Personal Growth & Self-Perfection
Working on Good Midos (Character Traits)

























































"Greater are the deeds of the righteous than Creation of Heaven and earth (Kesubos 5a)." There is a tremendous question on this gemora. How can anything from any finite flesh and blood mortal, even a tzadik, be greater than the Creation of the entire universe by an Infinite Creator; or be compared with the creation of the wonders of nature and of life?

A human being has something that does not apply to G-d or His handiwork. The human being has free will choice to decide between good and evil, between spiritual and material, service of self and the service of G-d.

Proverbs 24:16 says, "The righteous falls seven times and stands up." The road to righteousness does not start with ease. The righteous can fall, perhaps many times. But when he does, he dusts off his knee, gets right up, says, "There's one more thing I know not to do," and his mistakes become smaller and fewer. The wicked is content to stay down in the mud.

Through diligent ongoing work on oneself, he progressively breaks his ego and elevates and sanctifies himself and his deeds. The road to being righteous entails tests, pains, struggles and conquests; overcoming obstacles and distractions; developing self-mastery, character and spiritual potential. To become righteous, one fights - and wins - an ongoing internal war.

G-d's handiwork has no such battle. We say in "Baruch She'amar" that G-d "spoke and the world came into being (Siddur)." G-d's Creation has no struggles to complete or perfect itself. To "become righteous" is not applicable to the universe. When a human being works on "becoming righteous," this is greater than G-d's Creation of Heaven and earth. To create the universe, as great and wondrous as it is, G-d effortlessly spoke and Creation came into being. However, to create one's righteous self, is major effort. Doing good deeds in the practical world is essential to achieving our purpose in life. Making oneself a tzadik, and one who does good practical deeds, is creation! This is greatness! You can be great!



The Talmud says that humility is the greatest of all good midos. The Orchos Tzadikim says that humility is the good mida [trait] from which all other good midos stem (conversely gaiva [arrogance-haughtiness] is the principal bad mida from which all other bad midos stem). Humility is removal of barrier between yourself and another, whether G-d or other people. Humility lets your mind and heart "make room and let the other in." Conversely, arrogance and anger let no one into your mind and heart but you. Humility is canceling of ego and self-centeredness (regardless of whether psychology says this is "good" or "healthy"). Only with humility can you relate to, identify with and have empathy for another. Only with humility in both partners can there be a fulfilling, functioning and stable relationship. Humility is the trait which entitled and enabled Moshe to be the one who brought the Torah from Heaven to earth. G-d called Moshe the most humble person who ever lived. Moshe could be the most perfect instrument for the pure and faithful delivery of the Torah which, by definition, has to be pure; without any adulteration or pollution that arises out of ego. Torah and humility go together.

The Vilna Gaon's students said that the Gemora says that a talmid chachom [sage] should have "one eighth of an eighth (shmini shebi shminis) of arrogance" (the opposite of humility) yet the Gaon was totally humble. They asked him why. He answered cryptically, "Your own question is its own answer." When he saw that they were baffled, he continued. "The gemora uses both masculine (shimini) and feminine (shminis) language. The Gemora should have used one or the other [masculine or feminine language] to be grammatically consistent both times. By changing, what lesson are the sages adding? It is reference to the eighth posuk (verse, masculine noun) of the eighth parsha (Torah portion, feminine noun), which says, 'I am too small to be worthy of all of G-d's kindnesses' (Genesis 32:11). When compared to G-d and His infinite goodness, how can any mortal person really be anything but totally humble?"



One of the Rabbis from whom I learned Torah instruction is Avraham Asher Zimmerman, z'l. He was a person who embodied Torah better than just about anyone I can think of. Although he grew up in Brooklyn, he had the good fortune of learning in Europe for approximately three years in the mid 1930's when the great generation of pre-war Europe Torah giants still were alive. Because of his health, Rabbi Zimmerman returned to America before the war.

While in Europe, he learned under Rabbi Shimon Shkop in the Grodno Yeshiva; in the famous Baranovitch Yeshiva under the Torah luminary, Rabbi Elchanon Wasserman, prime disciple of the legendary Chafetz Chayim; and other luminaries. Rabbi Wasserman was gunned down by Nazis during the war. Among the giants that Rabbi Zimmerman saw was the famed Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, known as the greatest Torah scholar alive in that era. Rabbi Zimmerman is a precious link to the Torah heritage of pre-war Europe.

Rabbi Zimmerman gave a beautiful speech (Parshas Balak, 5754) about Billam vs. humility. He emphasized that midos (character traits), not intellect, make the person. Billam had unquestionable brilliant intellect, but it was poison, in his possession. Unless intellect is preceded by cultivated, fine, elevated character, it is destructive. Good midos have to come first. Anava (humility) is the first of the good midos (the "first of the first").

The Talmud (Taanis 20b) says, "Be soft as a reed." A reed is something that grows in a swamp, in water. To the eye it appears to be low. But, it has strong roots. When the strongest wind comes, the reeds shake with the wind but remain after the wind is done blowing.

The opposite of the reed is the cedar tree. The cedar is tall, strong, aristocratic looking. When a hurricane wind comes, the cedar falls with a smash.

The person with good character traits is like the reed. When the storms of life come, although it is impossible not to shake with the winds, the reed has strong roots. Because it is "low", it has relatively little surface area to be smitten by the wind. The huge and stately cedar has roots that are relatively shallow, compared to the mass of the tree. Above ground, it has much more surface area. The wind throws it down.

Rabbi Zimmerman explained that Billam was the cedar with feeble roots and no tolerance for adversity. To the world he looked impressive, big and aristocratic. But, there was nothing for the long run.

The truth is, the way to be is like the reed. By emulating the soft reed, by being the humble person of character, who carries a "low profile," and who may be shaken in the winds of life, you remain around to tell of it after the hurricane is over.

Pirkei Avos (chapter 5) says that there are three traits that show that one is the disciple of Billam:

1. wanting bad for another person, especially when that other person means you no harm - just out of jealousy or spiteful emotions - particularly by begrudging good that another person has (especially when you don't have that good thing),

2. arrogance, and

3. desire - overwhelming drive to take or to gratify.

These were the characterizing marks of Billam. View these as a recipe for downfall.

The opposite of these three, Pirkei Avos also tells us, are found in the disciples of Abraham, forefather of the Jewish people:

1. wanting only good for other people (never feel threatened, diminished or jealous when the next person has good - there is enough good in G-d's world for everybody),

2. humility, and

3. undemanding - has contentment with what one has.

These three exalted traits are hallmarks of the Jewish people. View these as an elixir of life.

If we keep this in mind, operate with our priority on midos, not on being "smart," Rabbi Zimmerman concluded, we will get the benefits and value of true life.

This all can only come into existence through ANAVA, the foundation for all good character and behavior. Intellect must be preceded by fear of sin, which must be preceded by humility, which is the root of all good. Nothing good, true, right or lasting can be achieved without anava. Including your marriage!

The mishna, in Pirkei Avos which discusses the difference between the disciples of Abraham and Billam, asks: What is the difference between them? The disciples of Abraham enjoy the benefits of this world and inherit the eternal world. The disciples of Billam inherit Gehenom and fall into a "pit of destruction."



Midos (character traits) are the single most important work in life. If you are not working on your character at every moment, you are wasting every such moment of your life. Midos often come in a pair: a good one and a bad corresponding one.

Some examples: generosity/stinginess, compassion/cruelty, happiness/sadness, peace/fighting, humility/haughtiness, zeal/laziness, truthfulness/falsity, etc. The reason for these examples is to show that working on a "mida (character trait)" typically entails building and applying the good one; while conquering, controlling, diminishing, eliminating the negative corollary. Very often, a mida is the absence, control or violation of its opposite.

The Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, eighteenth century; "gaon" means "towering peak"), one of the greatest and most ingenius rabbis to have lived since the era of the Talmudic sages, writes that the ESSENCE PURPOSE OF HUMAN LIFE IS FULL-TIME WORK ON CONQUERING ONE'S INNER FLAWS AND BUILDING ONE'S INNER CHARACTER, AND EVERY MOMENT THAT YOU ARE NOT WORKING AT THIS YOU ARE WASTING YOUR LIFE. The soul needs Torah just as the soil needs rain. Just as rain causes whatever was planted to sprout forth - whether for good or for bad - so does Torah cause whatever is in a person's heart to sprout forth. Rain can make a beautiful flower grow. The same rain can make an appalling weed grow. Similarly, the Torah develops whatever is in the heart. If one's heart is good, his spiritual qualities will increase. If one's heart is evil, Torah will increase his wickedness (e.g. laziness, cruelty, dishonesty or bitterness). Torah increases whatever is naturally in you and you must consciously make strong and ongoing effort to smash the inner bad and to develop the inner good. Each day before study, one must cleanse his heart of impure thoughts or conduct which can effect fear of sin and doing of good deeds. One must labor from youth till old age to develop oneself for the good. Further, one must never stray so far as to be unable to help himself. One must constantly examine himself, plan changes against evil traits with craftiness and without laziness. One must cure inner traits before character improvement is externally recognizable. All good behavior depends upon repairing character traits, which are like garments to mitzvos and embody central principles of the Torah. All sins are rooted in faults of character. One cannot say "I will learn Torah and automatically be good." Torah will only intensify what is naturally in one, whether the flower or the weed. One must 1. steadily learn Torah under the guidance of a master rabbi and 2. intend that through the learning he will purify his heart and midos, increase his fear of Heaven and constantly proceed to higher spiritual levels throughout his lifetime. Only through the combination of regular learning and working on spiritual perfection can a person improve as a human being [Evven Shlaima].

The first and most essential duty of life is constantly fixing one's midos. One's midos must be evident in each person's practical ongoing personal conduct. Working on character is indeed work, but the rewards far outweigh the price (especially in close human relationships).

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter said a similar thing, with a different slant. A bad person is analogous to a thief. If he has not learned Torah, he is a mediocre thief. A bad person who has learned a lot of Torah, and has become very wise and clever, yet is still evil, is equivalent to a thief with a lot of tools. We would not say he is not a thief just because he is a thief with a lot of Torah. Rather, he is a very dangerous thief. A person MUST FIRST WORK ON PERFECTING MIDOS BEFORE HE IS A VESSEL FOR TORAH.

Rebbe Elimelech of Lizinsk said a similar thing, again with a slightly different slant: "A person is born ONLY to change his nature."

The famous eighteenth century Kabalist, Rabbi Chayim Veetal, wrote that good midos should be one of the 613 commandments [some specific midos are commandments and the requirement of excellent midos are indicated in several commandments]. He explained with an analogy.

Person A hires an architect to build him a house. Person A does not have to tell the architect to build a foundation and then to build the house. A foundation is understood, it is automatic, it is a prerequisite. There is no such thing as a house without a foundation.

In the same way, midos are a foundation to Torah. Midos are understood, basic, automatic, a prerequisite. You do not come to the 613 commandments without good midos.



Rambam's famous "prescription" for working on a mida is "the golden mean." To break a mida which is at one extreme, go to the opposite extreme. For example, if you are cruel, become extremely merciful. If you are selfish, become extremely and unconditionally generous and kind, especially for people who have a disadvantage or vulnerability. Give without any hesitation or contempt. If you are a caffeine addict who drinks seven cups of coffee a day, and you can't moderate the habit, force yourself to quit altogether. Agonize over withdrawal, for the sake of your health. When you succeed, go back, if you must, to one and a half cups of coffee a day. This way, a "bad day" will be two and a half cups. Seven will become inconceivable. You'll be favoring stronger character for stronger Columbian.

