, are taught that that every human being deserves honor, respect, and dignity, not because of their achievements but because they have a unique soul which is inherently holy. Although I knew that honor was important in Judaism, I didn’t really understand how it manifested itself besides knowing "honoring our mother and our father" was one of the ten commandments. I never realized how much is written about honor in the Talmud. Honor is due to human beings and it “suspends even a negative precept of the Torah.” The sages tell us that the destruction of the Second Temple was brought on by “the baseless hatred that existed among people of the time.” Tisha B’Av, traditionally known as the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, reminds us of this destruction.
We are also reminded of another tragedy that took place during the time of Rabbi Akiva, when his students were not treating each other with respect and were stricken by a severe plague and thousands died. Today, Lag B’Omer (meaning the 33rd day of the Omer), is a minor holiday that commemorates the time when these deaths have diminished. We can rededicate ourselves at any moment to treating others with honor and judging each other favorably.
Honor is both a state of awareness and a deed, however it is not enough to feel reverence, “one must act reverently.” We are in a divided country with angry barbs going back and forth. If there was ever a better time to act reverently, it is now. We can all honor others through saying hello to a stranger, holding the door open for someone behind you, listening to another and looking for common ground, celebrating another’s good fortune or just by following Rabbi Akiva’s teaching of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s not always so easy to do these things. I know that. We will make mistakes as we are only human, however, I believe if we all try to honor each other more, our world will be a better place.
“Who is worthy of honor? The one who treats others with honor.