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Thought for the Day: Kavod Shamayim and Kavod HaBriyos

There are three entities for which we are are required to stand: a talmid chacham, a sefer torah, and a elderly person (even a goy).  An elderly person in this context means over 70.  (I know, I know... for a lot of us that doesn't sound so all fired elderly any more.)  The reasons are similar, but the differences come out in halacha.

There are basically two reasons to stand up when a person comes into one's presence: either to the honor the person or honor what he represents.  Obviously with an icon, one could only be honoring what that icon represents.  I say "obviously", but making a mistake in that area is the foundation of avoda zara.  I once heard a nice modern way to understand how that works.  If an ambassador from a powerful country comes for a visit by himself, then it is appropriate to show him all the honor befitting  the leader of a powerful nation.  If, on the other hand, the king comes with the ambassador, then that same honor should shown to the king and the king alone.  Any special honor shown to the ambassador (besides that befitting someone escorting the king) is a show of disrespect to the king.

A human being, any human being, deserves certain respect as a tzelem elokim.  Anyone who has lived to age 70 or more has seen so many miracles in his life that the divinity must show through.  It is appropriate to show him honor.  However, since that honor is out of respect for the man himself, there is no reason to stand if neither he nor other will see you.  I have a good friend who makes a point to stand at his shabbos table when he sees a certain couple (who have been married now for well over 50 years) walk past his house.  They don't see him, but we (his friends, children, and grandchildren) do; it's great chinuch.

Standing for a sefer torah, on the other hand, is kavod shamayim.  One stands whether anyone will see him or not.  G-d will see.

What about a talmid chacham?  Standing for a talmid chacham is for both kavod shamayim and kavod habriyos.  The Halichos Shlomo uses that to explain the gemara in makkos:
אמר רבא כמה טפשאי שאר אינשי דקיימי מקמי ספר תורה ולא קיימי מקמי גברא רבה
מכות כב:
Rava stated: How foolish are people who stand up for a Sefer Torah but don't stand up for a great person.
Makkot 22b
Rava is talking about people who don't stand for a talmid chacham when no one will.  They foolishly think that it is simply kavod habriyos; after all, he is a great person.  But one who learns the Torah haK'doshah and imbibes its teaching is much more than a great person; he has become also an icon that stands for kavod shamayim.

Just to end on a scary note.  That means that if people consider you a talmid chacham -- whether or not that is true -- you are considered as representatives of HaShem.  In the bais medrash people know the score.  But when you are at work or out in public, many will view you as a talmid chacham if you simply wear a yarmulka.  Think about that before you act.


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