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Posted on November 26, 2020 (5781) By Rabbi Usher Smith | Series: | Level:

The gemara (Nedarim 62a) tells us, “ ‘To Love Hashem, to listen to His voice and to cling to Him…’ (Devarim 30:20), (this teaches us) that a person should not say, ‘ I will read from the Torah so that I should be called a chochom, I will learn so that I should be called a Rebbi, I will review so that I will be an elder who sits in the Yeshivah (and will receive honor).’ Rather, one should learn out of love for Hashem, and the end will be that honor will come…”. Chazal then bring three pesukim that seem to corroborate this idea that the Torah will not withhold his reward of kovod.

One may ask the obvious question, that the entire purpose of this gemara seems to be telling us that we should seek to serve Hashem sincerely, l’sheim shomayim, rather than out of a desire for what seems to be a detestable midah of seeking kovod. How is it, then, that the gemara ends off with an appeasement of telling us not to worry about this honor, since we will receive it in the end. Moreover, the gemara even brings pesukim to let us know of the pleasant ways of the Torah, so that we will feel assured of ultimately getting this reward. Is the longing for honor considered abhorrent, or is it not?!

We may answer this, based on the understanding that man is comprised of many character traits. We are generally inclined to believe that some of those midos are good, while others are intrinsically bad. In truth it should be understood, however, that just about all the midos that appear to us as ‘bad’, are really good at their source. This would mean that their ultimate purpose is to be used for good, and it is therefore upon each of us to transform these traits into ones that will be used in its most appropriate way. (See Alei Shur Chelek alef, Perek 7, ‘Michtav Sheini’. Also see Shiurei Chumash from Rav Wolbe Zt”l, Shemos, 23:7).

Every person, for example, has within himself, a strong desire for honor. When one approaches an act of goodness — even something as exalted as serving Hashem, but his end purpose is to gain recognition — then it will truly become repulsive to others and to Hashem. He will clearly be misusing this trait of coveting honor. Rather, the correct approach to all avodah is to begin his avodah with the intention to increase his Yir’as and Ahavas Hashem. It is only after he has developed such a mindset, that he can expect to find a proper way in which to apply this yearning for honor.

What is considered as appropriate honor? Perhaps we can quote the words of the Alter from Slobodka here (loosely translated from Sefer Ohr Hatzafun, page 270, Sicha: Tzelem Elokim). “All of one’s ways and conducts in life…are founded upon one’s appreciation of his own value. One who is ‘poor’ in his way of thinking, in his understanding of himself, is the one who will depreciate himself, and will be disparaging of the entire world around him. This is to the point, in which he will be prone at times, to disregard his own self in the face of danger…Not so, is the ‘wealthy’ of the mind, the one who acknowledges his self-worth. For, he will value and cherish life, and will seek to elevate himself with all of his ability. Together with himself, he will look to uplift those who are around him.

Thus, the above gemara is not merely telling us that the reward of kovod will ultimately be given to him. We are not discussing here matters of reward alone. Rather, Chazal are informing us of the appropriate way to deal with this innate yearning for honor. It should not at all be a motivation for fulfilling our avodas Hashem. Yet, it should be used as a means to serve Hashem. Only after one’s approach is to serve Hashem out of a love for Him, then — “sof hakovod lavo”; it is only then that he could concentrate on the innate glory of man.[1]

It is for this reason that the gemara had quoted to us pesukim that tell us of the ‘pleasant ways’ of the Torah. This is so, since every middah truly has a place within man, if only it is understood properly and used in accordance with the intentions of the Torah. This is what is meant by the ‘pleasant ways of the Torah’.

With this foundation, we may now understand the saga of Rachel Imeinu that takes place in Parshas Vayeitzei. When Rachel first became aware that Leah would be embarrassed with the fact that she would not know the simanim, Rachel immediately stood up and gave over the simanim to her. She was willing to give up the nitzchiyus that was present in marrying Yaakov, so as not to bring shame upon her sister! We see then, that Rachel seemed to be completely devoid of any jealousy whatsoever.

Yet, later when Rachel did not yet have children, the posuk (30:1) states openly, “Vateireh Rachel, ki lo yalda l’Yaakov, vatikanei Rachel ba’achosa”, Rachel was jealous of her sister. How is it even possible to say that such a tzadeikis as Rachel should have within herself even a slight trace of kin’ah?! Rather, we know what Rashi tells us, that Rachel was in fact, ‘jealous’ of the good deeds of her sister.

Indeed, Rachel Imeinu was a metzuyenes in her midos. Therefore, she was well aware of the midah of kin’ah that was an integral part of her many midos. Her greatness was such, that she knew how to submerge this trait within herself, not allowing the midah to control her motivations. However, when the time came to utilize it for the purpose of ‘kin’as sofrim’, a jealousy for the sake of Hashem that was a result of her great desire to raise a family l’sheim shomayim, that is exactly what she did. Of course, if it were us, we would need to scrutinize ourselves very well before considering our jealousy to be on such a lofty level as that of ‘kin’as sofrim’ (see Shiurei Chumash, Rav Wolbe zt”l). Rachel Imeinu, however, teaches us the lesson here, of the importance of properly utilizing one’s midos.

  1. Surely, there is an element of reward here, as well. The reward which Hashem will give to the oveid Hashem, is by helping him to gain a real understanding of this middah. This is possibly what the Gr”a (Even Sheleima, Perek 2, siman 10) means to tell us: “That which will be attained in a bad way, after much effort by the one who is ensconced in material pleasures, will come without effort to those that are complete in their ways. For example, honor, that it is for all who run from it — it will then go after them…”There is another point that needs clarification, in regards to understanding the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os, 2:3). The Rambam says that there are midos that one should accustom himself in an extreme fashion, such as considering himself a ‘shefal ruach’. This, we find by Moshe Rabeinu, who was an ‘anav me’od, and not merely an anav… We may explain this Rambam according to our approach, as well. Although Moshe was truly humble, even to an extreme level, he most certainly also understood his own self-worth. He was aware of all of his strengths and abilities, that made him the great leader who he was. We may learn from here, that the yar’ei shomayim must bear in mind both of these thoughts. On the one hand, he understands that Hashem had created him from nothing more than the dust of the earth. At the same time, he realizes that Hashem has instilled within him, and continues to orchestrate, every single one of his strengths and abilities. Thus, the glory that is within himself, is a direct reflection of Hashem’s goodness.