Ben Zoma says: Who is honored? The one who gives honor to others... (Talmud - Avot 4:1)
In our society, whom do we honor? The basketball player who makes millions of dollars because he can put a ball through a hoop. The rock singer. The movie star. We applaud them when they perform, and yet when they grow older they are often ignored.
What happened to the honor? Because it was based on superficial and meaningless qualities, it disappeared.
Judaism teaches that honor is the realization that everyone is created in the image of God, and thus deserves to be treated with importance. Honor values people for their essence, for what is precious. This applies even if they seem ordinary or, as seen in the following story, annoying.
The great sage of the Talmud, Rabbi Hillel, was known to be highly developed in character and to possess extraordinary patience. Two students made a wager that they could annoy him to the point where he would lose his composure. The goal was to make Rabbi Hillel angry.
They plotted and planned, and at last put their scheme into action. The time was late Friday afternoon when everyone was very busy with last-minute preparations for Shabbat.
The first young man approached Hillel's house and pounded on the door.
When Hillel opened the door, the young man began to ask a nonsensical question. Hillel listened patiently and answered, "My son, I believe this is the answer to your question." And then he proceeded to answer the silly inquiry as best he could.
They wished each other "Good Shabbos," and the boy departed, while Hillel went back to his preparations.
Two minutes later, the other student banged on the door. The same scenario was repeated: a crazy question, and a patient reply from Hillel. "My son, I believe this is the answer to your question."
Two minutes later the first student was back. The students repeated the ridiculous scenario time and time again until the Sabbath arrived, but they were never able to witness even a glimmer of impatience from Hillel.
The key to his incredible patience can be seen in how he addressed the students. Each time he began, "My son..." Hillel looked at every Jew as if he were truly family, and focused on what was special about each one. We never give up on our children, even when they make mistakes time and time again, and Hillel applied this same treatment to every person who came his way. The person who lives life seeing the virtue in others is looked upon with such high regard.
Our sages also say, "Who is honored? The one who runs from honor."
A man once went to his rabbi distressed. "I don't understand. According to the sages, I should be honored. I am living my life running from honor, and yet no one honors me."
"That is because while you are running," the rabbi answered, "you are always looking over your shoulder."
Adapted from "Remember My Soul," by Lori Palatnik (Leviathan Press, Pikesville, MD, 1998)