Pursuit of Honor

The story is told about Reuven and Shimon, two brothers who, after moving away from their hometown, had not seen each other for many years. Reuven decided it was time they reunited and set off to Shimon’s town to pay him a visit. After weeks of travel, Reuven reached his destination, but found himself with no idea of how to find his brother’s home.

Approaching a passerby, he inquired whether or not he knew his brother. “Him?” came the disgusted response. “He is a thief, a good-for-nothing and a rotten scoundrel!”

Somewhat taken aback, he cut off the stream of insults aimed at Shimon and asked to be pointed in the direction of his home.

The scene repeated itself over and over as Reuven got closer to his destination. It seemed as though everyone he met had what to say about Shimon, and none of it was in any way positive.

Finally, he reached his brother’s house and knocked on the door. The door opened, and the two brothers shared in the joy of a happy reunion.

After getting settled, Reuven told his brother of the strange interactions he had with the townspeople while asking after him. Why is it, he wondered aloud, that everyone seemed to despise him?

“It’s nothing,” came the reply. “You see, I am the rosh hakahal here. As such, I am tasked with making many decisions that people may not like. Therefore, people say these things about me.”

When Reuven pointed out that it seemed to be the way everyone felt about the rosh hakahal, and questioned what could possibly make that kind of derision worth experiencing, Shimon waved his hand.

“Listen,” he said, “what wouldn’t you do for kavod?”

While this story is certainly chuckle-worthy, there is a lot of truth to it that we miss if we do nothing more than just laugh. The lure of honor is so great that at times people get so caught up in its pursuit that they are prepared to debase themselves. And the desire to get it clouds their ability to recognize that fact.

Those of us who are (regrettably) following the primary elections have been privileged to see this play out right in front of our eyes. More and more people are getting convinced about the inevitability of Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s nominee. Seeing that as being the future of the party, there are two paths in front of everyone. One of those paths is the honorable one; the other, the more expedient one. Some, like former presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, took the honorable route, giving a high-profile speech denouncing Trump, and urging voters to support anyone else but him.

Others took the expedient route. Thinking about their own political futures above all else, these people jumped aboard the Trump bandwagon.

While their number is still few, the highest profile of all these Trump supporters is that of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Apparently, his thinking was that by jumping ahead of the crowd that would eventually consolidate behind the GOP front-runner, he would be the one most highly regarded when Trump eventually won. But instead, he’s been incessantly mocked for the endorsement. He’s been mocked for praising Trump for the same things he’d attacked him for just weeks earlier, and for his inability to name a policy position on which he and Trump actually agree. (Some pundits believe that an interview Christie gave the Sunday after his endorsement, wherein George Stephanopoulos played statement after derogatory statement he’s made about Trump and asked him what changed, might have had the effect of scaring off other would-be endorsers.)

Christie then refused to answer any more questions from the media about his Trump endorsement, inviting more derision. Multiple New Jersey newspapers called for his resignation, and after standing silently behind Donald Trump at his post-Super Tuesday press conference with an anguished look on his face, he needed to go so far as to tell reporters (and this is an actual quote), “I wasn’t being held hostage … I wasn’t sitting up there thinking, ‘Oh my [goodness], what have I done?’”

Christie, for his part, insists that he does not regret his endorsement. It is unlikely that he does not feel the heat from the media’s mockery of him; most people in a similar situation are aware of the ridicule they endure in their oxymoronic pursuit of honor. I can only assume that means that, much like the rosh hakahal in our story, and like most people who end up in similar circumstances, it is just what needs to be done for kavod.