If and when your rabbi asks you to be the honoree, have rachmanus on him and say yes
My good friend and colleague Reb Sruli Besser recently wrote a timely and entertaining article about being the guest of honor at a yeshivah dinner (“On My Honor,” Issue 769).
I enjoyed it so much that I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at the other side of the coin. Namely, what’s it’s like to be the person who has to find an honoree.
More often than not, this dubious honor falls in my lap. And usually, the responses I receive are:
“I’m really sorry — however, I spoke to my wife and she’s really not comfortable with being honored.”
“But, can I just say—”
“I’m really sorry to cut you off, Rabbi, but our answer is final. We cannot be the honorees at your dinner.”
And so begins another frantic search (which I look forward to as much as experiencing a closed MRI) namely, the task of finding a korban— oh, excuse me, an honoree for the annual shul dinner.
Finding honorees is about as easy as finding people who would agree to have their wisdom teeth pulled without Novocain. I dread dinner season, when I have to beg, plead, beseech, and implore someone to say those two magic words: “I accept.”
There are about as many excuses given by people refusing to be honored as there are answers to why we celebrate Chanukah for eight days and not seven.
“We are quiet people and we avoid the limelight.” Limelight? I think. After all, you’re being honored by the Ahavas Israel in Passaic. You are not being asked to make the Hadran at the Siyum HaShas in MetLife Stadium. Where’s the limelight?
And then you have the people who use “blame the wife” excuse.
“I would really gladly accept the honor, however, as you always say, Rabbi, ‘Don’t do anything to disrupt shalom bayis,’ and my wife would not hear of this.”
I am champing at the bit to tell this fellow, “I already cleared it with your wife!” However, I remain silent.
In almost all scenarios, we are not even looking for money from the guests, we just need a live body! And you would assume at least that the honorees are bringing in paying guests? Sorry, they don’t. In fact, they sometimes request of the shul, yeshivah, etc., to allow their guests to come to the dinner as “guests” (read: for free) of the shul.
And when we finally find an individual who agrees, no one can recall one shul project the honoree has taken part in.
Here is where I come in, to create the most original titles for the honorees.
The “Kesser Tefillah” award goes to the person who returned his siddur to the bookshelf 67 percent of the time.
The “Nikayon HaTissue” award goes to the couple who threw out their used tissues 79.7 percent of the time.
Baruch Hashem, I love my congregants and I feel loved by them and for me it is difficult, yet not infuriating. However, I know from other rabbanim that quite often those individuals who have no qualms about calling the rabbi at all hours are the first to refuse to be honored. My colleagues tell me, “Gehinnom hath no fury like a congregant who feels scorned” and therefore these rabbis know that the expectation is that they be present at every vort, l’chayim, shivah home, levayah, chanukas habayis… or else.
However, when the rabbi pleads with these same people to be honorees — and mind you, these individuals are the same people who expect the rabbi to go to Brooklyn for their daughter’s child’s bris — they are suddenly stricken with shyness and humility, which precludes them from acquiescing to the rabbi’s desperate plea to accept the honor.
One piece of advice: If and when your rabbi asks you to be the honoree, have rachmanus on him and say yes. It will probably be the greatest chesed you do the entire year.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 773)