Just two words. If we only remembered them, our lives would be so different. Kavod Shomayim.
The Klausenberger Rebbe (Shefa Chaim, Nisuin, No. 28, page 31) once noted that when the Tannaim and Amoraim wanted to ascertain if they were embarking upon the correct path, they would ask a child to recite the latest posuk he was learning. The rebbe taught that we, too, have such a test at our disposal. It is to analyze carefully if such an action will result in kavod Shomayim, bringing more honor to Heaven, or not. Very often, we either do not think at all or at least not about the glory of Heaven before we act. For the sake of convenience, we daven in places other than a shul, with the calculation that we will get home faster on a Friday night or that we are tired and, after all, davening is davening.
A short anecdote about Rav Nosson Wachtfogel can teach us wonders. Rav Nosson discovered that bochurim had, for what they thought was a valid reason, begun davening during the week in the ezras noshim, otzar haseforim and other places instead of the bais medrash. The mashgiach trudged up the stairs, walked from one bais medrash to another and declared, “I protest with all my might against those who allow themselves to daven in places unfit for bnei Torah. This behavior borders on chillel Hashem” (Leket Reshimos, Kavod Shomayim, page 38). The offending actions ceased immediately. The mashgiach taught his talmidim and all of us by extension that every action, even the most seemingly innocuous, must be examined in light of chillul Hashem on the one hand and the opportunity for adding honor to the Ribono Shel Olam on the other.
My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner (Sefer Hazikaron, page 85) often spoke about the destruction in our times of the tzuras ha’adam, the lofty stature of man as he was created. He referred to this as the avi avos hatumah, the most dangerous defilement of our generation. He attributed what he termed “the thrusting of the sword into the very soul of man” to the teachings of Sigmund Freud. The most specifically offending of these teachings was “Freud’s heresy” that man really has no free will (see also Igros, No. 71). Freud saw man as a bundle of drives, neuroses and hormonal inclinations that drive him to certain actions. To Rav Hutner, this was the ultimate denial of the grandeur of man, as taught by the Torah. He taught that every one of us has the potential to be elevated and lofty in all that we do. This would, in turn, result in kiddush Hashem and the increase of kavod Shomayim wherever we go.
Rav Hutner (ibid., page 94) even saw the early sins of Klal Yisroel as emanating from a misplaced search and yearning for loftiness rather than crudity. To him, the worst degradation of human beings was the fall into pettiness and triviality. Rav Hutner’s insistence upon care in one’s vocabulary even included banning the term “weekend” from our lexicon, since it equated Shabbos and Sunday in one term.
Let us now imagine how low we have sunk when clearly religious Jews appear in full religious regalia in newspapers and media for sins that proclaim “chillul Hashem.” Obviously, in many cases we are innocent, thus adding personal tragedy to the desecration of Heaven. But perhaps we have not inculcated into our children and students sufficiently the rule that nothing is as important as bringing glory to Heaven and nothing as horrific as causing the opposite.
The Sefas Emes (Pesach 5632) points out that Klal Yisroel learned from the sea and other inanimate objects that do not have free will to perform the will of Hashem. Chazal (Sifri, Haazinu 32:1) reveal that Klal Yisroel derived from a kal vachomer that we should fulfill G-d’s will, since we have the free will to do so, while the heavenly orbs do not. The Sefas Emes implies that one could consider the opposite as logical as well. Of course, the sea splits and the sun shines since they have no choice. But he notes that the Medrash points out that they are not rewarded for their efforts either. However, we, who are rewarded for every good action, should always be motivated to do the right thing. As baalei mussar explain, “the greatest chillul Hashem occurs when people make decisions based upon their personal petty needs rather than considering the consequences for kavod Shomayim” (Chochmas Hamatzpun, Vayeishev, page 153). In fact, Rav Leib Chasman zt”l (Ohr Yahel, Pirkei Machashavos, page 58) stresses that we must be “moser nefesh” – literally put our lives on the line – to add kavod Shomayim in the world.
On the positive side, Rav Yechezkel Levenstein (Ohr Yechezkel, Emunah, page 49) points out to us that one of the most evil people received incredible reward for just a moment of kavod Shomayim. Nevuchadnetzar (see Sanhedrin 96) ran four steps in Hashem’s honor and was granted power over not only ancient Babylonia, but the entire ancient world and limitless wealth and honor, despite his many sins and failings. Imagine, then, the mashgiach concludes, what reward every Jew will receive for a proper amein yehei shmei rabbah and other manifestations of kavod Shomayim.
In another place, Rav Chatzkel (Ohr Yechezkel, Torah Vodaas, page 47) uplifts us with the words of Chazal (Vayikra Rabbah 26:7) about Shaul Hamelech. Hashem turns to the Heavenly angels proudly proclaiming, “Take note of this person whom I have created who accepts My Heavenly judgment even though he knows that he and his sons are going to their death.” Rav Chatzkel concludes that one of the greatest acts of kavod Shomayim is when a person subjugates his personal proclivities to the mandates of kavod Shomayim, totally negating his own ego and preferences. This may seem to raise the bar hopelessly high for all of us, but we must remember that Klal Yisroel has passed this test through the Crusades and inquisitions, Tach Vetat and Churban Europa, and countless personal tests wherein individuals placed Heavenly honor before their own.
There is one day and place we must never forget about our mandate to promulgate kavod Shomayim. As Rav Avigdor Miller (Ohr Olam 6:83) writes, “The Jew has received the astonishing gift of one day a week when he is freed from the obligations of worldly affairs and can concentrate exclusively upon dedicating himself to spreading kavod Shomayim. Although a Jew should feel every day that he is living by the word and decision of the Creator, on Shabbos he is free to contemplate this fact and achieve the clarity of thought that can help to make a kiddush Hashem every moment of the day.”
We are living in both terrible and wonderful times. Shabbos in too many places is being treated as a burden and anachronistic imposition. On the other hand, amazing organizations are working hard to enhance our Shabbosos and restore its ancient glory. Utilizing Shabbos for kiruv rechokim often forces us to revitalize our own Shabbos tables and reenergize our Shabbos tefillos. Whether bringing in various types of zemiros, communal learning after davening, or inspirational speakers who enhance our Shabbos dedication, all these and more can only lead to more kavod Shomayim, which, after all, is why we were put here in the first place. Let us take another look at our Shabbos homes and shuls and take it all to a higher level, as many do in gashmiyus, bringing kavod Shomayim back where it belongs.