Effective Relationship Tools
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Man was Created b'tzelem Elokim, in the Image of G-d
Generally speaking, people determine [read: judge] who they will respect and who they will not respect. What do you think?
While I have not done a scientific study that will answer this question, my guess is that this statement carries with it a great deal of truth. The bigger question I have, though, is the "why" behind it. Why do people decide they will respect this individual and not the next one?
Let's be fair, folks, and narrow down the "people" to which I am referring. If we put aside those whose intolerance stems from warring nations or groupthink ideals such as bigotry, prejudice, racism and narrow-mindedness, those that remain are the ones who baffle me. What could be going through their minds that directs them to choose who they will respect rather than having an across-the-board attitude of respecting all human beings?
For those people who determine who they will respect and who they will not respect... Is their determining factor based on how respect is defined? I think not!
To be sure, let's define the term. Webster defines respect as: to feel or show regard for; esteem; willingness to show consideration or appreciation. Isn't it interesting that the dictionary does not include "deserve" as part of its definition. That being the case, perhaps the dictionary is teaching us a valuable lesson, that respecting someone is not contingent upon the individual's status, position in life or whether or not he earns it or deserves it. The bottom line is, to be respected is to be valued -- for one's personhood and qualities which one possesses.
For those people who determine who they will respect and who they will not respect... Is their determining factor based on a Torah perspective? I think not!
To be sure, let's note what the Torah has to say on the subject at the beginning of creation: “And G-d said, let us make man in our image; as our likeness, and let them dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the heaven, the animals, all the earth, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (Genesis 1:26)."
The Hebrew word, "v'yirdu" -- and they will dominate, represents two opposite ideas in the same word: that of ruling and that of descending. The commentary, Rashi, links together both meanings with the concept of respect in a lesson that transcends time. It is this. If man is meritorious, then he has dominion over the beasts and cattle. However, if he is not meritorious, then he becomes subjugated to them and the beast has dominion over him.
Being meritorious would imply that man is doing that which Hashem expects of him. He is following Hashem's rules and ways of being. What better word can we apply to this than one who is behaving with common decency. In the Yiddish language, the term for this individual is a "mentsch." When man is acting in the way in which Hashem expects of him, he is meritorious, and he therefore has dominion over the animals. The opposite is also true.
Perhaps the lesson we are meant to extract is that we be mindful of our actions and behaviors, and not allow the animalistic aspect of our being take precedent over the thinking self. For how is man different than the animal and beast if not for his wisdom and thinking process? If we permit the animalistic feature of our nature be dominant, and we are putting ourselves on the same level as the animals and beasts, then we are allowing those animals to dominate us. Why? Because their instinctive way of being far exceeds our ability to emulate them. And that's what we're doing when we do not act like a "mentsch."
This reminds me...When growing up, I heard numerous Yiddish idiomatic expressions spoken by parents (of Eastern European descent) to their children. You could tell by their inflection and tone of voice that the statements were corresponding to their children's questionable behaviors. The following expressions stand out most in my mind (note: these are loose translations): "Zein nisht kain vilte chaya" (don't act like a wild beast); "Fres nit vee a chazir" (don't eat [voraciously] as does a pig); "Zitz vee a mentsch" (sit like a human being). Isn't it interesting how these three expressions all revolve around animals, with an underlying instruction of "don't act like one; behave like a human being."
All people are meant to be treated with respect for the simple reason that all of mankind was and is created b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of G-d). The person's position in life is not a determining factor. His/her financial status is not an issue. And neither should age matter. This leads us to the subject of children. Although they are young and immature, they are human beings, first and foremost. And while they, too, have that same need to be respected, there is no doubt that their need is even greater than that of adults. What better way to propel children’s self-image and to help them feel good about themselves than for parents to respect them. Besides, how do parents expect children to learn how to respect others (or even themselves) if they do not have a model to show them the way.
I welcome your feedback, input, thoughts, and also questions.
Please stop in to our class on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 p.m. as we explore Torah thoughts on relationship tools, and how we can apply them in our lives.