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Pirkei Avot 4:21 Giving our Honor to God

Rabbi Elazar HaKapor would say: Envy, lust and honor drive a man from the world. (Pirkei Avot 4:21)

Envy, desire, and honor are the roots of sins. Envy primarily belongs to the 'behavioral' level of the soul, netzach-hod-yesod (victory-acknowledgement-foundation). Desire belongs to the 'emotional' level, chesed-gevurah-tiferet (loving-kindness-might-beauty). Honor belongs to the 'intellectual' level, chochmah-binah-da’at (wisdom-understanding-knowledge).

Submission, Separation, Sweetening

Envy, desire, and honor are the "opposing side" of the fundamental rectification order "submission, separation, sweetening"[1], as per the order of the Mishnah: The trait of submission is not to envy at all, since nothing is truly mine. I should be rich with happiness with my lot gifted to me by God.

In separation, one withdraws from all evil desire (which comes from the animal soul) and focuses on "the desires of the righteous are only good."[2]

Sweetening pertains to the rectification of honor. The arrogant person pursues his separate and imaginary honor (and then the honor flees from him). In truth, "every person should minimize his own honor and increase the honor of God" – from the recognition that "the crown and honor belong to the Living Eternal." (The essence of honor is for God, and by extension, a person receives something of that honor). To reduce one's own honor means to surrender one's honor to God (to return the extended honor to the Divine essence). Thus, 'human honor' itself is sweetened by being part of God’s honor, since "everything that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory.", By doing so, he fulfills "give Him what is His [the honor that belongs to God] for you and yours are His." (By doing so, a person flees honor and honor pursues him). Specifically, "to minimize one's own honor" is the submission in sweetening, and "to increase the honor of Heaven" is the essence of sweetening.

After the order of submission-separation-sweetening comes an additional submission. Particularly following the sweetening, a higher degree of self-surrender is revealed. In our case, the more genuine honor there is, the more a person submits himself when he surrenders the honor to God. Furthermore, after rectifying envy, desire, and honor, another stage of refined and positive envy follows: like "the envy of the scribes increases wisdom," and a holy "spirit of zeal" (spirit of purity)[3] like the zeal of Pinchas and Elijah for the sake of Heaven.

The Three Transgressions

Envy, desire, and honor correspond to the three severe transgressions: Envy is the root of murder; desire is the root of illicit sexual relations; honor is the root of idolatry (which takes the honor away from the "King of Glory").

The rectification here is also through submission-separation-sweetening: The inclination towards murder must be completely subdued, with extreme caution not to harm anyone at all (like shaming someone in public, which is likened to shedding blood). In the case of the sexual urge, one must practice separation, distinguishing between wrongful lust and the love between a husband and wife, "He who finds a wife finds good", "The desires of the righteous are only good." The urge for idolatry (honor) was already nullified by the sages at the beginning of the Second Temple period. They completely transformed it into the service of God (thus there is no longer an 'urge' that draws one away from God to follow idolatry), hence, the sweetening.

[1] Keter Shem Tov 28.

[2] Proverbs 11:23.

[3] Sotah 3a. Laws of Sotah 4:18.

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