A friend and I have been carrying on a debate for years on
the issue of what motivates people to act (lehavdil
from the spiritual motivation to do Hashem's Will). My
friend claims that there are two human motives: money and
I claim, however, that people are motivated only by the
desire for honor. I am not referring to the type of honor
entailed by "sitting in the Mizrach," nor to that of
receiving maftir. It is basically superficial people
who suffice themselves with such honor. The type of honor
motivating most people is much more tangible. It includes
things such as admiration, recognition of one's deeds,
activities, intelligence, good heart, success, character
traits, personality, monetary worth and even beauty.
The image of someone whose motives are apparently monetary
has probably surfaced in your mind. But if you examine the
issue in depth, you will discover that a quest for money in
order to satisfy the need to accumulate it can be described
as an illness, not a motive. On the other hand, most people
chase money in order to achieve economic, emotional and
social security, as well as the feeling that their status is
ensured and that they have power. Once again, we've reached
the honor department.
People tend to flinch uncomfortably when someone hints to
them that they are interested in accumulating honor. But if
we relate to this trait in the right manner, it can benefit
the world and improve the lots of the world's inhabitants.
The Alter of Slobodke said: "Kovod is middos,"
meaning that a person who wants to respect himself as Divine
handiwork acts in accordance with his Creator's expectations
of him. One who regards himself as an inferior being,
undeserving of respect, behaves accordingly.
Anyone who works with children will tell you that one of the
factors that can activate children is the need to be
respected and appreciated. That is the motive common to all
When you want to open something, you first have to find its
lock. The lock for human beings is their self-esteem. Once
you have found the lock and a key that fits, the door opens.
You are then able to influence people of every age and
circumstance in a manner to affect change in them (either
for the good or the bad), cause them to like you and enable
you to draw out their best.
Try this: Tell a friend that a third person praised him
highly. Most people will respond by praising the person in
return. A person has to be really spiteful in order not to
respect someone who respects him. Most people aren't like
that. Most people are ordinary human beings, whose earthly
motives are more or less identical.
When a person hears that someone badmouthed him, he will
generally say something bad about that person in return.
However, the best rejoinder is to let that person know --
from a number of sources -- that you have praised him. He
won't continue to speak ill of you, because you created a
good entity and sent it to him. As a result, he won't be
able to relay something else back to you.
People can be generous with money or with chesed. But
they often find it hard to dole out respect and admiration
generously. As we know, "Like water face to face, so is the
heart of man to his fellow." The heart is like a mirror. If
you look in the mirror after you have painted your face with
black shoe polish, you see a black face. If your heart is
black towards your fellow, he will feel black towards
Isn't this obvious? However, in the real world, people find
it difficult to create good. They react to good, respect
those who respect them, but nonetheless find it hard to
initiate the process.
Some people are incapable of praising others and relate
critically to every inanimate or ambulatory entity, to the
point that if you ever hear a good word from, you look at
them from the corner of your eye to try to detect what is up
their sleeves. In general, their accolades are really
But take the most critical person you know and tell him that
so-and-so praised him in public in an unbelievably positive
manner. You will see how he praises so-and-so in return:
this time with all his heart, without his usual sarcasm.
Take advantage of how such a person behaves when he hears
praise about him, and transform enemies into friends. Let us
learn to adopt the right approach: not to create enemies.
Let us acquire friends and find our way in life: a way clear
of obstacles others might have wanted to place in our
These ideas appears in Reishis Chochmah in the
introduction to Sha'ar Derech Eretz: "And he should
try his utmost to honor his fellow, so that he should in
turn be respected by others, as it says in Avos 4:
`Who is honored? He who honors his fellow.'"
They also appear in Sha'ar Ha'onovo, chapter three:
"One should make efforts to respect all people. The poor and
the rich should be equal in his eyes, because all that
distinguishes the poor from the rich is money, for both of
them were created in Hashem's image. One who respects his
fellow, respects the Supreme Artisan. If chas
vesholom he disgraced them, it is as if he has disgraced
the Artisan Who created them."