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Spiritual Tools: Rav Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk: Honor



The 1st of Iyar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (1720or 1730-1788). The Maggid of Mezritch once sent his disciple Rabbi Menachem on a journey to various communities. He was to speak in public and we can desire to study the Torah for its own sake. In one of the towns he visited, a number of learned men came to see Rabbi Mendel at his inn, and showered him with special honors. While talking to them, he brought up the question why it is said that when a man flees from honors, honors pursue him. “If it is good and seemly to be honored,” he said, “why is he who flees from honors rewarded for his unseemly fears by having honors pursue him? But if it is wrong to be honored, why should this pursuit punish him for praiseworthy flight?

 

The fact is that the honest man should avoid honors. But, just like everyone else, he is board with a desire for them and must fight against it. Only after a long time, during which he has studied the Torah zealously and for its own sake, will he succeed in overcoming that reprehensible desire and no longer feel satisfaction at being called Rabbi, or the like.

But the desire for honor which he had in his youth, and which she has conquered, still clings in the very bottom of his soul, and though he knows that now he is free, it pursues him like a tenacious memory, and confuses him. That is the taint of the primeval serpent, and of this too he must cleanse himself.”

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