What is Honor?
By Larry Fine
One time a country sent an ambassador to a neighboring country with a proposal. As the ambassador approached the border crossing station, he was asked by the guards who he was. "I am the ambassador of the Royal Court of King Plony, the king of the soveriegn state of Whatchamacallit." He told them as he presented them his credentials.
The border guards after inspecting the ambassador's credentials, realized that this man was a very important person, having being selected by none other than King Plony to personally deliver a message to their leader. "Yes sir," they snapped into a respectful pose, "may we order you a limousine to take you to our country's headquarters?"
The ambassador nodded in the affirmative and in a few seconds a long black limousine streaked up to the curb to speed the ambassador to the seat of the country's government.
Approaching the government's headquarters, the ambassador was speed through the security checks and given priority treatment reserved for dignitaries and heads of governments.
He was ushered into the office of the head of state and there he presented his king's proposal. The head of state listened attentively and when the ambassador finished, he requested two days to consider the answer. In the mean time the ambassador was taken to a fine hotel in the Capitol City.
With two days to wait for an answer, the ambassador decided to take some time to tour this strange new city. After eating a regal breakfast served by the hotel, he changed from his formal clothing that he wore when carrying out his duties as ambassador and donned casual clothing that would be more fitting for site-seeing.
He spent his day wandering from pace to place. After all of his site-seeing, he became hungry and so he stepped into a small bakery to purchase a roll. When he came to the counter to request a particular roll, he was shoved aside by several of the local workers who came in to quickly purchase a roll and quickly return to their jobs. The lady behind the counter was not interested in helping him in making a selection, but preferred to continue a conversation with her friend on the phone.
"Hmmmph!" grimaced the ambassador, "just last night I was treated with the utmost honor and respect by the most important people of this country and now I am treated worst than a low classed, common worker! Don't these people know of my importance? Had they known who I really was they would not treat me like this!"
* * *
Life is lot like that. Our honor is due mostly not to whom we are as a person, but to our status that we command in public, or upon whom we represent, but not on our personal essence. A person may be a fine, highly ethical, and spiritually oriented man, but lacks respect from his community and neighbors, since he does not represent any institutions of importance. On the other hand, we have all seen many people who are treated with great honor, yet we know that they are unethical and deceiving individuals.
Therefore we can see that there are two facets of honor, one is the personal, (for which recognition is not always forthcoming) and the other is representational, (for which honor is always present).
As Jews we are the representatives of G-d on earth. We have been given instructions through the Torah on what we work G-d desires us to do here in this earth. As long as we are engaged in fulfilling these commandments, then we are accorded the respect that is imbued in the giver of those instructions.
However, when we leave off from our assignment to pursue our own desires, then we are not accorded the respect due to our assignment or as representatives of G-d, since we are no longer engaged in fulfilling our duties as we are charged.
Even more so, if the whole purpose of our actions is to receive honor and recognition, or even financial retribution, then we are not acting as a faithful agent of G-d, but rather we are acting as for ourselves. If this were the case, we are engaged in an act of subterfuge, and perhaps we deserve to be shown that we are not worthy of honor.
Remember that there is no honor other than that of Torah and Torah was meant to be studied for the sake of G-d. The sages have told us: He who runs away from honor, honor runs after him. He who runs after honor, honor runs away from him. If we are busy trying to pursue our personal honor, then the honor from G-d leaves us. However, if we abandon our own personal desire for greatness, and instead accept G-d's manifest desires as our personal work, then G-d's honor runs after us.
from the May 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine