Hashem’s Honor, Not Your Own
Our holy Torah states that Nimrod “began to be a mighty man upon the earth…a mighty hunter before the L-RD (Genesis 10:8-9). The Sages explain this to mean that Nimrod “ensnared people” by his words (Bereshith Rabba 37:2), for he wanted to rebel against G-d. In fact Nimrod eventually managed to ensnare everyone at the time when “all the earth was of one language and the same words” (Genesis 11:1). Not only were they united against the Holy One, blessed be He, but they were also under Nimrod’s control, with Scripture telling us that his domination began at Babel (ibid. 10:10). This is very surprising, for how could it be that everyone was united and did not speak Lashon Harah about one another, yet they spoke Lashon Harah about the Holy One, blessed be He, because of the flood? When unity exists between two people, they end up acknowledging Hashem. Yet in the case of the generation of the dispersion, they ended up rebelling against the King of the entire earth, even taking Nimrod as their king to revolt against Him!
I thought I would explain this by looking to the words of the Sages for inspiration. They tell us: “Terah was a manufacturer of idols. He once went away somewhere and left Abraham to sell them in his place. A man came and wished to buy one. ‘How old are you?’ Abraham asked him. ‘Fifty years,’ was the reply. ‘Woe to such a man!’ he exclaimed. ‘You are 50 years old and would worship a day-old object!’ At this he became ashamed and departed” (Bereshith Rabba 38:13). There are other stories like this as well. Terah knew in his heart that idols had eyes but could not see, that they had ears but could not hear. He knew that they were simply made by man. Yet despite realizing that there was no truth to them, and despite the fact that he did not believe in them, he allowed himself to get swayed by the prospect of personal gain, since he sold these idols for great profit. This shows us that a person is liable to reach a point at which he actually believes in Hashem, yet he will ignore the truth due to personal interests or for reasons of honor and gain. He then reaches a state in which “love upsets the natural order, and hate upsets the natural order” (Bereshith Rabba 55:8).
We learn a great principle from this, which is that a person cannot love Hashem and honor Him with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might if he also loves himself, honors himself, and worries about his own honor! Furthermore, a person cannot love and respect the Torah if he loves money and personal glory. Why is that? It is because the Torah “is not found among merchants or peddlers” (Eruvin 55a). That is, it cannot be acquired with money. Instead, it can only be acquired by one who abases himself and yields to it (see Berachot 63b; Taanith 7a). If a person loves money and personal glory, how can he annul and lower himself before the Torah? Abraham’s service of Hashem consisted of just that, following His ways to the point that his innards taught him wisdom and Torah (Bereshith Rabba 61:1; 95:3). Abraham never sought person glory, but instead all he yearned for was increasing the glory of Heaven! This is why he overcame every trial he went through, demonstrating the tremendous power of his love for Hashem. He reached a point at which he was truly able to give his life to sanctify His Name, so much did he love Him.
It follows that there exits a fundamental difference between the righteous and the wicked. The wicked are only concerned with their own personal gain and glory, which is why they try to show that they are in control, as Nimrod did. This is not the case with the righteous, who are only concerned with G-d’s honor and are prepared to suffer and endure humiliation for it. Even when the world respects them, the righteous remain humble, for their only desire is to increase the glory of Heaven. Such was the case with Abraham, who gave no thought to personal honor, but instead was constantly concerned with increasing the honor of Heaven and bringing people closer to G-d, since he did everything for His sake with love.
There is a tremendous difference between a person who is only concerned with his own honor, and one who is sincerely concerned with the honor of Heaven. The former cares only about himself and his money, with all his deeds being geared to that end. Even if he teaches Torah and encourages others to perform mitzvot, it is only with his own interest in mind that he does so. He turns the Torah into an instrument for person gain, taking the honor of the Torah for himself. Such a person is like Nimrod, who assembled his entire generation together as one, yet in his heart sought only his own glory. In fact if the unity of his generation had been real, they would have continued to serve Hashem in truth.
Such is not the case with righteous individuals, who actually do love Hashem. When someone truly loves Him and works for His glory with all his heart, this enables him to arrive at “with all your soul,” for his entire life is devoted exclusively to Heaven. Furthermore, such a person is constantly prepared to give his life for the glory of Hashem. Hence it follows that he is constantly giving his life for the sanctification of His Name, as it is written: “Because for Your sake we are killed all the time” (Psalms 44:23). Of such a person we can say that he is a true servant – with all his heart and all his soul – of Hashem, and from him we must learn a lesson for our personal and social lives. That is, when we love ourselves and our money, when we seek out personal honor, then not only will we be left with nothing as honor flees from us, we will also be unable to love Hashem. In that case, how can we serve Him? Therefore we must first and foremost love Hashem, after which honor will come, for Hashem loves those who love Him and grants them an abundance of blessing and success.