The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40 plus year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.
This column is an adaptation and extension of an idea presented by the Rav in a 1956 d’var Torah on the concept of kavod; it is in honor of the wedding of Rabbi Dr. Moshe and Devora Strauch
Parshas Pikudei describes the building of the tabernacle and the weaving and manufacturing of the bigdei kehunah, the unique garments for Aharon and his children, the kohanim. In Parshas Tetzaveh (Exodus 28:2), where the command and blueprint for these garments is given, the Torah adds the words that these garments should be l’kavod u’letiferes, for honor and glory. Let us analyze the concept of kavod, how it relates to the kohen gadol, each Jew and knesses Yisrael.
Just as great people can sink to great depths of defilement if they are not careful, lofty ideals and characteristics can be defiled as well. What are the characteristics of kavod. On the one hand we find that kavod appears to be something to avoid, as it says in Avos (4:28) that pursuit of kavod is one of the traits that remove man from the world. On the other hand we find that Chazal were of the opinion that kavod flees from one who seeks it yet pursues one who avoids it (See Eruvin 13b). There are both positive and negative aspects to kavod.
We find that King David (Psalms 24) ordered the gates to open for the Melech Hakavod. The gates asked who is the Melech Hakavod and he replied Hashem Tzevakos, the true Melech Hakavod. If kavod is an appropriate trait for Hashem, the mitzvah of vehalachta Bidrachav obligates us to emulate Him. To do this we must understand the meaning of kavod.
The root word of kavod, honor or respect, and koved, heavy or difficult, is the same. Hashem tells Moshe “v’ikavdah b’Pharoh” (Exodus 14:17), which the Targum translates as I will be glorified. Others interpret this phrase as I will make it very difficult for Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Both interpretations are appropriate. The will of Hashem was that Pharaoh and the Egyptians must respect and appreciate His greatness. The Egyptians were dragged through the mud of the Red Sea b’kveidus, with strain and pain, which brought them to the realization that Hashem is the One they have been resisting all along. They finally came to appreciate the gravity of Hashem and to respect Him.
The word masa, burden, is one of the many synonyms in the Hebrew language for prophecy. Prophecy, conveying the word of Hashem, is a difficult responsibility. It requires perseverance in the face of strong opposition. It demands an attitude and fortitude to resist the malaise of the people or the outright rejection of Hashem’s message. The messenger, the prophet, must ignore the threat of grave personal physical danger. We find prophets like Yonah who attempted to flee rather than carry the message of Hashem to a potentially dismissive audience. Malachi was given a difficult message to convey, referred to as masa, a burden (Malachi 1:1). It is the job of the prophet to convince the people to honor the Sender of the message as well as to relent and accept His weighty message.
The concept of kavod was also imparted to the human being. The Ramban comments (Genesis 1:26) that man was crowned with kavod and hadar, honor and beauty. Each member of klal Yisrael, indeed all of mankind, has a uniqueness, and individuality, like his Creator, that makes him special and grants him kavod. When one acts in a way that defiles that kavod, one denies and defiles the tzelem Elokim, the image of Hashem in which man is created.