With an increasing sense of unease, I read reports about criminal assaults of unimaginable brutality committed against innocent passers-by. In many instances, there was no robbery involved; the motivation was clearly not gain. It turns out to be nothing but an expression of nauseatingly violent hatred against a stranger on account of his political persuasion or his religious beliefs or because of his white skin color. Sometimes it is just for the nihilistic joy of destruction. To my knowledge, this form of anti-social behavior is occurring more frequently in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Today we rightly condemn past times when similar assaults took place, though the political persuasions, religious beliefs and skin color might have been different. Yet, today we often avert our eyes from these attacks and pretend they aren’t happening.
I am sure that there must be one or two people in your world for whom you harbor intense dislike. I know that is true for me. There are even a few human beings whose actions I view as so evil and destructive that I do believe the world would be better off without them.
What stops you and me from creeping up behind one of these people we dislike (okay, detest) and ferociously slamming our fists against the back of their heads so savagely that they collapse to the sidewalk? Precisely this is now happening ever more frequently, and what is more, most of the thugs elude capture and escape justice.
So, why don’t you and I launch barbaric assaults on those most deserving of our censure? One important answer is that we refrain from violently attacking strangers in the street for exactly the same reason that those conscienceless criminals do commit those attacks: In order to earn and maintain the approval and esteem of others.
In their world, their friends applaud with high fives and by filming the attack on their ubiquitous phones. In our world, we eschew violence in favor of rational debate and calm conversation, thereby earning the regard and respect of our associates.
We all need other people to think well of us; not all other people, but those whom we classify as friends. We have other needs as well. We need air, water, food and shelter; these are our physical needs. However, we have equally real spiritual needs among which, one of the most important is the need to be thought well of by others. We dress, drive and discipline our children partially in order to earn and retain the approval of others. This spiritual need also influences why we try to make and spend more money than we would require merely to survive physically.
The Hebrew word for our legitimate need for the approval of others is KaVoD and looks like this:
כ ב ו ד
The 1st, 2nd, and 4th letters כ-ב– ד (reading right to left of course) spell out the Hebrew root word meaning weighty in the sense of heavy or massive. However, the 3rd letter, the letter Vav, is one of the three letters comprising God’s holy name and, as such, it contributes a profoundly spiritual element to any word in the middle of which it appears. This explains that our need for Kavod is not merely the physical desire to appear weighty and significant but it is a spiritual desire to be admired by others in the same way, as it were, that God is admired by his sentient creatures.
…bring to the Lord KaVoD and strength.
There are, however, only two places in the Tanach, where KaVoD is spelled without that special Godly letter vav, using only the three basic letters, like this:
כ ב ד
Here’s the first:
And he heard the words that Laban’s sons were speaking: “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from that which was our father’s he has built up all this KaVoD.”
Here’s the second:
Go ahead, plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no limit to the treasure;
It is a KaVoD of all precious objects.
Those who despoiled the city of Nineveh and plundered its treasures saw none of the spiritual purpose and social value of wealth. To them it was all materialistic.
Likewise, Jacob’s brothers-in-law (who are not identified as relatives of Jacob but rather merely as his father-in-law’s sons) saw none of the tremendous value Jacob had brought their family. They could focus only the material value of what Jacob legitimately owned, but which they saw as him having appropriated.
In reality, KaVoD is part of the social fabric that helps regulate human behavior for positive ends to the benefit of everyone.
See how King Solomon discusses the benefits of living your life with wisdom:
In her [wisdom’s] right hand is length of days and in her left, wealth and KaVoD.
Living our lives wisely, explains the great king, brings longevity, financial achievement, and the esteem of other people. Viciously beating up people of whom we disapprove is not living wisely and brings only the approval of like-minded hooligans and murderers. It brings conspicuously shortened lives and certainly no financial success.
It follows, of course, that God wants us to desire the approval of others, long life, and financial achievement because the pursuit of those three objectives encourages us to try to live with wisdom. This is good for all the humans around us who grant us their approval. What is more, doing so earns us God’s approval as well.