Respect is something we all want to have, and frequently don’t get.  Its one of the things that motivates human beings to succeed.  People strive to be rich, for among other things, to get respect.  People strive for education, because it brings respect.  People strive for positions of power because it brings respect.  In the show, “Fiddler On The Roof,” Tevye in his dreams of being a rich man muses,

“The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
They would ask me to advise them,
Like a Solomon the Wise.
“If you please, Reb Tevye…”
“Pardon me, Reb Tevye…”
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
And it won’t make one bit of difference if i answer right or wrong.
When you’re rich, they think you really know!” 

People respect wealth, and seek the advice of wealthy people.  People can pile up academic degrees or drive expensive cars, or establish themselves in one thing or another that brings respect at least in some circles.

In the same musical, a beggar comes up to Tevye and asks for alms.  Tevye gives him one kopek.  The beggar looks at it and says, “but last week, you gave me two kopeks,”  Tevye says he had a bad week.  The beggar retorts, “because you had a bad week, why should I suffer?”  What stands out about the beggar, is that he has a strong sense of self-respect, and this is where real respect begins.

In the 1960’s, I watched my parents generation, the second generation after the great Jewish immigration to America,  leave the cities and move to the suburbs.  They bought houses, cars, furs, jewelry, and other high ticket items that said, “We made it!”  Our ostentation was a cry for respect, that their grandparent’s generation didn’t have, living in city apartments, living frugally.

My father, who lost his hearing as a teenager, didn’t get the chance to go to college or even finish high school, yet we still lived in the suburbs.  He worked very hard, and we had what we needed.  Because he is deaf, my dad is visually oriented, so we were one of the first families to get a color TV.   Because of health problems, we got Central Air Conditioning before most people had it.  Our exotic vacations were driving down to Florida.  We didn’t do Europe of the Islands.  Sometimes we went to the Catskills.  My dad struggled to provide us with a good life, and we had it. My sisters and I grew up never needing anything.  If we needed it, we had it.   My dad paid for my college.

When I think of people I respect, I know many wealthy people.  I like them and appreciate them, but would do so even if they didn’t contribute to Chevra Humanitarian work.   I got to know them and learned what mattered to them, and learned to appreciate them for who they are, and what kind of people they are.  I appreciate their values.  I also know wealthy people who are miserable human beings.  They treat other people poorly, and I don’t have much to do with them.

I know many well-educated people.  Some are my friends and colleagues.  I respect their knowledge and education.  Some of them are fine human beings; kind decent people, and I try to emulate their better qualities in my own life.  Others are arrogant elitist snobs who think they are better than other people.  They are some of the biggest shmucks I know.

The person I respect the most, is my father.  He was limited by his handicap, yet he provided for us in a great way.  He is deaf, but is not stupid.  My dad is an intelligent man.  When we discuss the events of the day, it becomes apparent that he knows how to use his head.  When he was 57, without studying, he took the high school equivalence test, and passed, earning his high school diploma.  I couldn’t have been more proud.   I can only imagine what he could have accomplished if he was able to go to college.   I respect my dad because he was there for me.  He not only provided, but he let me know, he had my back, every day of my life.

Throughout his life, my dad has treated other people with common decency, or in other words, respect.  There were times I have been amazed at his patience with people.  He has shown himself to be a man of character and generosity, and I learned much about treating people kindly from him.

I am considered a fairly good speaker.  I have friends who, in their speaking, use twenty-dollar words to express five dollar concepts.  They like to show off their vocabularies.  I can do that too, but I choose not to.  My goal is to communicate, not impress.  I imagine myself talking to my dad.  It’s not that my dad wouldn’t understand advanced vocabulary, he does.  He would ask me who I was trying to impress and tell me to cut the crap and just say what I’m trying to say.  Most people appreciate it.

It is good to have education, and good to have wealth, but the most important thing is not to think they make us better than anyone else.  They don’t.  Above all things, we need to strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.  Self respect is more important than the respect of others.  If we want real respect from others, it will depend on how we live our lives, and how we treat others, no matter how great or small we think they are.


One thought on “R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  1. As usual, Rabbi, you have hit on an area that is very important to all of us.

    Respect is earned, but not necessarily by working to earn it. It more often comes to a person who is humble (ref. your earlier essay), and does his best to be a blessing to God and to others. Those efforts are readily perceived by people in general, and they will invariably bring respect to the person in question.

    You, Rabbi, are an obvious example of a person who doesn’t appear to seek respect, but most certainly deserves it.

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