The literal meaning of mida is "measure." In other words, it refers to a measure of personality that is appropriate under given conditions. It is not mercy to let a killer go unpunished and be a menace to society. It is not kindness to allow a playful baby to put his hand on a colorful fire glowing on your stove just because the fire is attractive to him.

Life is to be governed by midos at all times. Each trait has its time, place and measure. Remember that there are three exceptions: on the good side, humility (no amount is too much); and on the bad side, anger and arrogance (no amount is allowable, under normal circumstances). The good midos are basically in force (application is "innocent until proven guilty"). The bad midos are basically to be conquered and eliminated ("guilty until proven innocent").

Work on midos requires constant awareness and effort. Once you have understanding of, and sensitization to, midos and their importance, you can make midos work an every-moment part of your life. If there's a long line at the post office, instead of getting frustrated and upset, work on the mida of patience. If a man's garment has a tear, instead of buying a new one, let him ask his wife to sew it so that when he wears it he can practice the mida of appreciation, and while she sews it his wife practices the midos of chesed and hatava (this will also lead to more endearment for each other).

Sefer HaChinuch, in discussing the mitzvos, says that "a person is molded by his actions." If you work on improving behaviors and midos, even if changes are not discerned overnight, the effect gradually accumulates, sinks in and changes you. If your work is sincere, you will notice over time that you become more sensitive to other people and to the detailed requirements of Torah laws and values. Remain persevering, rise to challenges, pass tests, live with integrity. The results will come. The Talmud (Megila 6b) promises that one who works honestly, wisely, sincerely and perseveringly on a spiritual goal will succeed. Heaven's guarantee of help is commensurate with sincerity of effort, particularly when you are faced with - and pass - obstacles and tests.

A rebbe in a certain yeshiva is a very generous soul. When one of his students came to bar mitzva, the rebbe bought (at his own expense) and brought the fish for the boy's bar mitzva celebration.

Five weeks later, another boy in that yeshiva, but not in this rebbe's class, had his bar mitzva. This rebbe received a call from this other boy's parents. They give him their "order" for fish for their son's bar mitzva, feeling that if the rebbe does it for the other boy, he will do it also for their boy. They didn't even ask. They simply told the rebbe how much fish to bring.

When the bar mitzva day arrived, the rebbe showed up with the "order" of fish. Another member of the staff was incensed at the chutzpa of these parents, and the insolence against the rebbe. He asked the rebbe why he bought and shlepped the fish. The rebbe answered, "They have to work on their midos and I have to work on my midos."



A fundamental principle regarding midos is established in the Talmud: The mida with which one behaves is the mida with which Heaven behaves to one (Sota 8b). The Talmud (Tractate Shabos 151b) furnishes a concrete (and interpersonal!) example, "All who behave with compassion on other people, Heaven behaves with compassion on him." The Zohar (Emor) expands this by telling us, "If one arouses himself spiritually on Earth, Heaven arouses Itself correspondingly above. If a person performs a meritorious act below, he awakens the corresponding force above. If a person does kindness on earth, he evokes kindness to him from Heaven. That kindness rests on that day and crowns that day with kindness [to advocate in Heaven for the person when he will need kindness]. If a person practices mercy, he crowns that day with mercy, which becomes his protector when he is in need [of mercy]. Everything is given [by Heaven] to a person according to the principle, 'measure for measure.' Happy is the person who exhibits spiritual, meritorious behavior below, since he depends at all times [in this world AND when being judged after death] on his act awakening the corresponding act [towards him from] above."

Sefer Chasidim (chapter 716) is to-the-point in saying, "Listen to advice when still alive. Accept correction from others." After one is in the grave, there is no more repenting, repairing nor acquisition of merits to hinge your eternity upon. Pirkei Avos (chapter two) tells us, "Return [to Torah] one day before your death," and (chapter four), "Return [to Torah] AND good deeds are a shield against disastrous punishments." Since one never can know which day he will die on, the point of "one day before your death" is to work on spiritual elevation EVERY DAY. By going to higher levels of divine service, particularly through personal perfection and through good deeds to other people EVERY DAY, one can grow closer to G-d and can bend G-dly judgement to be more compassionate, favorable and lenient.

The saintly Chafetz Chayim [Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, 1838-1933; in a classic work, "Ahavas Chesed (The Love Of Kindness)"], wrote, "If a person in his lifetime habitually failed to forego anything of his own for another, failed to have pity on others, he reinforces the attribute of stern and strict justice in Heaven towards him. So, after he leaves this world and he is in need of such benefits [e.g. kindness, pity, etc.], Heaven pays him back with his own characteristics. G-d deals with him the same way that he dealt with people."

It is of central importance that each Jew constantly treat every other Jew with kindness, mercy, generosity and with all good midos - being to the exclusion of:

* bad midos

as well as being to the exclusion of:

* refraining from all possible opportunities to practice good midos.

Also, consider that your midos and behaviors effect others. You are always, on some level, a role model and influence for others. You represent the Torah. You cause responses in other people. You have impact on how others will behave and feel. You inspire people to grow or to decline as human beings, perhaps more than you realize.

In one of the shuls in which I pray, it is customary on shabos and yom tov mornings for the young boys to come around, after reading of the Torah portion, to pick up the chumash books (that the congregants use to follow the Torah reading in). These little fellows put the books back on their shelves. This is done to train them in midos. One shabos shortly before writing this, I wanted to retain my chumash in order to study a portion of the Torah in greater depth than I had time for during the Torah reading. When one of the young boys came by, I decided to let him take the book. I could learn the section of Torah later. I didn't want to interfere with the development of HIS midos. I simply told him, "Thank you," for collecting my chumash. And by my appreciating his intent of saving me the trouble of returning it to the shelf myself, I was working on my midos also.

All of this is vital in all interpersonal relationships, in general; and how much moreso in marriage, in particular! For specific questions, consult your orthodox rabbi. Menoras HeMeor writes, that the midos of the parents influence and mold the children. It is vital to constantly and vigilantly demonstrate fine midos at all times - for the wellbeing and wholesomeness of yourselves, your marriage and for your children. This applies for good or for bad; to tone, treatment, speech, the feelings that are conveyed. Midos are instilled in those who see you and in the next generation and have far-reaching ramifications. You are a link in a chain of Jewish generations and spiritual continuity. You should strive to mold the next generation into being what the previous Torah generations were. When spouses give over love; to spouse, to children, in his and her general mode of operating; this creates a love-atmosphere; and this love goes over to your children and on for generations. The tone that you set in your house is what your children learn and absorb - and give over when they are spouses and parents.

An elderly lady once emotionally said to me that she was a guest for shaboses in a home which "has so much love." What is striking about this story is that the lady, who was in her late seventies at the time, had not been raised observantly. Because of the enormous love in this particular family, she was influenced by it and became frum at this advanced age. The wife in this family helped the lady acquire a shaitl. I myself saw this family's love transform this woman into a practicing Jew. I knew this woman before and after she started covering her hair. Because of their apparent love-atmosphere, this family was a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d)




The Torah (Deuteronomy 21:10) says, "Kee saytzay lamilchomo al oyvecho [when you go out to war against your enemies]." Hebrew has separate singular and plural forms of expressing "you," depending on whether the speaker is addressing one person or more than one. In the above verse, the Torah is talking to the Jewish nation and should use the plural "saytzu [you go out]" as if talking to many, but yet the Torah uses the singular "saytzay [you go out]" as if talking to only one person.

The commentaries explain that the Torah is saying that the main war in life is the individual's war against the main "enemy," the yaitzer hora, the evil inclination within each person, that strives to keep each person from eternal life by making him sin and by being distracted from meritorious deeds or accomplishments.

In the generation since World War Two, there has been a marked increase in tzoros [troubles]: people coming down with serious and fatal diseases at young ages, injurious accidents, parents dying young and leaving many orphans, children dying before their parents, marital break-ups or anguish, more and older singles not finding their mates, terrorists, the painful list goes on. The Steipler Gaon was asked why in post-war times there has been this increase in tzoros. He replied that in the old days, there were despotic governments that brought on us pogroms, persecutions, murder and other tragedies. Now we live in an age of democratic governments. Jews are relatively safe and free. Since the evil inclination makes people sin, they need kaparos [atonements]. In the old days the kaparos came through tyrants outside. Since we don't live under evil dictators, most kaparos have to come from within.

In other words, we are not up to our obligations in the Torah obligation of "going out to war against the enemy" of the evil inclination within individuals. When there aren't an inquisition, pogrom or holocaust, there are tzoros. However the kapara is manifested, the message is that we are obligated to be at constant - AND VICTORIOUS - WAR against the enemy within, the yaitzer hora. If we don't win that war against our inner enemy, if there are too many sins or too few good deeds, G-d sends us other "wars," other "enemies" for kapara.

There is a gemora (Moed Koton 17a) which gives insight into the fundamentality of self-improvement and also is a superb example of how one cannot just "translate" Torah but must know how to learn and extract the meaning. Only with Rishonim and kosher meforshim will you understand Torah according to mesorah (its traditional meaning taught at Mount Sinai).

This gemora says, "If a person sees that his evil inclination is growing in power over him, let him travel to a place where the people do not recognize him, let him wear black clothes, let him wrap himself in black, and let him do what his heart desires and let him not profane the name of Heaven in public."

On superficial reading, one might seem to think the Torah just gave one a license to do any sin he likes, just as long as he pays the price of traveling to where he is unfamiliar and wears dark clothes. By the time we learn such giants of Talmudic commentary as Rashi, Tosfos and Rabainu Chananel, we see that there is found in this gemora no permission to do any sin. The goal is submission to the will of G-d, never its violation. If you recall from Parshas "Lech Lecha," Avraham is tested by G-d by being told to travel from his home. We learned there that travel wearies a person. Therefore, we know that travel breaks one's evil inclination. Wearing sordid and degrading clothes makes oneself very humble. You are less apt to be brazen in rags or a potato sack, wrapped up in them from head to toe, where everyone is a stranger who thinks you are a bum or pauper and you are embarrassed and "carry a low profile." This is not so when in a $1000 Italian designer suit among those people who consider you important or impressive. The things in the gemora break you and hold you back from sinning. If, after travel and assuming an inconspicuous and indigent role, you still have desire, you may eat and drink and sing songs, so that you gratify yourself in ways that are permissible, but you are never allowed to do a sin. Chazal are "keeping you busy" so much with breaking your ego and keeping you so distant from an actual sin, that you never get around to the sin. Rashi says that you are guaranteed to have lost interest in sin by the time you are done with this "procedure." When you initially saw, in the gemora, that in the foreign place you could do as your "heart desires," you might have assumed that you had permission to sin. The "desires" were only those still left after diligently working to kill or minimize your evil inclination, so you could be satisfied, if need be, with kosher means; and so that you don't profane G-d, as you would have done as a result of sinning in your home town under comfortable and unrestrained circumstances.

We see from this gemora, explained by the Rishonim, how important are 1. learning only according to da'as Torah [as Pirkei Avos says, "Do not rely on your own understanding" and "make for yourself a rov"] and 2. working to make yourself a sinless person. Spiritual growth is a constant, lifelong and central obligation. Key to this is nonstop work on midos [character traits].

