middot honor torah worthy of honor

worthy of honor

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-donkeyBen Zoma teaches: Who is worthy of kavod? The one who treats other human beings with kavod. As it I said: For those who honor Me, I will honor, and those who scorn Me, I will scorn. (1 Sam. 2:30) – Pirkei Avot, 4:1

Honor.  Throughout the Torah, the idea of honoring one another is a common thread.  The concept of loving Hashem with all your heart, soul, and strength eminates from the Shema and reverberates in the mitzvot.  The concept that Ben Zoma brings to the table is key: the one who wishes to honor Hashem must first honor those around himself, including animals. In doing this, it brings honor to the Holy One. 

fair loads in the animal kingdom

One well-known verse regarding honorable treatment of animals is the one referring to yoking together an ox and a donkey, "you shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together" (Devarim 22:10). On the surface, this verse prohibits yoking a strong animal with a weaker animal.  Some would say without a doubt that an ox is stronger than a donkey, but the concept that the donkey is strong in its own right is diminished or even eliminated by such a comparison. Both an ox and a donkey are capable of plowing a field separately and sufficiently. The compassion and honor embedded in this mitzvah is surely to prevent the donkey from plowing with an animal of greater stature and being caused physical or emotional stress; likewise, the ox is protected from taking on the extra strain of plowing the donkey's part. But more than that, this mitzvah helps the owner to recognize the strength and purpose of both the donkey and the ox, not forcing one to be like the other by mixing them together. Each creature should be honored for its skills and strengths. Overlooking a creature's characteristics and needs not only produces overexertion and suffering, but undoubtedly leads to a further lack of consideration in other matters. In this way, the Torah upholds the desire for accomplishment or fulfilling one's desire without side-effect—a system of pure associations so as to avoid any cruelty and harm. 

fair loads in the world of Adam

The idea of not placing more on another than he/she is able to bear is mirrored in the realm of human relations. Mashiach Yeshua addresses the soferim (scribes) and Perushim (Pharisees) saying:

"They bind heavy loads and burdens on the shoulders of people, while they themselves are unwilling even to lift a finger." – Mattityahu 23:4, DHE

The ox and the donkey hinder each other if yoked together, but apart and in their own respective places they thrive and have the ability to do much. The reality that a leader in any community must handle a larger load of responsibility is obvious—for if it were not so, the leader would not be suitable to lead any group of people. By the same token, the spiritual burdens are different for members of the community and the responsibilities not as great.

Returning to Yeshua's statement, is he advocating not following the Torah? With respect to the leaders, he is not advocating in any way that the people should neglect the Torah.  However, he is chastising the leaders for expecting the community to uphold the same tremendous loads and responsibilities that they, as leaders, might endeavor to bear, but the community itself could in no way possibly handle without great distress. While our communities benefit greatly from leaders and students conversing, interacting, etc., the latter cannot be expected to handle the exact spiritual burdens of the leader. However, one point Yeshua does seem to drive at is that in no way are the people who do not sit in the leader's places less important; this we can see by his avid defense of the people throughout this chapter.

While Yeshua is a defender and observer of Torah, he does not advocate using Torah to break people. Vayikra 18:5 says that we are to live by the mitzvot and not die by them. Mashiach Yeshua validates and emphasizes at great length the importance of all in Hashem's economy. Our interactions should in no way disenfranchise another, or cause a negative impact so as to cause someone to turn away from God. By respecting individual roles and where people are at in their walk, we can better help those in our midst towards a more fulfilling, Torah-filled life and a higher calling for those that would seek more responsibility. By our being compassionate and sensitive to the needs of those around us, we not only bring a sense of safety, but allow the soul of the individual to flourish and positively impact the community.  If we wish to bring honor to Hashem, let us be true lights of the most Honorable One through our daily honoring of others—whether man or beast.

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