Section: Daas Torah   Category: Postcards From Kotzk
Who Has An Appetite For Kavod?

When I was younger I remember my mother asking my father why some Rabbi's are such big "Kavod" mongerers. Why is it that such Torah driven people can't resist such a silly temptation that us ordinary people view as foolish and shallow. My father answered that these great people have overcome the Yetzer Hara in so many battlefields such as Torah, Tefilla, and Chesed that the Yetzer Hara has one battlefield remaining where he focuses all his energy. The War of Kavod. Us lay people are simply child's play for the Yetzer Hara as he beats us hands down in almost every challenge he poses without needing to wage the more refined and sophisticated battle of Kavod.

The Kotzker Rebbe said the Ga'ava (pride) in its most dangerous form occurs in a man who has cleansed himself of all other appetites. The greater you become the greater reason you have to feel pride. Kavod is the addictive drug that pacifies out Ga'ava. So strong is the Yetzer Hara for Kavod that the great Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz used to retell stories every year about his immense appetite for Kavod and his struggles to overcome it. When he was a young budding star in the Yeshiva world in Lithuania he gave Shiurim in Grodno in the Yeshiva of Rav Shimon Shkop the famed talmid of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. Once a week, Rav Shimon would give a shiur to the entire Yeshiva, with Rav Chaim in attendance as well. Often Rav Shimon would ask a question or say something from "Rav Chaim". Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz says that although everyone knew that Rav Shimon was referring to his Rebbe, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, nevertheless he would enjoy hearing this hoping that maybe some uninformed student would erroneously think that Rav Shimon was referring to him!

In Maariv every night we ask Hashem to remove the Satan from in front of us and behind us. The Baalei Mussar explain that if the Satan cannot stop you from performing a mitzva in the first place then he tries to destroy it on the back end by planting thoughts of pride in your head after doing the mitzva. This is deadly trap since the aveira of Gaava on a macro level can cause more damage than anything else. How can one combat thoughts of pride, it seems to be a deadly unavoidable trap? If every mitzva heightens our risk for Ga'ava then the more we perfect ourselves the more susceptible we become.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos suggests cure to the honor addiction. Run away! The Kotzker however says that running away from honor is a sign of a person who is infatuated with kavod. The Mishna says if you run from honor it runs after you. Why would it run after you if you don‘t want it? Reb Mendel explains that the Yetzer Hara of honor continues to stalk you because by running you show how much kavod means to you. When you run away from something you need to check over your shoulder to see if it is catching up and which direction it is going. You are afraid of it because you know what will do to you if it catches you. Only when you are oblivious to honor will it cease haunting you. If you can stand up in the face of honor and accept it without feeling an ounce of pride then you have slain the demon of honor inside of you.

The truth is that we love honor as much as a Rabbi only our opportunities to publicly make fools of ourselves are severely limited by the fact that we do not occupy center stage. Sadly our honor is shallower than that of a tzaddik. We want honor that is truly undeserved. When we do our token "chesed" such as driving someone to the hospital or distributing food to the poor do we wonder who knows about our kind heart? When the person collecting tzedoka flatters us do we really believe and enjoy it or are we smart enough to know it is only good salesmanship?

Reb Mendel said each person passes through three inns in this world; Kina, Ta'ava, and Kavod. In his case he says the first two posed little challenge to him but in the inn of Kavod he had a great deal of business to do. Of course he did, because of the high spiritual heights he reached. Next time we criticize a Talmid Chochom for a Kavod infraction we should stop and say to ourselves, hopefully one day we can reach his level and at least justify our feeling a sense of pride in our actions and if we get any honor at least it should at least be well deserved.