Many of the prophets spoke to give admonition to work on mussar [self-perfection]. King Solomon makes many references to mussar in Proverbs, tells us to love it and even gives it as one of the reasons for his writing the book of Proverbs. The Midrash says on this, "If a person has no wisdom in him, he is not able to learn self-improvement (Yalkut Mishlay 909)." Rambam writes in Hilchos Tshuva that every individual has the choice to make himself into a tzadik and, in Hilchos Dayos, he says that one must go from personal faults to the opposite good extreme for as long as necessary until he can come to the perfect state for each personality trait. Rabainu Yonah [12th century] writes that the Divine Presence cannot rest on anyone who does not have good midos, even someone with much Torah learning. Chovos HaLevovos writes that a learned person with bad midos is equal to only a donkey carrying books. The Vilna Gaon wrote that the essential purpose of life is working constantly on improving midos and that at any moment one is not working on midos, he is wasting his life. Rabbi Elimelech of Lezensk writes that the only purpose of life is to keep constantly working on improving one's nature. Rabbi Chayim Veetal, the famed mystic, asked: if midos are so fundamental, why is there no mitzva among the 613 mitzvos to have good midos? Because midos are so fundamental that you can't have the 613 mitzvos without them! They are such a basic prerequisite that the Torah expects them to be there before the Torah can be learned or practiced! In other words, if good midos aren't there, Torah surely isn't there. No matter what sources in the "Torah world" you turn to; Chumash, NaCH, Chazal, Rishonim, Litvish, Chasidish or Sefardic; everyone agrees that the foundation of Judaism is good midos.

Avraham, who was living in Kana'an, instructed Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchok from Padan Aram, specifying not to bring a girl from Kana'an. In both countries the people were idolaters, so why did Avraham insist that Eliezer travel with a caravan for over 500 miles through a steamy hot desert? What stood to be the gain? The people in Kana'an were lacking in midos [character traits] while the people in Padan Aram had midos but were lacking in dayos [knowledge]. If someone has good midos, you can add good knowledge and work with that person, whereas if someone lacks good midos, you cannot work with that person (Drashos HaRan). We see from this that good midos are fundamental to marriage and to keeping the Torah tradition in the home.

When the Vilna Gaon was a little child, he went out to play with other children on a local "see-saw." However, just a few minutes later he came back. His father asked him why he came back so quickly. He said he could not ride on the "see-saw" because "A Yid is not allowed to make himself go up by making another Yid go down. I cannot violate the Torah's command to love every Jew like myself." Already as a little boy, the Gra had the sensitivity and consideration to know that interpersonal relating requires having superlative midos - and only good, loving impact on other people.

Relative to succeeding as a Torah Jew, and in interpersonal relationships in general, and in marriage in particular, coming articles in this series will explain some selected key midos (personality traits) that promote a success-perpetuating attitude and "track record." Remember, while working on developing and practicing the good, there is often a bad corollary which has to be smashed, as part of the work. A trait usually means not only the trait itself, but also the absence or violation of its opposite. For example, to become more humble, one must become less arrogant; to become more gentle, one must become less angry; to become more compassionate, one must become less cruel; to have more zeal, one must have less laziness; to have more patience, one must have less selfishness; etc. Many midos are required by the Shulchan Aruch or Chumash, such as zeal, fear of Hashem, pure belief in Hashem [temimus], intending everything you do for Hashem, holiness, etc. One cannot live as a Torah Jew without conquest of bad midos and a strong foundation in good midos.

For successful and meaningful work on midos, self-correction and spiritual elevation, it is highly recommended to have a learned guide: a Torah authority who is highly knowledgeable, has fear of Heaven, has internalized sterling midos and who will be understanding of you.

We have been introducing the subject of midos [character traits]. We spoke of how midos, work on them, and application of them at all times, are fundamental to Torah life and personal growth. This is especially important in human relations - and conducting them with both practical success and a pleasant disposition. We start now with our description of 30 good midos that can stand to change your life, relationships and Torah observance for the better.

1. HUMILITY (ANAVA) - the Talmud says that humility is the greatest of all good midos. The Orchos Tzadikim says that humility is the good mida from which all other good midos stem (conversely, its opposite, gaiva [arrogance-haughtiness] is the principle bad mida from which all other bad midos stem). Humility is removal of barrier between yourself and another, whether G-d or other people. Humility lets your mind and heart "make room and let the other in." Conversely; arrogance, impatience and anger let no one into your mind and heart but yourself. Humility is canceling of ego and self-centeredness (regardless of whether psychology says this is "good" or "healthy"). Only with humility can you relate to, identify with and have empathy for another. Only with humility in both partners can there be a fulfilling, functioning, stable and "barrier free" relationship. Humility is the trait which entitled Moshe to be the one who brought the Torah from Heaven to earth. G-d called Moshe the most humble person who ever lived. Moshe could be the most perfect instrument for the faithful delivery of the Torah which, by definition, has to be pure, without any adulteration or pollution that arises out of ego. Torah and humility go together.

2. FEAR OF HEAVEN (YIRA) - use of free-will stands or falls on one's fear of sin. Not everyone arrives at the level of "love of G-d," so the basic, common imperative for the proper use of one's free-choice decision-making powers is fear of misusing free choice and getting punished. One's choice to fear or not to fear the will of Heaven is the only thing which one truly owns. Everything else is a gift from G-d: e.g. money, power, looks, intellect, talent, achievements, spouse. These are exclusively given as a test by and for the service of G-d, as expressed through your kindness, charity, justice and mitzvos. Fear of doing wrong is the only "red flag" with which to stop oneself from sin and from wronging people; and in a relationship context, from neglecting your commitments and responsibilities. Fear is one of the few midos openly required right in the Torah, which says (Deuteronomy 10:12), "And now, Israel, what does G-d ask of you but to fear G-d, to go in all of His ways and to love Him and to serve G-d with all your heart and with all your personality." We see that fear should be a steppingstone to the higher mida of love and that the goal, whether motivated by fear or the higher motivation of love, is to go in G-d's ways and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your personality. The next verse (Deuteronomy 10:13) follows smoothly, "Keep all of G-d's commandments that you understand, and all of His commandments that you don't understand, that I command of you this day that it be good for you." In the Siddur we say each morning, "A person must ALWAYS fear Heaven."

3. KINDNESS (CHESED) - an active and giving state. It is driven by continual wish to help, benefit, care, do. Each Jew is created: * in the image of G-d, * with a good and spiritual capabilities. If you allow these to dominate, these drive you to model your midos and behaviors after the benevolent midos and behaviors that are attributed to G-d. Further, these will be what you perceive in the other person, together with their attributes. And, you will recognize that the other is a soul of infinite and incalculable worth and value. You will seek to bring out in yourself more and more G-dliness at all times through meaningful and benevolent giving. You will relate more and more to the G-d given soul in the one to whom you meaningfully give.

4. ZEAL (Z'REEZUS) - it is not enough to do something you should do. Do it with speed and motivation. Laziness, the opposite of zeal, is an extraordinarily evil trait (Orchos Tzadikim). It is one of the favorite tools of the yaitzer hora [evil inclination], and is one of the most effective obstacles to doing what is necessary and to preventing the negatives that must be guarded against. The Mesilas Yesharim refers to laziness as love of comfort, rest and pleasure and disdain for inconvenience or bother. One should run from laziness like one runs from a house on fire (Rabbi Nachman of Breslav). The lazy person will never meaningfully accomplish with his life (some people are lazy in "selected" areas which they wish to avoid, while others are lazy in all ways). Rather, one must be swift and enthusiastic to do mitzvos, to grow and to be engaged in meritorious activities. Zeal must be applied both to doing the things that should be done and undoing/stopping the things that should not be done (Orchos Tzadikim).

The Talmud (Pesachim 4a) says, "The zealous are quick to do mitzvos." When G-d commanded Avraham in the binding of Yitzchok (to test Avraham's devotion), "Avraham rose early in the morning (Genesis 22:3)." Even though the prospect of sacrificing his son was painful and crushing, Avraham was zealous to do the will of G-d. This is the way the righteous do the will of G-d (Orchos Tzadikim). Don't put off something which must be done - not even for a day, for a moment, until you feel less lazy, or until a more convenient time. Zeal is the beginning of all good midos (Avoda Zara 20b). Act as if you must do it now and as if you will not get another chance. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter made a point to daven mincha early in the afternoon. On the day he died, he davened mincha early and passed away later that afternoon. Because of zeal, he had one more mitzva in his lifetime.

Do all mitzvos quickly and with enthusiasm, including fulfillment of all their details, and tshuva [return] from any improper behaviors, and work to improve as a person, with rapidity and zeal (Orchos Tzadikim).

The very first law in the Shulchan Aruch (Code Of Jewish Law) is, "Strengthen yourself like a lion to wake up in the morning to serve the Creator." This must be with zeal (Ramo, Tur). You can't even start to look at Torah law without a "zeal mind-set."

5. CONSISTENCY (AKAIVIYUS) - uniformity of actions, standards, religious faith; and relationship between mental concepts or ideals and behavior. Consistency is vitally important for trust in a relationship and to growing as a human being. Rabbi Dessler (Michtav Me'Eliyahu, vol. 4) describes "consistency" as a mida which, when practiced, will build other good midos.

6. SUBMISSION TO G-D (HACHNA'A) - the ability to submit your will to higher authority, to the will of G-d. This is fundamental to growth, spirituality, to conquering ego or arrogance, to elevating behavior and to developing as a human being.

7. PURE-HEARTEDNESS (TEMIMUS). Whole, straightforward, simple, honest, uncomplicated, sincere - from your innermost depth. One of the few midos whose obligation comes from an open verse in the Torah (Deuteronomy 18:13), "You will be perfect with your G-d." You accept everything that comes as being from G-d, as being purely for the good and as G-d's supervision of every slightest detail in your life and in the world, whether you like it or not. You don't change from what you have to do to obey the will of G-d. You don't add or subtract. This mida is somewhat a measure of your spiritual integrity, in that the more you apply it, the more precisely you fulfill the Torah. The more that one develops pure-heartedness, the more G-d's providence in your life becomes closer, more revealed and more evident to you. You're watching the Torah more precisely, so G-d watches you more precisely. You don't convolute, dilute or add with personal modifications. You leave improvising to jazz musicians. You view G-d and all that happens as emanating from Him and as perfect.

8. JUST (TSEDEK) - always striving to be fair, right and considerate. Aggressive pursuit of justice is a Torah obligation stated in Deuteronomy 16:20, "Justice, justice you will pursue". Related to fair judgement (mishpat) and honest straightness (yosher).

9. SELF-CONTROL/DISCIPLINE (GEVURA). The true test of strength is the inner strength to control and discipline oneself for the will of G-d. Without this, one's personal emotions gush freely forth, rule him and he is but a weakling who is slave to his impulses. Shows of alleged strength in life at others' expense, especially in human relations, are merely tyranny and bullying. Gevura is especially important (in conjunction with humility and submission) for the conquest of anger, arrogance, jealousy, impatience, physical desire, pursuit of honor or power, or any intense or emotional shortcoming. Chapter four of Pirkei Avos puts it as follows: "Who is truly strong? The one who subdues his inclinations, as it is said (Proverbs 16:32), 'Better is the one who is slow to anger than the strong hero, and the one who rules his spirit is better than the one who conquers a city.'" Gevura is also a counterbalance for excessive or misplaced kindness. A mother refuses to give her little son much candy because it will rot his teeth. The pleasure of the candy would be outweighed by the suffering from tooth decay, loss of teeth or the dentist's drill. The mother would have to know to hold back (with gevura) when the child screams, demands nosh or calls mommy "mean." Balance and moderation, in general, are central to midos and to emotional health.

10. GOOD-HEARTED (LAIV TOV) - giving, cheerful, pleasant, soft, adaptable, warm, positive, wise. A good-hearted person feels for and gets along with all others, whether family, friends, neighbors, in business, folks on the street. Every opportunity for kindness or giving is joyous. The one with a good heart is happy for the good of others and feels heartened by good coming to everybody. He wants to actively do as much good (or shielding from bad) for others as he possibly can. Pirkei Avos says that a good heart contains all other good attributes.

