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images and honor
middot honor daily living images and honor

images and honor

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-mirrorI was visiting my aunt in New York City a few days ago and she told me about a fascinating exercise led by a guest rabbi in her synagogue.

The exercise first began with a number of people lined up in a row facing a mirror. Each person had to take some time to look at his/her reflection in the mirror without placing any judgment on the image seen. Then each person was told to consciously keep in mind that they were just seeing reflections of light on glass (not themselves at all). The next portion involved each person looking directly into the reflected eyes of the person standing next to them. Once again the goal was to consciously remember they are only seeing a reflection (light off of glass) of a person. The final step was for each person to face the person next to them, make eye contact and realize they are still only looking at an image (the reflection of light off of the eyes) but then to realize that this image was also a reflection…but the reflection was God.

There are several powerful lessons that can be derived from this exercise but one that really came to mind after hearing about it has to do with giving honor where it is truly due. Whether or not we like it, humans tend to determine honor based on superficial appearances. The number of titles you have before (or after) your name helps determine social/academic/religious/professional status. Tall and muscular suggests strength while short and thin suggests the opposite. The clothes you wear, shape of your body, facial features, etc. all serve as guides with which people make many of their initial judgments.

Appearances are important in many circumstances for honoring others. At the same time, images are just light bouncing around. The real value and identity of a person does not really reside in his/her image. On the flip side, when you realize every person is really made in the image of God then image itself begins to take on its deeper meaning. The image of another may be our most superficial encounter of that person, but it is often our first encounter. The fact that God chose to stamp his image on the most superficial level of each person can help us to realize how really amazing every human being is, and how very little we actually do know about ourselves, others, and God. The dance between transcending image and endowing it with holiness is the place where honor flourishes. I will always have so much more to know about you, but I already know you bear the stamp of God…could you be any more worthy of honor…could God be any more worthy of honor?

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