Blog  D’var Torah on Kavod

D’var Torah on Kavod

Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin

July 13, 2018

I would like to direct you to the brains on the screen. This graphic depicts the American-Israeli psychologist, Daniel Kahneman’s, scientific discovery on the brain. According to Khaneman, we have two systems at work in our brains. System 1 involves automatic, impulsive, associative, and unconscious processing. System 2 involves slower,  more deliberate processing; system 2 takes more energy and tired us out which is why system 1 so often takes the lead in our thinking. This can  be a really good thing in certain circumstances.

For instance, if a giant, vicious goblin,  or Voldemort  were to burst into tefillah  right now, we would automatically run to save ourselves. But, there’s a negative side to this system 1 thinking too. It causes us to follow patterns of behavior or make judgements without consciously thinking about it. System 1 thinking guides us to decide intuitively who we like or don’t like. It means that we don’t realize when we have decided that we like or don’t like someone or something based on superficial factors. It also explains why we may walk into a program or into dinner and sit at the same table with the same people every single time. System 1 thinking might actually make it harder for us to carry out our sci-tech values.

This shabbat, we focus on the value of kavod, respect or honor. In Pirkei Avot, the ethics of our sages, Ben Zoma teaches, “Who is honored? One who honors others.” In other words, our own honor is dependent on the honor we give to others. Treating others with honor and respect can be more difficult than it sounds, especially when system 1 is ready to take charge. It requires that we make an effort to use our system 2 processing and think deliberately. It might mean that rather than sitting at a table with the same people with whom we always sit, we make a plan to bring someone new to our table or we even go sit somewhere else. It enables us to change our behavior and break potentially harmful  habits.

I almost always walk into my synagogue with some task that I am in a rush to do. I used to have a habit of power walking down the hall and going straight to my office without greeting anyone on staff. I wasn’t aware that I did that until I took a mussar course during which we studied the value of kavod. For several weeks we were tasked to greet every person we saw before they greeted us.  When we make the time to say hello to someone else, even a stranger, we say to them, “I see you, I respect you, and I care about you as a fellow human being.” Here at sci-tech over this past week, so many people have made me feel honored simply by saying hello, asking me how my day is going, or offering to give me directions to various places on campus.

So while you are here at sci-tech this summer, and once you are back in the real world afterwards,  I challenge you to keep system 1 at bay and try not to let it overpower system 2! System 2 may take more effort, but when we use it, I think we will find that our Jewish values will flourish, that we will give and receive kavod in ways that we never expected. Shabbat Shalom!

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