11. HONOR/RESPECT (KAVOD) - high regard and esteem; attributing weight ("kavod" is related to "kavaid," weighty), value, importance, credibility, trustworthiness, merit, quality; willful, active and responsive adaptation of your behavior to always demonstrate and deliver these uncompromisingly in the most reverent and dignified fashion. No marriage can have peace unless each partner gives enormous kavod to the other. The Torah requires kavod for fellow Jews and especially Torah scholars, parents, older siblings, older-generation relatives (often including related through marriage), spouse and the elderly.

12. MERCY/COMPASSION (RACHMANUS) - the capacity to be fully emotionally in contact with the other person, to feel so much and so richly that you are spontaneously impacted by and responsive to the needs, feelings, pain and/or situation of another person, that the depth and richness of emotional connection prompts compassionate, extensive and on-target action. Also, it is patient suspension of strict judgement (including of punishment or demanding what is strictly due from another), suspension of meanness or cruelty, giving more than the other may deserve, forgiving, excusing, overlooking, giving another chance, patient forbearance, presuming or seeking the presence of extenuating circumstances. Related to this is pity (chemla, chas).

13. LOVE (AHAVA) - powerful emotional state that breaks all barriers to any sense of separateness or to holding self back from giving. Brings a sense of oneness and of concern for the happiness and well-being of the one loved. You see and appreciate the other's positives and overlook the negatives. You have drive to care for, please and to be responsive to the beloved in the kindest and fullest possible way. To give on behalf of and to appreciate the other is your pleasure.

14. BESTOWAL OF GOOD (HATAVA) - to live to do good for others at all times; perceiving yourself to stand for and exist for the other's good...only good, to the exclusion of bad. It is not enough to be good sometimes, bad other times; good with some people, bad with others. Be an instrument for the exclusive, consistent bestowal of good; a goodness-producing "machine" that doesn't break-down.

15. BENEFIT OF DOUBT (KAF Z'CHUS) - the ability to view and judge others favorably, with positivism, a kind eye, understanding, awareness that there is a total situation or fuller context, the ability to put yourself into the other's situation (including: asking yourself, "If I were in the other's situation, what recognition of extenuating circumstances and what consideration would I want the other person to favor me with?" - now be the one to favor the other with such patient recognition and consideration). Ask yourself, "What DON'T I know about the situation? Are my facts complete and in context? Is the information I have defective or unreliable in any way?" so that you refrain from negative judgement. Under what circumstances would the objectionable act that you see be permissible or positive? The gemora (Kidushin 70b) says that all who delegitimatize, criticize in the other person that which is actually their own blemish. Rabbi Elimelech of Lezensk said to always see the other person's positive attributes and to never see his shortcomings.

16. APPRECIATION/GRATITUDE (HAKARAS TOVA) - recognizing the good in another person (or G-d) and the good and nice things that the other person (or G-d) gives/does/offers/is; acknowledgement of the gift that you have in having the relationship in your life. Appreciate how much more you have and how you are better off than if you did not have the relationship with its benefits, qualities and attributes. There is no actual Hebrew word for "appreciation," because the idea alone is too shallow and incomplete. The literal meaning of "hakaras tovah" is "recognition of the good." The goal is the not mere lip-service of a heartless or mechanical, "Thank you, I appreciate it." Your HEART must fully feel the sense of gratitude. One of the biggest obstacles to this is not wanting to feel indebted or obligated. This is rooted in selfishness; being "a spoiled child" (regardless of age!); or having a sick ego that needs to feel independent and can't accept being incomplete as a person and, therefore, needing another. Hakaras tova intrinsically requires paying back good for good. As Proverbs 27:19 says, "Just as water reflects a face, a heart replies to another person."

Mishnas Rebbi Eliezer (chapter seven) says that if one fails to give appreciation to people, the person will come to deny that there is a G-d. If one can be so selfish, so reluctant to owe good to another, one will be able to attribute all good to himself. Or HaChayim says that one who lacks appreciation can come to idolatry, because he sees himself and his abilities, not G-d, as the source of his own benefits. "My strenth and ability made this achievement for me" (Deuteronomy 8:17) and "It's coming to me," are his slogans. He holds G-d to be somewhere between owing him and non-existent.

So great is the obligation to recognize and appreciate good that one may not "throw a rock into a well which you drank water from (Bamidbar Raba 22)." One must have appreciation for inanimate objects that give you benefit! How much moreso G-d and human beings! Two people who are both mutually generously giving AND appreciative will have a beautiful, fulfilling and attached relationship.

17. WILL (RATZON) - to have the will to want to be able to be meritorious; to be driven to constructive, strong and diligent action; to pass tests and to overcome obstacles; to persevere; to have the will to do all it takes, to make the necessary efforts to achieve the goals that G-d wants for all areas of life. In daily life it means keeping your word, fulfilling your obligations and behaving as a mentsh. In business this means honesty. In marriage, this means keeping peace, responsibility, unity, faithfulness, devotion, unselfish giving, commitment, love, respect, compassion and oneness. It requires being capable of deserving, protecting and sustaining the relationship, according to what G-d wants in a marriage.

The Vilna Gaon wrote, in a letter to his son, that no spiritual goal is out of reach when there is will - nothing stands in the way of good, sincere and firm will ("ain hadovor omaid lifnai haratzon"). The verse in Psalms 145:16 [in "Ashray"] says of G-d, "You open up Your hand and satisfy, to every living thing, ratzon (will)." You would think the verse should have added the possessive "O" and said "ratzonO" (its will). The message is: before G-d can satisfy your will, YOU FIRST HAVE TO HAVE WILL to work for what you want. That is up to you and you alone. Until you resolve to have will, there is nothing for G-d to satisfy. This does NOT just mean to want things free on a "silver platter." TRUE WILL IS DEMONSTRATED BY ACTIONS, EFFORT AND STEADFAST PERSEVERANCE.

The Orchos Tzadikim refers to ratzon (will) as a character trait that makes people want you because of your personal qualities. It also includes having willing acceptance of things in life. It is an exceptionally good mida, found in generous and precious people. Such a person is removed from anger and is removed from seeking of glory or honor. He is a gentle, responsive, sincere person who has a happy disposition. Such a person causes people and G-d to want and like him. He is genuine, not an actor. G-d causes him to have no enemies...all people, including spouse and kings, will be at peace with such a person.

18. HOLINESS (KEDUSHA) - is a Torah mitzva; to elevate oneself above one's physical aspect, drives and inclinations. The entirety of life in general and marriage in particular is for a higher spiritual purpose, subjugated to the will and wisdom of the higher and absolute authority of G-d. Holiness requires separation from sins in general and from out-of-marriage relationships in particular (Rashi to Leviticus 19:2). The creation of a marriage is called "kidushin [holiness]." An entire marriage relationship is spiritual as a practical matter, pure and holy. Rachel's father Lavan was a swindler and the custom in his place was for the woman to be veiled at her wedding ceremony. When Yakov was about to marry Rachel, they arranged signs to identify her (when Lavan switched Leah for Rachel, Rachel gave the signs to Leah out of compassion to save Leah from public humiliation). The signs were reference to where the Kohain is anointed on the head with oil when he is inaugurated into holy service. This teaches that marriage is a relationship of holiness and is a central part of one's relationship with G-d. Related to spiritual cleanness (tahara).

19. PATIENCE (SAVLONUS) - opens up the heart to enable you to let another person into your heart (Sefer Alufainu Misubalim). Moshe was the foremost prophet who brought the Torah from Heaven to earth and was our foremost leader and the first rabbi. One of the qualifications that enabled him to carry these unique historical distinctions was his mida of patience (Rashi to Numbers 12:3). This is particularly noteworthy in light of 40 years of complaining and badgering from the people whom he lovingly led. One of the most richly rewarded forms of kindness are those which involve waiting for another person who is doing something that he needs to do, particularly if leaving the person alone may subject him to risk of danger (Brachos 5b-6a). Even if there is no danger, it is proper to wait; use the time to do something productive (e.g. read a Torah book) while you are waiting for the person (Tosfos). The Talmud (Eruvin 54b) tells of saintly Rabbi Praida, who worked as a Torah tutor. One of his students was slow to learn the lesson. Rabbi Praida gently and patiently repeated the lesson four hundred times, until the student got it. A voice came from Heaven and told him that for being so unselfish Rabbi Praida merited a longer life in this world and a larger portion in the eternal world. He gave patience generously. Heaven gave him patience generously. Patience is especially valuable when used to avoid sinful or selfish behavior, fights, anger and differences - especially when preserving peace with all people, staying calm, pleasing your spouse and refraining from sin. Humility is a key good mida, and patience is a measure of your humility. We can see how much you truly can cancel your ego. Patience has practical application in every day life: don't park in front of someone's driveway, don't push in front of someone on a line, don't blow your car horn the split second a light turns green, don't rush a minyan because you are in a hurry, don't yell at your spouse for taking longer than you expect to do something, etc.

20. TRUTHFULNESS (EMMESS, MODEH AL HA'EMMESS) - a sign of your wisdom and character is your ability to speak truth, which includes * saying, "I don't know," regarding that which you don't know about, * refraining from saying what you know to be false, * refraining from offering what you are not able to do or give, * refraining from offering something for the purpose of making yourself seem nice - when in your heart you don't really want to do it (e.g. offering a gift or invitation that you hope or expect the person will refuse to take), * having the courage to say, "I admit it, you are right, I am wrong, I'm sorry," * saying G-d's "true truth," not "flesh and blood truth," such as not saying that you "truly" believe there is a fault in another [e.g. "You are/so-and-so is ugly, fat, stupid, clumsy"] in a way that hurts the other person's feelings (because hurting feelings is a Torah prohibition - and hurting people is NOT G-D'S TRUTH), * scrupulously and uncompromisingly keeping your word and monetary obligations - at all times.

A Jew must be ready, willing and able to say and acknowledge truth, even when it will be painful or against one's ego. Without the ability to speak and admit truth, human relations and society cannot endure (Pirkei Avos chapter one). G-d hates the person who speaks one thing with his mouth and another thing in his heart (Pesachim 113b). In the Siddur we say each morning, "A person must ALWAYS acknowledge the truth and speak truth in his heart."

21. KEEPING ONE'S WORD (OMAID BIDIBURO) - one's word is very serious. A Jew must always be honest and never be false or deceitful (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, chapter 62). When you say you are going to do something, you are obligated to do it, and do it fully as stated, in a timely and pleasant manner. One must speak with * the understanding that one is committing himself to fulfillment of his words, and * intent to fulfill those words. Generally, the more the issue (the subject matter of your word) means to the other person/the recipient, the more serious your obligation is to fulfill your word to him/her.

So strong is the Torah value of fulfilling one's word, that even if you only * partially express that you will do something or * give a signal or hint that you will do something or * decide silently in your heart to do something, you should do it.

Even though some cases may not be legally enforceable should you retract (e.g. making a non-damaging mark on an article as a signal to a merchant that you will buy the article, or deciding in your heart to do a good deed), the Talmud requires extra stringency when one's word pertains to: * a spouse, * one's children, * peace, * any person in need or trouble, * any mitzva and * matters of money or business; and the Talmud negatively characterizes a person who retracts from his word (even in a case that isn't legally enforceable - depending on the precise conditions) as being repugnant, cursed, lacking faith, etc.

This all applies when it involves another person or involves a Torah obligation or concerns any kind of vow or oath.

In a case that involves only oneself AND does not involve a Torah obligation (e.g. "I will buy myself ice cream") AND it was not an oath or vow of any kind, one is generally not obligated to keep his word (although it would be good practice).

