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15 Av 5763 - August 13, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
A Middos Workshop: Ahavas Yisroel -- the Oneness of the Jewish People

Based on Shiurim of Rav Dovid Siegel

Honoring Hashem by Honoring the Human -- Part I

Any time is the perfect time to work on improving our interpersonal relationships. In the first part of our discussion of this topic, we discussed the oneness of the Jewish people. Now we will examine how we can practically express this through increasing our feelings of respect for our fellow Jew.

Respecting Others and Respecting Hashem

The fourth chapter in Pirkei Ovos tells us, "Eizehu mechubod, hamechabeid es habriyos, sh'ne'mar ki michabdai echabeid. Who is the honorable one? He who gives people honor, as it states, `Those who honor Me, I will honor.' " If we examine this statement, we will notice an apparent inconsistency. The mishna says that whoever honors people will be honored, but the proof that is brought for this is that Hashem honors those who honor Him. What is the correlation here?

HaRav Chaim of Volozhin answers that the Jewish people have a unique opportunity to manifest Hashem's glory. Since they were created betzelem Elokim -- in Hashem's image -- they possess all the necessary faculties to reveal Hashem's kovod.

What does this mean -- to be created in Hashem's image? Hashem is beyond shape and form and has no limiting dimensions. The apparent reference here is to the image we have of Hashem. Although Hashem has no physical form, we view Hashem though His known attributes -- the way He relates to us and the world. Through this, we form in our mind our image of Hashem.

Rav Chaim continues that all Jewish people were created with the potential of reflecting Hashem's image -- His known attributes. When we emulate Hashem's conduct, we expose an aspect of ourselves that reflects Hashem.

For example, when my friend helps me, that kind gesture introduces me to a greater degree of Hashem's goodness, for it is He Who planted that goodness in my friend's heart. This ultimately increases my respect for Hashem because, when I recognize Hashem's qualities reflected in others, I increase my respect for Him.

HaRav Chaim explains that, in essence, when I respect others out of appreciation of their qualities, I am honoring their reflection of Hashem. In addition to recognizing Hashem's goodness manifested through people's actions, I am showing honor to Him.

Hillel Hanossi compared this to one who shows respect to a picture of the king. In reality, he is not honoring a portrait, but the reflection of the real king who is represented by the picture. Hashem therefore says, "Since you have honored Me, I will reciprocate by honoring you, as it says, `Ki mechabdai echabeid.'"

Hashem's Appreciation of Our Divine Image

The Jewish people are the most deserving of reflecting Hashem's honor. As Chazal put it, "Chavivin Yisroel shenivre'u betzelem Elokim, Beloved is Israel who were created in Hashem's image." How far does this belovedness extend? We can see its extent from Hashem's concern for the dignity of the wicked. After a sinner was stoned for an unforgivable offense and he was hanged on a tree, the Torah warns us not to leave him hanging overnight. What makes this criminal worthy of such respect?

To clarify this point, Rashi quotes Chazal's analogy of twins, one who was a king and the other a thief. When the thief was caught and sentenced to hanging, people began saying that the king was hanging. Rashi continues that the Jewish people are created in Hashem's image and are identified as His children.

What does Rashi mean? Obviously, one who sees a Jew hanging on a tree will not mistake him for Hashem, and one would not actually believe that the king has been hanged. So how are we to understand this analogy?

Before answering this question, let us focus on the purpose of creation. We are all familiar with the posuk from Yeshayohu (43:7): "Kol hanikro beshmi velichvodi borosiv yetzartiv af asisiv. Everything is called in My Name, I created it, formed it and even made it for My honor." In other words, the entire creation is in order to bring honor to Hashem.

Now, we know that Hashem lacks no honor. Trillions of mal'ochim sing His praise from morning to night, and trillions more sing His praise from evening to morning. What dimension of praise is lacking that the human being can provide?

Before making man, Hashem consulted the mal'ochim and asked whether He should create man. They replied in the negative, explaining that Hashem would receive little honor from man. Hashem asked the mal'ochim if they could prove the penetrating power of His glory, but they could not. With their all-encompassing awareness of Hashem, they could not come from a place of challenge to prove His glory.

Hashem explained that the human being He was soon to create would be capable of proving Hashem's glory though his distance from Hashem. This distance would allow for challenge, and the human success in meeting this challenge would be an incredible tribute to Hashem's glory. Even the low earthly being divorced from the upper spiritual spheres could reveal Hashem's glory in a unique form.

Hashem proved His point and displayed to the mal'ochim Avrohom Ovinu's unlimited devotion. When the mal'ochim understood that the lowness of the human being produces his greatness, they approved of Hashem's plan to create man.

Now, let us return to our analogy. We know that twins share the same qualities. When one sees the king's brother hanging on a tree, it reminds him of the king. Alas, this criminal had the potential to rise to royalty. And conversely, the king has the potential to sink to a convict.

Similarly, one who sees a Jewish criminal hanging on a tree sees the image of Hashem hanging there. He sees what should have been a reflection of Hashem's perfect attributes. Even this unforgivable sinner had the potential of royalty and could have manifested Hashem's glory. Beneath that tough and callous coating was a potential for a magnificent reflection of Hashem. Yet, these potential attributes were buried and silenced by the criminal. One should view this criminal through the potential glory he could have reflected. Hashem therefore admonishes us to respect that potential and commands us to show reverence to His image.

End of Part I about Honoring Hashem by Honoring the Human

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