At the end of one’s life, no one says, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”

You’ll never read in an obituary, “The deceased made over $150,000 a year, drove a Porsche and wore Armani suits.  He was quite a guy.”

So why do so many people spend their lives pursing financial success while neglecting things they know are worth so much more than money?


No amount of money can outweigh love.

Would you be willing to give up one of your children for twenty-five million dollars?  What if your child would receive the best of everything but you would never see or hear from him again?

Tough call?  Of course not.

If “money can’t buy you love,” why do so many people neglect their closest relationships while attaining financial success?

The reason is that they are after something even greater than love: the need for self-respect.  Everyone needs to be able to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “Yes, I am a somebody!”  As president of your own company, with a beautiful family, house and BMW in tow, you can tell yourself, “I’ve finally made it.”  For many, achieving financial success and fame is what gives them the feeling that their life has value.

In Hebrew this is called “kavod,” honor, from the word kaved, which means “heavy.”  We give weight to the people we respect.  Self-respect means you see yourself as a person of weight and substance.  It’s feeling that you’re anything but a lightweight.

Why does success give people that sense of weight and self-importance?  Not all feelings of kavod are the real McCoy.  There’s a counterfeit version out there that has nothing to do with who you really are and everything to do with who people think you are.  Success may be the fool’s gold of self-esteem.

Tap your finger on the table for a few seconds.  No big deal, right?  Now imagine standing center state in Madison Square Garden.  The place is packed.  Tens of thousands have paid to watch you - the world’s greatest finger-tapper!  As you start tapping, your fans go wild, erupting in thunderous applause and then rising to give you a standing ovation!

How would you feel?

When eighty thousand people are cheering and saying you’re the greatest, it’s easy to start imagining a meaningless activity like finger-tapping is something that counts.  After all, everyone else says it’s important.

Don’t confuse looking good with being good.  Just because the world admires someone for putting a ball through a metal hoop doesn’t mean that he is performing a truly meaningful act.  All he’s doing is tapping his finger.

If it’s an external source that gives you self-esteem, you can be sure it’s counterfeit.  Trying to live up to society’s standards is one of the most powerful contributors to a false sense of self-worth.  And the standard most worshiped by Western society today is financial success.

Certainly you can use money or stardom to do many truly admirable things.  But success in and of itself doesn’t make you good.  Genuine self-respect is completely independent of what anyone thinks of you.  Only by embodying real values and striving for moral perfection do we truly become elevated and worthy of respect.

Our craving for respect is so strong, it can even lead to murder.  Read the words of a ruthless mobster, who killed his best friend in cold blood, explaining why he joined the Mafia:

It’s the greatest thing that a human being could experience.  The flavor is so good.  The high is so natural.  When you sneeze, fifteen handkerchiefs come out.  I mean, wherever you go, people can’t do enough for you… If you walk into a restaurant, they’ll chase the person out of the best table and put you there.  There’s just so much glamour, respect, and money… it’s unbelievable.  You’re with the elite.  You feel that you’re so superior and that you’re chosen… I know in my heart that I would do it all gain.  I’m talking from the heart.  So how could I say I’m sorry?  If I say I’m sorry, who am I kidding?  I did it and I loved it.

- Interview in Time Magazine, June 24, 1991     Here’s an unrepentant murderer who wakes up every morning feeling great about himself.  That’s how intoxicating kavod can be. It’s tempting to settle for the illusory feeling of self-worth social approval provides and to fall into the honor trap.  It bypasses the incredibly hard work of living up to moral standards while allowing you the false sense of feeling good about yourself no matter what kind of person you really are.  But in the end you become like an imposter, hollow inside. There’s nothing wrong with striving for fame and financial success.  But don’t mistake it for true inner worth.  Integrity, values and moral courage are the things that give us weight and kavod.  There are no shortcuts to genuine self-respect.


  • For many, success feeds one of the most primary human needs: the need for self-respect.  Why?  
  • The counterfeit version of self-esteem has nothing to do with who you really are and everything to do with who people think you are.  
  • Don’t confuse looking good with being good.  Just because the world admires a person for putting a ball through a metal hoop doesn’t mean he is performing a truly meaningful activity.  
  • Success doesn’t make you good.  Only by embodying real values and striving for moral courage do you attain genuine self-esteem.

Facing reality.

Man often loses sight of his priorities.  While we all recognize the importance of developing our relationship with God and plumbing the depths of His Torah, we feel the pressure of making a living and providing for our families, and we allow this to become our primary occupation.  In truth, however, income is predetermined, and toil does not really affect our earning power (see Niddah 16b).  Man’s sustenance is decreed on Rosh Hashanah (Beitzah 16a), and nothing he does can change that.

On the other hand, success or failure at spiritual pursuits is completely dependant on man himself, and the degree of success is proportional to the effort expended.  Hence, the mishna (Pirkei Avos/Ethics of Our Fathers 1:14) instructs us to reorder our priorities.  Regarding matters of the spirit, we should believe ourselves to be in full control of our efforts: If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  However, when it comes to earning a livelihood, sustenance is completely in God’s hands: And if I am for myself - thinking that my efforts earn my living - what am I?  It is only the full and open Hand of God that provides for me (Ruach Chaim).

Commentary from Pirkei Avos 1:14 / Ethics Of The Fathers – Treasury

A fisherman was sitting by the river fishing. Along came a wealthy man and watched with amazement as every few minutes he would reel in another fairly large fish. After only an hour, the fisherman began to pack up and leave. The wealthy man ran over to him asked, “Why are you leaving so soon?”

“Well,” said the fisherman, I’ve caught enough fish to last me for the week and I don’t need any more. Now I’m going home to study Torah and spend time with my family.”

“But think of what you could do with more fish,” the wealthy man implored. “You could sell the extra fish, use the money to invest in more fishing rods, then you could buy a boat and hire other people to do the fishing - while you supervise the operation.”

“And what is the goal of all this?” asked the fisherman.

“Well,” replied the wealthy man, “you could then hire someone to manage your business and retire to do what you really want in life.”

With that, the fisherman bid the wealthy man goodbye and said, “Thank you very much, but I’m doing that already!”

The point of this story is that sometimes we get so caught up in producing, achieving and becoming successful, that we may never stop to ask, “What is life all about? What am I really living for?”


1.  Honor drives the heart of man more than all the desires in the world.  If not for [honor], a man would be content to have his minimum needs for food, clothing and shelter met.  Earning a livelihood would be easy for him, and he would not have to exert himself to get rich.  But he engages in this so he does not have to see himself as lower than his fellow men.

Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just, ch. 11

2.  A person is obligate to say, “The world was created for me” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a).  We are obligate to be aware of our own greatness.  Feel proud that you are created in the image of God.  Pride in the awareness of the greatness and elevation of your soul is not only proper, but it is actually an obligation.  It is a binding duty to recognize your virtues and to live with this awareness.

Rabbi Avraham Grodzinski, Toras Avraham, p. 49

3.  Stature flees from anyone who chases after it.  Stature runs after anyone who flees from it.

Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 13b

4.  When performing a good deed in front of people, imagine you are standing in a forest surrounded only by trees and flowers.  In the long run there is no difference between the two situations.  Just as the trees have no awareness of what you are doing, in the long run it does not make a difference what those people thought about you for the few seconds they saw you.

Yesod V’Shoresh HaAvodah 1:10, as quoted by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Gateway To Happiness

5.  Rabbi Elazar HaKappar said: Jealousy, desire and honor remove a person from the world.

Ethics of the Fathers 4:28

EXCERPT FROM: Shmooze, compiled by Nechemia Coopersmith

Posted in: Personal Growth