Whenever you say that you will do something, always use the phrase "blee nedder (literally: without a vow)." "Blee nedder" means to say that you fully and sincerely intend and agree to do a given thing, but if something beyond your control or unforeseen prevents you from doing it, you are not considered as having broken your word. One should never use any oath-type language (e.g. "promise" or "swear" or "vow" to do something). Any non-fulfillment would count as a serious sin. One should always say, "I will do such-and-such, BLEE NEDDER."

If you took on commitment for something too big, or if something unforeseen came about which blocked you from keeping your word (in a way that was beyond your control), or if you expressed anything and need to know the implications, take all such matters as a question to a competent rov.

22. SLOW TO ANGER (KASHEH LICHOSE) - maintain self-control, gentleness, management of your behavior from what your intellect knows and from your awareness of what is for the greatest long-run good. Behaving in accordance with G-d's will is imperative at all times (no exceptions) and anger is an impenetrable barrier to doing so. A midrash compares anger to idolatry. Rambam calls anger "evil to the utmost." As a practical matter, anger is a behavior that people in a relationship will (immediately or eventually) cease to tolerate. People in relationships sooner or later abandon the angry person. The angry person is viewed as crazy (Orchos Tzadikim) and is left with nothing in the end except his anger (Kidushin 41a). For practical matters to be worked out in relationships, there should be an atmosphere of calm, stability, trust, "two-sidedness" and emotional security.

23. NEVER INTERRUPT (NICHNAS BISOCH DIVRAY CHAVAYRO) - Pirkei Avos calls a person who interrupts an idiot. Not interrupting is a sign of a wise person and of respectful relating. This applies all the moreso if someone is expressing a Torah thought or their part in a discussion with you or someone else.

24. SOFTNESS (RACH KIKONEH) - be bendable as a reed (Ta'anis 20b); don't be pushy (Eruvin 13b); don't be rigid, angry or stubborn (except when there is danger to life or assault on Torah); don't do things that indicate abrasiveness or hardness of spirit. Always remain calm, relaxed, gentle, courteous, sweet, easy-going and thoughtful. When one is hard, stormy situations in life can tear him apart. The one who is soft and adaptable, flows better with adverse situations and remains standing when the storm is over.

25. OVERLOOKING TRANSGRESSION (MA'AVIR AL PESHA) - the Talmud (Megilah 28a) tells us that the person who overlooks another's transgressions against him (alternatively: waives his right to retribution) is forgiven all of his sins. The prophet Micha (7:18) tells us that G-d pardons iniquity and passes over transgression. The Talmud asks whose sins are thus forgiven by G-d (as referred to by Micha)? The person who overlooks another's transgression against him.

Rabbi Huna Ben Yehoshua became deathly ill. From his ruach hakodesh [Divine knowledge], Rav Papo said it was his time to die. However, he recovered. Rav Papo asked how he survived. Through his ruach hakodesh, Rav Huna saw that because he was not strict with others, G-d was not strict with him (Rosh HaShana 17a).

26. LETTING GO OF HAVING ONE'S WAY (MA'AVIR AL MIDOSOV) - don't require that things have to be one way or "my way." Don't be strict, precise, exacting or picky. The internal power to give way is key to emotional and spiritual growth, health and repair. Similar to "mivater (gives in)." "Giving in" and "letting go of one's way" never implies compromise of any Torah principle. These are applied to FULFILL Torah principles! G-d loves the person with this mida (Pesachim 113b).

27. RESPONSIBILITY (ACHARAYUS) - the internalized personal quality of making certain that things that have to happen, do happen (as appropriate or necessary) and making certain that things that have to not happen, do not happen (as appropriate or necessary). This applies in obligations to other people (family, creditors, employees, employers, neighbors, one's community, etc.) and to G-d (mitzvos, spiritual growth, prayer, etc.). Pirkei Avos (chapter two) says, "In a place where something is needed and there is no one [doing it], strive to be the needed person [i.e. strive to get the needed thing done]."

Included in practical responsibility are punctuality, delivering all that you owe to others (in every context), guarding against damaging or bothering other people, giving others peace of mind about your doing or producing what you are responsible for and conveying to them clearly that you can be relied upon, and doing everything in a mature and effective fashion.

The Hebrew word for "responsibility" is "acharayuss," from the word "acher (after)." The meaning is that true responsibility is "follow-up" - staying with something "after" - making sure that what should be is, and that what shouldn't be isn't - in practical and complete terms.

A good test that one is responsible is: do RESPONSIBLE PEOPLE rely on you? How much of a long-term, consistent track record do you have? When they are expecting something of you or are depending on you, do they have no second thoughts that the thing will be done (so much so, that if you don't manage to deliver, they KNOW it is beyond your control [heavy traffic, you got seriously sick, etc.]). What is your reputation with responsible people? Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevits z'l, former Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, said, "An irresponsible person is a fool. Responsibility is the foundation of being a human being."

28. MODESTY (TZNEEYUS) - a Jew must always operate so as to be consistent with the prophetic injunction (Micha 6:8), "walk modestly with your G-d." Modesty is one of the main ingredients in achieving sanctity and holiness. When men and women carry themselves in a "comprehensively modest" manner, in their clothes and demeanor for example, and by keeping quiet and out of the "limelight" in the background, they are promoting their achievement of the Torah's goals.

29. HAPPINESS (SIMCHA) - defined by Orchos Tzadikim as "calm in the heart without any sense of wound." Happiness is key to functioning in life and in a relationship. "Who is truly rich? The one who is HAPPY with what he has (Pirkei Avos, chapter four)." Appreciation of all benefits that you have is important, particularly when you appropriately express appreciation to G-d or to a person to whom you owe it. However, appreciation, without happiness, does not alone assure that you are happy with what you have. When what you have makes you happy, it reflects the inner capacity to be happy. When you need external things to seem to feel happy, it reflects the absence of intrinsic, genuine happiness. Life comes with myriad demands, difficulties, pressures and obligations. To deal and cope with the world optimally, the Jew should be fully happy - in plain normal life, without dependency upon externals. Then, one will be able to interchange on a happy basis in all dealings, challenges and relationships. From my counseling experience, I consistently see that one who is unhappy and looks to others for happiness will only spread unhappiness. One can only make others happy if he is happy inside, and one can only be made to be happy by others if he is happy inside. And, being happy, one can fulfill the scriptural imperative to "Serve G-d with happiness (Psalms 100:2)."

30. PEACE (SHALOM) - the highest value and goal of all; there is nothing more important than ongoing, optimal harmony, peace, calm, unity, tranquility. Peace is the most important trait for human relations. Shalom is the only pipeline through which blessing comes down to earth from Heaven (Bamidbar Raba). G-d hates and punishes fighting, anger, hate or separation. If you have to back-off, keep quiet or give in; peace is more important. You have to spend money, impose upon yourself, strive actively and relentlessly - to bring and maintain peace. If you ever have a question of "principle," ask a competent and experienced orthodox rabbi for Torah instruction and for establishment of TRUE priorities. [The Torah's] "ways are sweet and all of its paths are peace" (Proverbs 3:17). Everything must be directed towards, and be consistent with, shalom, so that Hashem will direct blessing to where peace is found, and to where unity is achieved for the long-run.

Psalms 34:15 says, "Love peace and pursue it." Based on this verse, the midrash (Vayikra Raba) cites that peace (shalom) is different from other mitzvos. Other mitzvos apply when they come to you. If I find a lost article, it is a mitzva to return it to its owner. Before the mitzva applies, I have to find the property. If I don't happen to find lost property, there's no mitzva. I can't hurry and keep shabos on Tuesday. I have to wait till it comes to me.

Peace is different. Every Jew is obligated to actively seek, promote, build and maintain peace. You don't wait for it to come. You make it happen. You exhibit character and courage. You get obstacles or inhibitions out of the way. You forgive. You travel to another place to bring about peace. You exert yourself actively and your own relationships and in those of any other Jews. You appease a person in a quarrel (whether his quarrel is with you or another).

Whenever Moshe's brother Aaron heard that there was any argument between Jews, he ran to make peace between them (Sanhedrin 6b). When Aaron died, the Torah (Numbers 20:29) says that the entire Jewish nation mourned for 30 days. Why such nationwide tribute and grief? Because when two people would quarrel, Aaron would quickly run to one and say, "Your friend feels so badly to be in a quarrel with you. He is ashamed for wronging you. He told me he loves you so much but doesn't know the words with which to make up." He would stay with the person until all enmity was gone from the person's heart. Aaron would then quickly run to the second friend and say the same. Both would say, "How can I remain in a fight with such a beloved friend?" Both would go to the other and meet and, without saying a word, each would hug the other and be best of friends (Avos DeRebi Noson, chapter 12). Aaron did this to make peace all of his life. Israel loved him.

The Torah (Leviticus 26:6) tells of the bounty of the land of Israel (rain, crops, fruit, wealth) and G-d says, "And I will give the land peace." Rashi writes, "Perhaps you will say, 'I have what to eat and drink, but without peace there is nothing.' So the verse teaches, 'And I will give the land peace,' from which we know that peace is EQUAL TO ALL other blessings combined together."

"Learned people increase peace in the world (Brachos 64a)." By definition, if someone decreases peace (arguing, being adversarial, insulting, instigating, etc.), no matter how much "book learning" he has, he does not know Torah. "Great is peace and hated is fighting (Sifri Naso 42)."

"If a person cannot afford to buy [both] a candle for shabos and wine for kiddush, a shabos candle takes precedence; and, similarly, if a person cannot afford to buy [both] a candle for shabos and a candle for Chanuka, a shabos candle takes precedence; because of PEACE in the house, for there is no PEACE without light [which the relatively larger shabos or yom tov candle provides; Orech Chayim, Hilchos Shabos, 263:3]."

"A pauper who sustains himself from charity must sell his clothing, or must borrow or must rent himself [as a hired worker] in order to have wine for the four [Passover seder] cups" [Orech Chayim, Hilchos Pesach, 472:13]. "And the [yom tov/holiday] candle for the house is a higher priority than the four cups [if he can't obtain money for both wine and candle] because of PEACE in the house" (Mishna Brura #41, commenting on the above Passover halacha].

The fifth chapter of Pirkei Avos tells us, "Every argument which is for the sake of Heaven, will, in the end, endure. Every argument which is not for the sake of Heaven, will not, in the end, endure. Which controversy was for the sake of Heaven? The debates of Hillel and Shammai. Which controversy was not for the sake of Heaven? The rebellion of Korach and his group."

The commentaries explain that a key differentiating point between arguments which are or aren't for the sake of Heaven is whether it is only a quest for G-d's truth in the question at hand. Hillel and Shammai analyzed Torah law and came to differing conclusions. But they always were gentle and at peace with each other, so much so that the students from both schools married each other's families. Their only controversy was establishing G-d's truth so that they could determine His law and perform His will. There was no other "agenda," no personality battles, no quest for victory over the other. To this day, every day, the words of Hillel and Shammai are studied in the Talmud.

Rabbi Shnayur Kotler z'l of Lakewood had an extremely busy schedule. He once had to run into a chasuna, having time only to say "mazal tov." He told his driver that he would be back immediately. After ten minutes, the driver started getting nervous. When the Rosh Yeshiva returned, he understood the driver would be concerned over the delay. "I had a machlokess [dispute] in halacha [Torah law] with another rov who was at this chasuna. I spent ten minutes speaking with him in a friendly manner, so that he and the public would know there is no personal animosity."

"Great is peace between husband and wife (Chulin 141a)."

Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel (in the Talmud, Avos DeRebi Noson 28:3) says that a person who brings peace into his house is considered by G-d as if he brought peace on the entire Jewish people. Consider that this means: the merit for making peace in your home is as if you made EVERY Jewish individual or group in any argument with another come to peace. The reward is unfathomably huge!

In Parshas Noach, we see that G-d destroyed the world with a flood for the crime of "chomos," which Chazal define as "petty theft." For example, if a person owned a rice store, everyone in town would steal one piece of rice. The store owner would not sue thieves for stealing one piece of rice but since everyone in town was stealing in "cute" ways that were technically not a basis for suit, everyone got away with it while they drove each other bankrupt. For this, mankind had to be destroyed. except righteous Noach and his family. At the end of the Parsha, mankind declares war on G-d, builds a tower in Bavel and seeks to kill G-d. Idolatry is one of the three sins for which man must give his life rather than violate. Since the whole world was committing the worst level of idolatry: to "kill" G-d, you would think that Hashem would have wanted to destroy the world for building the tower to Heaven and universal rebellion against Him, but all G-d did was "invent" languages, so that they could not communicate and consummate their plot. Why was the severe punishment doled out by G-d for petty stealing while the major sin of universal idolatry, at its worst level, was merely responded to by the "invention" of different languages? Because by stealing, people were hurting one another while with their rebellion, people had universal shalom. So great is peace that G-d will not let Soton punish people for as serious a sin as idolatry when they have peace, because "peace is the greatest thing [gadol hashalom, Midrash Raba]."

There is no merit for saying mourner's Kaddish without shalom. The purpose of Kaddish is a public Kidush HaShem as a merit for the deceased. If there is argument, this is chilul HaShem [profanation of G-d], which defeats the purpose. If more than one are saying Kaddish, they must do so with unity. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z'l said that if someone argues in a minyan over who should say Kaddish, the merit is taken away from the soul related to the person who argued and goes to the soul related to the person who kept shalom.

All major parts of prayer, and Shas, conclude with peace. For example, the Birkas Kohanim ends with peace. We culminate the Shmoneh Esray with the prayer for peace. If one does not truly want peace with every one, he says G-d's name in vain there - every time he davens! The last Mishna in Shas ends speaking about peace. Everything must culminate in peace.

Don't wait for peace to come on its own. Love it and chase it. At all times, "gadol hashalom," the greatest thing in human relations is peace.



Rabbi Yisroel Salanter is credited with the title, "Father of the Mussar Movement." Mussar is the portion of Torah dedicated to personal self-perfection particularly through work on midos [character traits] and fighting the yaitzer hora [evil inclination]. This is important every day but is especially important during "the Three Weeks" [when we must consider and rectify the faults, particularly interpersonal shortcomings, responsible for the destruction and exile]; and during Elul and the "Ten Days Of Awe" [from Rosh HaShana until Yom Kippur], when we must concentrate on serious repentance of all kinds. The midrash [Yalkut Mishlay 909] says that one cannot acquire wisdom without Mussar.

Rabbi Yisroel Lipkin [1810-1883] came from the town of Salant in Lithuania. He wrote a Torah pamphlet at about the age of 14 which Rabbi Akiva Eiger said was by "a genius among geniuses." He initially wanted to grow in Torah privately but he recognized spiritual weakening in his times. He saw his life's task as spreading moral and ethical foundations of Torah. He crystallized teachings and insights of human development, behavioral motivation, self-perfection and sensitivity to other people through Torah. He showed how work on midos and Mussar can be applied to every-day life. His work profoundly impacted the Torah world from his time and on. He himself was a paragon of his own teachings. When the young Chofetz Chayim wanted a haskoma [rabbinical approbation] for his now-famous sefer on lashon hora [book codifying the laws prohibiting slander], it was to Yisroel Salanter that he went for it.

Central to Jewish life is Mussar and central to Mussar is working on midos [character traits]: destroying and eliminating the bad ones, building and adding good ones. Reb Yisroel, perfectly suited to be the leader of the Mussar Movement, was a brilliant analyst of human motivation and behavior. He appreciated and understood the significance of fighting bad midos. It is often extremely difficult for a person to be honest enough and face the fact that he has any bad trait[s], never mind actually work to completely eliminate the evil mida from him or her self. Learning a page Talmud is very difficult. The Talmud contains over 2,000 sheets (or more than 4,000 pages). Reb Yisroel said that TRULY defeating one bad mida is more difficult than learning the entire Talmud. Since he himself wrote very little, much of what we know from or about him comes from what those who knew and saw him recorded. Since much of his valuable contributions to Judaism is not commonly available, I am striving to correct this lacking in the English speaking Jewish "world" with this series on his Torah teachings and deeds. They will have the reader in awe and, hopefully, motivated to grab a sefer or learn from a rebbe to work on self-perfection.

Rabbi Yisroel said that bad midos is comparable to being a burglar. If a crook has no tools he is relatively less dangerous. If he has a lot of tools, sophistication and weapons, he is a genuine threat to society. One who knows no Torah who has bad midos is relatively less dangerous. One who knows Torah who has bad midos is like the more sophisticated criminal with weapons and tools - and can be very dangerous. In shiduchim and marriages I frequently find, when I do counseling, that the most intelligent and learned people - if they have terrible midos - are the most dangerous, the ones with the most "weapons and tools," to use against the people in their personal lives. The more intelligent or learned a person is, the more vital it is that they have beautiful midos, especially for people who live with them. The Shulchan Oruch says that if one has a small but complete chalah, and a large but incomplete one, the person must use the complete chalah, even though it is smaller. Similarly, one must make himself spiritually perfect before he makes himself a great scholar. It is better to be a small and perfect human being.

A shochet [ritual slaughterer] came to him once and said he was being wearied by the work of slaughtering meat all day and wanted to quit. He feared he might make a mistake and cause someone to eat traif. Rabbi Yisroel asked him what he planned to do for parnosa [livelihood]. He replied he wanted to open a grocery store. Reb Yisroel asked whether he learned through Choshen Mishpot [the portion of Shulchan Aruch that deals with laws of honest weights and measures, fair pricing, paying creditors and employees, buying and selling, not misrepresenting product quality, keeping one's word, how to act regarding competition, not bothering neighbors near your workplace and the other laws of conducting business]. The shochet said he hadn't. Rabbi Yisroel told him to remain a shochet because, without being an expert in the halachos, he would be guaranteed to be guilty of many more sins in business than as a shochet. Separately, Reb Yisroel said that if someone put so much energy into learning Choshen Mishpot, it would be a shame to waste that expertise running a store instead of using or spreading the knowledge in Torah. Also, Reb Yisroel once tried to go into business. After a while, he stopped, saying it is too difficult for him to be a businessman without transgressing the Torah laws of business.

The Torah says [Genesis 5:22], "And Hanoch walked with G-d." Midrash Talpios says that this means that when he worked [as a shoemaker], Hanoch united himself with G-d with every move and stitch. Rabbi Yisroel said that he put his complete heart and being into his work to give his customers maximum quality, benefit and enjoyment. How one conducts his work is a part of serving G-d. Reb Yisroel is teaching us that anyone at work or business who gives his best to his boss or clients "walks with G-d." In a similar vein, Reb Yisroel once told a shoemaker to hammer the nails gently and carefully because if the nails go in crookedly, the shoes will rip and he will be guilty of robbing the customer.

Working on oneself against bad midos and the evil inclination is difficult work. Rabbi Yisroel said that the reward for making an evil inclination or sinful habit weaker, or more infrequent, is rewarded by Heaven beyond human comprehension (how much moreso is one rewarded if one conquers a bad trait or sinful inclination altogether!).
The yaitzer hora [evil inclination] comes into each person at birth, while the yaitzer hatov [good inclination] only comes into the person at bar mitzva. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was asked why this is justice. The evil inclination has a "head start." Doesn't this make it impossible for a person to have an even struggle between choosing good and evil? Doesn't this make it just about impossible to have a fair chance at earning olam habo [eternal life]?

Rabbi Yisroel replied that evil is ultimately illusion and Torah is the only reality. The job of the yaitzer hora is to make sin look real and to tempt people into choosing it. If a person had his yaitzer hatov from birth, he would always know that evil is stupidity and false so there would be no milchomas hayaitzer [war between good and evil within the person]. We would see sin for the emptiness that it ultimately is. The yaitzer hora needs the "head start" to make it possible for evil to seem real, so a person can fight between two forces that appear to be real: one only seeming real (evil) and one actually being real (good).

Reb Yisroel said that before he began to learn Mussar, he was angry at others but never at himself. After a while, he also got angry at himself. Finally, when he became a master of midos, he was angry at himself alone. A test of whether one learns Mussar properly is whether he wants to keep learning Mussar.

Reb Yisroel said that the Torah's reference to a wife as a "helpmate against him" applies at all times. "When I make myself better, my wife also gets better."

A well known story is told of Rabbi Yisroel in which he tells how he came upon one of his fundamental principles of Mussar (Torah self-elevation). He took his shoes to a shoemaker for repair. The sun was going down and the shoemaker only had a little bit of candle left. Rabbi Yisroel offered to come back the next day. The sky was getting dark and if the little bit of candle would finish, there would be no light. The shoemaker wasn't finished with the repair of the previous customer's shoes. The shoemaker assured the rabbi that he needn't bother to come back tomorrow. "Don't worry. As long as the candle burns, I can repair." These words hit Reb Yisroel hard. He realized that these words were a secret to human growth. As long as the candle long as one is still alive - I can repair...MYSELF AS A HUMAN BEING. Even someone older, more set in one's ways, one can always work on oneself, as long as one still has the gift of life. One should grow at all times.



We continue with our series on the teaching, contributions and greatness of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter.

Midos and mitzva observance are often matters of keeping priorities and perspective. This is evident from the next three stories.

Rabbi Yisroel, who lived before modern plumbing, once was a guest of a family that lived in a house which was located on the top of a hill. When it came time to eat, the family and its eminent guest washed. Torah law requires washing the hands before eating bread. It is typical to pour the water over the entire length of the fingers and the hands. Reb Yisroel poured the water over only his fingers. The family asked him why he poured water only over his fingers. He said that the maid carries water from the town well on her back in two heavy buckets that are on a pole across her back. Every time water is running low, she has to go to the well and carry the heavy load of water up the hill to the house. How could he cause her to have to carry the water any more than the least possible amount? He used just enough water to satisfy the law, out of consideration for the maid, saying that he would not do a hiddur [enhanced form of a] mitzva by "bending the shoulders of the poor maid."

A well-meaning talmid [disciple] passed through some rooms in which people were sleeping, in order to get water for netilas yodayim [ritual washing of the hands]. As soon as he found out, Reb Yisroel told him that what he did was a transgression, saying to the talmid, "Netilas yodayim is a mitzva from our sages but stealing sleep from other people is prohibited by the Torah."

Passover is a time when Torah law is very strict and people are cautious to practice many stringencies; for example, as to how to bake the matzos, clean the house from chometz, assure that all food is kosher for Passover. The students of Rabbi Yisroel were about to go to the matzo bakery and they asked him which stringency to be careful to observe during the baking of their festival matzos. He told them that there is an elderly widow who works at the bakery. He told them to be careful not to hurt her feelings.

Reb Yisroel repeatedly rebuked people for doing hiddur mitzva while violating basic mitzvos such as theft, kidnapping, financial cheating and causing people pain. He said that Jews violate shabos because frum people do not observe halacha properly. No mitzva is complete unless one is meticulous in all the laws of how to behave towards people - including during performance of the mitzva.

