Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #34, “Shunning honors”
Who and what validates me? What kind of honor do I value?
If I crave recognition from my crowd — anything from mah jongg group to the Democratic or Republican Party — I can accomplish little internally. If it is wealth, professional or social status that I crave, I also can accomplish little internally.
Since the acquisition of the Torah is a lifelong pursuit, its best students locate their sense of worth internally. Torah knowledge depends on nothing if not unremitting determination and discipline. There are never enough honors to acknowledge them; not to mention, honor deflects a Torah student his task.
Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1843) lays down a paradox. “For myself,” he says, “I must shun honor. But my obligation to others is just the opposite. I must shower all people with as much honor as I can devise.” If I am to shun honor to aid in my acquisition of the Torah, as Pirkei Avot advises, then I might conclude that I should “help” others by not honoring them or by dismissing any honors that come their way. Just the opposite, says Rabbi Salanter.
The 34th way to acquire the Torah: Shunning Honors.
Way #1, Study; Way #2, Listen; Way #3, Articulate Speech; Way #4, Understanding of the Heart; Way #5, An Intelligent Heart; Way #6, Awe; Way #7, Fear; Way #8, Humility; Way #9a, Joy; Way #9b, Purity; Way #10, Serving the Sages; Way #11, Interaction with colleagues; Way #12, Exchanges with students; Way #13, Deliberation; Way #14, Scripture; Way #15a, Mishnah; Way #15b, Limited Business Activity; Way #16a, Limited Marital Relations; Way #16b, Portion Control; Way #17, Limited Pleasure; Way #18, All nighters; Way #19, Limited Conversation; Way #20, Limited Entertainment; Way #21, Slowness to anger; Way #22, A good heart; Way #23, Faith in the sages; Way #24, Acceptance of suffering; Way #25, Knowing one’s place; Way #26, Happiness with one’s lot; Way #27, Have a filter; Way #28, Claim no credit; Way #29, Being beloved; Way #30, Loving the Omnipresent; Way #31, Loving G-d’s creatures; Way #31b, Loving acts of charity; Way #32, Loving reproof; Way #33, Loving integrity