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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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KAVOD: The Hidden Lurking Menace Among Us

Dear Rachel,

I am writing this as I am watching a marriage unravel. Suffice it to say that I am close enough to both the husband and the wife to know all the details. A shattered marriage is very rarely a simple matter, but for the purpose of this letter I will address one particular aspect of its demise that I believe might be beneficial to your readers.

Many of us are familiar with the famous verse in Pirkei Avos that decries honor as one of three things (the other two being envy and lust) that remove a person from the world. I am writing about the desire for kavod as I am currently overwhelmed by the destruction I have seen it wreak. The very worst part is that a person can be a slave to this vice and see it destroy everything in his path, yet still have no idea that he has the problem at all.

There is rehab for drug addicts and alcoholics, but for people who covet honor excessively there is no known cure and/or even diagnostic criteria. The desire for honor often masquerades as a host of other problems or even no problem at all, while inflicting at least as much damage as a full-fledged clinical disorder.

This couple is divorcing after many, many years together. The frazzled wife has taken her husband to every mental health professional within 100 miles and then some. He has emerged each time with one or another assessment or diagnosis. Somehow none of these seasoned professionals were able to put a finger on the fact that perhaps what appeared to be “social awkwardness” and an “inability to empathize” was in fact more like “so full of himself that he cannot deign to make room for others even in basic conversation” and “considers himself too important to discuss anything trivial enough to actually interest another person.” Somehow it escaped every last one of these professionals that the husband’s endless monologues about his grand theories on subjects he has no objective expertise in – a habit that has alienated everyone around him over the years – stems from something as simple as a desire to self-aggrandize.

There is much arrogance at the root of the seemingly innocent and eccentric act of talking about grand theories. A person vehemently insisting he knows the answers to America’s problems is really saying that s/he should have been elected its president. Subjects more commonly discussed in typical social settings are dismissed as the petty prattle of the menial classes.

I should mention that this particular husband has not held down a job in almost a decade. No one is giving him the honor of running after him with a job, and no job that would consider him is good enough for him. When an employment agent (that his wife schlepped him to) told him about a job opening that seemed promising, the man replied, “But what about my ten o’clock breakfast?”

Of course there were the professionals who saw the husband’s obvious lack of motivation as a form of depression or an eccentric dissociation from the real world. Absolutely none of them saw what I saw and continue to see: a man refusing to take one step without the red carpet being rolled out for him.

Years and years of professional intervention have completely failed to zero in on this man’s real problem, and subsequently that of his family’s: an insatiable desire for kavod. I am writing this because I am convinced there are more people where he came from, many who are beyond help because their problem is not outwardly identifiable.

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About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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