The Torah says [Deuteronomy 4:39], "And you will know today and you will return it to your heart...". Rabbi Yisroel was one of the greatest Torah analysts of human nature. He asks why the Torah says that there are two levels: 1. knowing and 2. internalizing into the heart? He explains this verse saying that there is as great a distance 1. between not knowing and knowing something as there is 2. between knowing something intellectually and internalizing it into one's heart. Until it is assimilated, knowing something only intellectually is the same as not knowing. This is a fundamental principle of applying Torah to "real life."

Rabbi Yisroel said that people often make the mistake of making another person's spirituality their religious "cause," and this frequently turns out to cause destructive and hurtful things like criticism, ridicule or antagonism; which are very UN-religious. Reb Yisroel said that "the other person's spirituality [ruchaneeyus] is your materialism [goshmeeyus] and the other person's materialism is your spirituality." Spirituality is NOT: you made a terrible bracha, you did the mitzva wrongly, you did a sin. Spirituality is: do you have what you need, can I do anything for you, what can I give you?

The Arizal said to Rabbi Moshe Kordevaro that he had ruach hakodesh [Divine knowledge] that if the two of them (who were very holy men) went (from their town of Tzfas, Israel) to Jerusalem right away, they would bring Moshiach. Rabbi Kordevaro said that he would just tell his wife that he is leaving for Jerusalem. When he came back, ready to leave, the Arizal said that, in the time he took to say goodbye to his wife, the opportunity passed and it was too late. Rabbi Yisroel said that we see from this that one cannot bring Moshiach if it means doing so on the "cheshbon" of his wife. It was more important that Rabbi Kordevaro give respect to his wife than, at her expense, bring Moshiach with the great Arizal!

The Torah tells us in Parshas Bechukosai that G-d will severely punish violations of the Torah. "If with this [punishing], you will not obey Me and you treat Me keree [lightly]"...[the punishments get worse; Leviticus 26:27]. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter translated "keree" as related to the root "kerirus [coldness, freeze]." When warm enough to be liquid, water is used to purify, such as in a mikva or when ritually washing hands. When frozen, it becomes ice which can contract tuma [spiritual impurity]. This is how coldness affects service of G-d. When cold, water's power to purify is not only destroyed, frozen water can itself become impure. Like ice, when cold and indifferent to obeying some or all of the Torah, the person's service of Hashem is contaminated. The more one treats Hashem's Torah lightly, the more he experiences punishment. The more one serves G-d with warmth, joy, devotion and drive, the more he makes himself a receptacle for abundant blessing.

In Mamel, many of the Jews went to shul on shabos and then went to work, violating shabos. Many Jews worked in ways connected with the harbor there. At the shul, he spoke to the merchants and longshoremen and told them that writing on shabos was not necessary for their work - and they stopped writing. A few weeks later he came back and spoke in that shul saying that unloading on shabos was necessary but loading wasn't. They stopped unloading. Several weeks later, he spoke in the Mamel shul and spoke against loading. In this way, he stopped the town's Jewish workers from violating shabos.

A person with midos can serve Hashem during the seuda on Purim and a person without midos can bring Gehenom on himself during Kol Nidrai on Yom Kippur.

One of his accomplishments was identifying 13 basic character traits which characterize whether a person can be a spiritual person in general and a baal Mussar [master of self-perfection] in particular. His list of 13 midos and his brief description of each of them follows, translated from the original Hebrew. View these as fundamental midos of human development.

1. TRUTH (EMMESS) - never let anything out of your mouth that your heart cannot testify as to its truth.

2. ZEAL (ZREEZUS) - never waste a moment, to let it be for no positive purpose, and likewise actively do what you seek to accomplish.

3. DILIGENCE (CHARITZUS) - do what you decide to do with industriousness and enthusiasm.

4. HONOR (KAVOD) - be cautious in the honoring of every person, even anyone whose thinking you consider to be imperfect.

5. PEACE OF MIND (MENUCHA) - have a spirit that is at rest, without ever being hasty, so that you can do everything calmly.

6. GENTLENESS (NACHAS) - the words of the wise are with gentleness heard, so therefore always strive to speak gently.

7. CLEANLINESS (NIKAYON) - keep your body and clothes clean and pure.

8. PATIENCE (SAVLONUS) - bear with calm every happening and every event in life.

9. ORDER (SAIDER) - do all of your deeds and all of your undertakings in an organized and disciplined manner.

10.HUMILITY (ANOVA) - recognize your own shortcomings and pay no attention to those of others.

11.RIGHTEOUSNESS (TZEDEK) - do whatever Torah says is right, in its letter and spirit, and give in on what is rightfully yours.

12.THRIFT (KEEMUTZ) - do not spend a penny that is not for a necessary purpose.

13.SILENCE (SHTEEKA) - consider the result that is to come out of your words before you speak.

A talmid of Reb Yisroel made a notebook of ALL midos. Every day, he wrote what happened with respect to each mida. With this, he was able to examine each mida and bring each to perfection. May we all accomplish successful conquest of the evil inclination and cultivation of good midos, and thereby achieve completion of ourselves as people and of our service of G-d, and thereby merit lives of health and blessing and true, complete redemption quickly!



Yisroel Salanter is credited with being the "Father of the Mussar Movement." Mussar is the branch of Torah which deals with continual self-perfection and growth in midos [personality traits] through Torah. This is one of the most fundamental elements of living, as a practical matter, as a Torah Jew.

Reb Yisroel would dress as an ordinary Jew. If one did not know him, one would never recognize this humble, saintly Talmid Chocham. While on a train from Kovno to Vilna, the young man traveling next to him insulted him repeatedly. When Reb Yisroel lit a cigarette, the man told him to put it out because the smoke bothered him, even though it was a smoking car! A short while later, the fellow complained about the window being open. Reb Yisroel said softly that it was not he who opened it and then rose to close it. When the train arrived in Vilna, a crowd was waiting to greet and honor Reb Yisroel. The young man was aghast that the man he had repeatedly insulted was Reb Yisroel, who warmly smiled and comforted him. Then Reb Yisroel said that a person does not get angry about a thing, unless the person had a failing in that thing himself. He understood that it was a long. difficult and uncomfortable journey for the fellow.

After the meal before Yom Kippur, Reb Yisroel hurried to write a recommendation letter for a poor boy. When asked why he wrote the letter in the precious moments before the holy day, he said that the boy asked for the letter two days earlier. If he would have delayed the letter any longer, the boy would have spent Yom Kippur with sadness and worry.

A talmid of his once left Reb Yisroel's house and forgot the key. Reb Yisroel went out and paced the street until Midnight to bring his disciple into the house.

People think nothing of poking their heads out of a shul to announce, "Kedusha!" so that people come in to participate in the mitzva. But, he never saw someone poke his head out of their home and announce, "a meal!" that some passerby come in and join the homeowner.

A busy businessman came to Reb Yisroel complaining that he only had one hour each day to learn Torah. Reb Yisroel told him to use the time to learn Mussar. Through work on self-perfection, he would find that he has many hours during the day to learn Torah.

A man rushed into shul to hear "Kedusha." In the process, he stepped on a another man's shoes and made them dirty. After the prayer, Reb Yisroel asked the man over to a corner of the shul. In private, he told him he must apologize to the other man. Although Kedusha is a great mitzva, any mitzva is canceled if doing it harms another person.

A disciple of Reb Yisroel, Reb Elazar Shulavitz, was with him in the city of Mamel for prayer on the holy day of Yom Kippur. The shul had two doors: one for actual going and coming and the other door was facing a garden and was only made to give fresh air to those who pray in the shul. Reb Shulavitz went out before mussaf. When he returned, the shul was crowded with worshippers who were praying, so he could not get to his seat. He stopped in the doorway which had been made for air and he started pray the Shmoneh Esray of Mussaf. Reb Yisroel said to the talmid that he was a gazlan [thief] who was stealing air from people.

One cold winter day, Reb Yisroel arrived at the door of an inn at the same moment as another rov. The rov opened the door and waited for Reb Yisroel to enter first. Reb Yisroel immediately closed the door and said that there is only a doubt about which rov [between the two of them] should have the honor of entering first. But, leaving the door open and letting the heat out of the building is certainly robbery. The mitzva of honoring a rov cannot be superseded by the prohibition of robbery.

At shul, he would pour a minimal amount of water over his hands. When asked why, he said that the shul's shamos [keeper] brought the normal amount of water for the congregation [there was no running water or plumbing in those days]. If someone would come a bit later and find no water, they would withhold a tip from the shamos and he would be guilty of robbing the shamos of his parnosa [livelihood].

He was once approached in front of his students by a wealthy man who had a question for Reb Yisroel. Upon being approached by the man, Reb Yisroel sighed. After the man left, the students asked why he sighed. He said that he was embarrassed in front of the wealthy man because one of his garments was torn. When he realized he was embarrassed in front of a human being, he imagined how embarrassed a soul would be if it has a tear [i.e. sin] when a person leaves this world and is in front of G-d! We see from this how important it is to repair all the "tears in the soul" while there is time in earthly life.

A visitor to a town, who needs to deposit money over shabos, would believe a few people who independently each recommend a certain pious Jew that he could leave valuables with him. When our sages recommend avoiding sins because there is Gehenom, we don't believe them. When it comes to the yaitzer hora [evil inclination] and doing sins, one must recognize how much he deceives himself.

Reb Yisroel used to keep cake in his drawer in shul on Yom Kippur. If anyone came to danger owing to the fast, the cake would be available immediately to preserve life.

Learning Mussar requires either a tune or motion, and repeating Mussar statements over and over till the statements are internalized. For example, one time he was planning to ask a wealthy for a donation for a charitable cause. He was heard repeatedly saying the statement from Pirkei Avos that envy and desire takes a man out of the world, the night before. When his students asked him why he was saying the Mishna over and over, he said that going to the wealthy man's mansion might evoke envy or desire. He was fortifying himself with Mussar against these bad midos. When the Chofetz Chayim [who was 28 years younger than Reb Yisroel] was in an adjacent room in a Vilna hotel, he wondered what Reb Yisroel did at night. He put his ear to the wall and heard Reb Yisroel saying another Mishna in Avos over and over, "The one who does not learn deserves death." Another time he paced back and forth and kept repeating the verse from Kohelless/Ecclesiastes, "Fear Hashem and keep His mitzvos because that is all there is to being a person." One time a bochur was sick in bed for an extended period of time. Reb Yisroel asked why the homeowners of the town did not provide for the sick fellow. The reply was that there was no money. Reb Yisroel said that they should sell the parochess in the shul to raise the money and take care of the yeshiva boy. Then he turned to the wall and said over and over, "Let my anger be on my face, but not in my heart." Theft of even the slightest amount is a sin, even if done by one's property [e.g. animal] and not by him himself or the theft is of an intangible [taking another person's time or sleep]. Therefore, one erev Yom Kippur, he was repeating the Chazal that says that, of all the sins, theft is the first to accuse. One time after he realized he forgot to check his pockets before shabos, he was heard repeating the verse from Tehilim 51, "My sin is before me always."

He said that when one is ill, one is exempt from all mitzvos except, "You shall guard your health exceedingly." When he was ill, Reb Yisroel followed doctor's orders in every detail. When he was told to rest without Torah learning for three days, he counted the minutes of the last evening and started learning the moment three days were up. He would drop chumros [stringencies] when health required it, sticking to "bottom line" halacha. As much as he could, he would do chesed [active kindness] for his caretakers when ill. On the last day of his life, he said to his attendant that people need have no fear of being with a corpse. The attendant was the only one with him when he died a few hours later.

