By Seth Wasserman, a d’var Torah from the National Honor Society induction ceremony
Our world is filled with people who have achieved and people who have succeeded. Some of these people may have sought out this honor, and some may have been sought out by honor itself. Throughout Judaism, it is not the people who seek out the honor, but it is the honor that seeks out the people.
Without a doubt, Moshe Rabbenu was one of the greatest men and leaders in the world. He really was an EESH ELOKIM, so we honor him everyday because if it were not for him, perhaps we would still be slaves in Egypt. We honor this man, but how, in the first place, did he get honor? It was not Moshe who sought out honor—Hashem asked, Hashem begged, and Hashem pleaded with Moshe to be the leader of the Jewish people. Finally, Moshe agreed and he accepted the honor that Hashem bestowed upon him.
It is not even just Moshe who exemplifies the idea that we can’t choose honor, but honor chooses us. The whole Jewish nation is an example of this concept. Jews are known to be the chosen people. We were given the honor, by G-d himself, to be his people. This honor was not given to us because we desired it; this was given to us because G-d desired to honor us.
In the present day, it seems that people will do anything to get ahead. They will cheat, steal, and lie, all in order to feel more accomplished. I am sure that we are all familiar with Bernie Madoff—the man who stole and lied to millions of people. He cheated, stole, and lied to all of these people in order to build an empire, and a façade of an honorable man. Yes, people like this may believe that they are accomplished and honorable, but only in their own eyes, not in the eyes of their Creator.
It takes a special person, or group of people, to go through life, living life to the greatest of its potential, and still perhaps not receiving a reward or even recognition for their deeds. But it is these people, people like doctors and rabbis, people that work on the sole motivation of helping others, who deserve the most honor because they are the most humble. We, the students of NHS, did not run towards honor. We worked hard, we helped others, and we helped aid in the continuation of Torah thriving in the modern world. We did not wish to be honored for our deeds, but the school sought us out in order to be honored. In Pirkei Avot, there is a pasuk that says that one who chases after honor, honor eludes him, but one who runs away from honor, honor clings to him. What kind of reward is honor for the person that runs away from honor? One who runs from honor is so involved in G-dly pursuits that he will never have time to stop and think Do I deserve honor for the acts that I do? He views view honor as a punishment rather than a reward because the true key to honor is humbleness and humility.
To quote Pirkei Avot, “Who is wise? One who learns from every man… Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations… Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot… Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows” (Ben Zoma, Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1). So it is not only the NHS Honorees who are deserving of honor tonight, it is also the Academy for not only being our teachers and mentors, but for teaching us how to be leaders and how to be wise, strong, rich, and most importantly, honorable.