Reb Yisroel was always punctual. When he did not show up on time for shiur [to give a Torah class], his students fanned out over town, knowing something was wrong. He was by the river talking to a young woman. When seen, the students, returned to the yeshiva. Later, it became known that this woman's two children died, her husband was bedridden with illness and their horse died, so there was no income from their taxi-wagon. Reb Yisroel was walking to shiur and came by the river just when the woman was about to commit suicide. He grabbed her by the hand, spoke consolingly, promised that her husband would recover and that he would furnish them with another horse and that she would have a son in a year. The woman calmed down. A year later, Reb Yisroel was at that baby son's bris.



[translated into English by Rabbi Jeff Forsythe from selected portions of Shmoneh Prakim and Hilchos Dayos]




The earlier philosophers said the spirit has health and illness, just like the body has health and illness. The [definition of] health of the spirit is that its condition and the condition of its components is a condition such that a person always does good and his actions are lovely. Sickness [of the spirit is defined as] is that its condition and the condition of its components is a condition such that a person always does bad things and his actions are ugly. However, the field of medicine researches the health and illness of the body. People who have sick bodies lose full functioning of their senses. They imagine that what is bitter is sweet and [imagine] that which is sweet to be bitter. Their inclination causes them to perceive that which is lovely as being without any appeal. Their cravings are strong for all which they desire and they have much pleasure in things which give no pleasure to healthy people. It is possible that they want things which produce pain, such as eating dust and charcoal, and things which are sharp and very sour, and any things which are similar, from among items which healthy people will never desire for food. Rather, [healthy people] will be repulsed by them. In the same way, this describes those whose spirits are ill. This means to say, those who are evil who have bad personality traits have in their imagination that things which are bad are good, and that things which are good are bad. The bad person always desires extremes which are, in truth, bad [either wrong things; or too much or too little of the right things, so as to be in destructive proportions and imbalance]. Because of the illness of his spirit, his imagination deems [bad things or proportions] to be good.

When people who are ill in their body, and they come to know that they are sick, but they do not know the field of medicine, they inquire of doctors who will tell them what is needed to be done. They will warn [the sick person] to stay away from what he imagines to be sweet, this being in reverse due to his sickness. And [the doctor] will force [sick people] to take repulsive and bitter things until their bodies become healthy, and the [sick people themselves] return to being able to choose the good and be repulsed by the bad. In the same way for those who are sick in their spirit. They must ask the wise men. They are the doctors of the spirit and they will return [those who are ill in their spirit] from the things which are bad which they consider to be good things. [The wise men] will heal them with the crafts through which character traits of the spirit are healed, as I will mention more fully in the chapter after this. However, those who have illness in their spirit and they do not feel their illness, and they have in their imagination that they are healthy, or he feels [sickness of the spirit] and he does not heal himself, in the end, he will without any doubt kill himself; just like the person who is ill in his body, who drives after those things which indulge him with pleasure without healing himself.

However, of those who perceive that they are ill, and who drive after self-indulgence with pleasure, the true Torah recounts their words (Deuteronomy 29:18-19), "And it will be when he hears the words of this curse he will bless himself in his heart and say, 'For I will walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to add inadvertent sins to those committed with intent and desire.' The L-rd will not be willing to excuse him but the anger of the L-rd will burn and His jealousy against this man will lay on him all the curse written in this book and the L-rd will erase his name from under the Heavens." I mean to say that when [the person with illness in his spirit] intends to satisfy his thirst [pursuing and gratifying lusts and desires] he adds to his thirst. King Solomon, peace be upon him, said of those who do not perceive that they have illness of the spirit (Proverbs 12:15), "The way of a fool is upright in his eyes, and the one who listens to advice is wise." This means to say that the one who listens to the advice of a wise person is himself wise because the wise person causes [the listener] to know which is the correct path, with objective truth; not what he subjectively considers to be correct. And [King Solomon] said (Proverbs 14:12), "There is a way which is straight to a person but in the end it is a path of death." And [King Solomon] further said of these who are ill in their spirit, who are unable to know what will damage them and what will benefit them (Proverbs 4:19), "The way of the evil are like darkness, they do not know what will cause them to stumble." I will tell about the work of healing the spirit in the fourth chapter.




Good deeds are balanced deeds, being in the middle between two extremes, both of which are evil. One [extreme] is too much and the second [extreme] is too lacking [Yerushalmi Chagiga 1:5 says that the Torah is comparable to two paths, one of fire and one of ice. If one turns to one side, he will die from fire. If he turns to the other side, he will die from freezing. What must he do? Walk in the middle. The Tosefta to Chagiga, chapter 2, adds "Walk in the middle and do not lean to the burning side nor to the freezing side."] The virtues are the condition constituted from the intrinsic natural personality and the traits which were acquired [after birth] which are in the middle between the two extreme conditions [both extremes being] evil. One of them is excess and the other is deficiency. These conditions compel resulting actions.

Let us take as an example the trait of self-discipline, which is a trait which is in the middle between uncontrollable excessive lust and absence of feeling for pleasure. Self-discipline is good behavior and the condition of the spirit from which self-discipline is generated is a virtuous trait. Uncontrollable abundant lust is the first extreme and complete absence of feeling for pleasure is the opposite extreme, and both of them are completely bad. The two conditions of the spirit; from which are generated uncontrollable abundant lust, the condition of extreme excess, and the absence of feeling, being the condition of extreme lacking; are both equally among the worst of the worst of character traits.

Similar is generosity, which is the middle between stinginess and wasteful extravagance. Courage is in the middle between reckless risk-taking in danger and cowardly soft-heartedness. Self-respect is the midpoint between egomania and self-deprecation. The meaning of self-respect is a person attributing appropriate respect to himself while not putting himself down regarding anything. Egomania is when a person appropriates respect to himself more than is proper [haughtiness, profound arrogance and self-importance]. Self-deprecation is when one does things which are improper which are degrading and disgracing [to the one who does them, i.e. he "puts himself down" or belittles his deeds]. Pleasantness with people is the midpoint of instigating or irritating and weak-naturedness [subservient, passive, unexcitable, sluggish]. This is a person who does not speak and does not act owing to the heaviness of his nature and his cool temperament. This is the opposite of one who instigates [excitable, over sensitive, easily provoked or prone to provoking others], which will come from the sharpness of his nature and from his hot temperament. Humility is the middle between haughtiness and a low [meek, undemanding] spirit. Contentedness is the middle between material greed and laziness. Goodheartedness is the middle between meanness and excessive [destructive or misplaced] compassion. Forbearance is the middle between anger and the absence of feeling of disgrace or embarrassment. Shame is the middle between brazen impudence and debilitating shyness.

[The translator from Arabic to Hebrew, Rabbi Shmuel Ibn Tibon, added: "Since some of these character traits do not have a name in our language, it is necessary to explain their meaning, and what the thinkers wanted in regard to them. Goodheartedness is what we call of the one with a good heart. All of his intentions are to do good to people from his personal actions, from his advice and from his property, as much as he is able, without bringing damage or shame to himself. This is the middle trait. The mean person is the opposite of this. He is the one who does not want to help people in any matter, even in that through which there comes to him no loss, no exertion and no damage. This is the far extreme. Excessive compassion is when a person does those things referred to as "goodheartedness" even when big damage or shame or serious trouble or major loss comes to him. This is the other extreme. It appears to me from the words of our rabbis (i.e. the sages), may they be remembered for blessing, that the explanation of the shy person, according to them, is one who is excessively shy. Moderate bashfulness is the middle, as is seen in their statement, 'The baishon (very shy person) does not learn' (Pirkei Avos, chapter two); they did not say 'The boshess ponim (moderately bashful person) does not learn.'" I believe that Rabbi Ibn Tibon means to say that if he is too shy to ask questions, he will not obtain the knowledge he needs. To put it another way, one should not be inhibited to the point of "paralysis." There are things in life which a person must do, and being too shy to do them stops one from achieving tasks and fulfilling his responsibilities in life. A person who is moderately bashful has a balance between 1. the necessary humility, character and discretion which saves one from sin, error and foolishness; and 2. the ability to function fully, responsibly and effectively in life). Rabbi Ibn Tibon continues by proving the attribute of boshess ponim (bashfulness with tact and balance) and substantiating his choices of Hebrew words to convey the meaning from Rambam's Arabic. "They (the sages) said, 'The moderately bashful person is destined for Gan Aiden (Pirkei Avos, chapter five).' They did not say, 'The shy person.' Therefore I worded them thusly." Now, we return from Rabbi Ibn Tibon to Rambam.]

And, likewise are all character traits. They necessarily require clear names upon which we agree in order that the meaning of each be understood.

Oftentimes, people err in these actions and consider one of the extremes [excess] to be good and to be a virtuous attribute, from among the characteristics of the personality. Sometimes they consider one extreme good, like reckless people consider their recklessness to be a virtue and they call reckless and dangerous risk taking people courageous. When they see someone acting with this trait, I say that tho one who exposes himself to danger and intentionally risks death, and sometimes a person is saved by circumstance, people praise him for this and call him "hero."

Sometimes people consider the other extreme [insufficiency] to be good. They will say of a person with an inadequate self-image that he has patience. They will say of the lazy person that he has contentment. They will say of the person who lacks capacity to feel pleasure in life, due to his thick nature [apathetic, sluggish, lackadaisical, not easily impressed, not prone to reacting or to expressing himself], that he is cautious or pious. And through this type of error, people will also consider extravagant squandering or excessive goodheartedness to be among the good actions, and all of this is mistaken. In truth, the middle is praiseworthy. A person must concentrate his thinking and always weigh all of his actions until they all come to be in the middle.

You must know that these virtues and faults, which are at either extreme of character traits, will only reach, and be assimilated into, the spirit, by repeating, very many times over a lengthy period of time, the actions which come from each given character trait, to the point at which one is habituated in them. If the actions were good ones, that which will stem from them will be virtuous attributes. If [the actions] were bad, that will be derived for us from them will be faults [vices]. Since man does not have in his nature, from when he is conceived, virtues or shortcomings, and he will become accustomed to his actions without any doubt from his childhood, according to the conduct of his relatives and society, it is possible for his actions to be in the middle, and it is possible for them to be excessive or lacking, according to what we explained. If so, his spirit is ill. It is necessary that each such person go to get cured, in the same identical way that one goes to a doctor for bodily ills. When the body goes out of its normal state, we must see to which side it has turned and gone out of its balance. Then we must stand against it with its opposite until it returns to its midpoint of balance. When it is equalized, we remove our hand, stop the application of the remedy, which is the opposite [of the ailment], and we then return to doing for him that which will maintain him in a state of healthy balance.

This is precisely what we must do for character traits. As an example to this, when we see a man whose condition in his spirit, through which he causes his spirit to be lacking from all [legitimate] good things due to abundant stinginess, this is a very bad defect of the spirit. Any action that he will do will be a bad action, as we explained in this chapter. When we will want to cure this illness, we will not order him to conduct himself with generosity [a middle trait]. This is because this will be like treating one who is overwhelmed with a serious fever with something of middle [strength], for someone whose health is balanced, which will not [be strong enough to] return him to health from his illness. Instead, we must bring him to scatter his money repeatedly with acts of extravagant squandering, time after time, very many times, until the condition which produces stinginess goes away from his spirit, and he will be close to reaching the condition of extravagant spending. Then we discontinue the acts of squandering and we order him to constantly do generous acts and to remain diligent regarding them, not to be more [towards recklessly extravagant] and not to be less [towards tight and stingy].

Similarly, when we see one who scatters money, we order him to do stingy actions and to repeat them. However, he must not repeat the acts of stinginess as many times as one must repeat acts of extravagance. This is an important innovative concept. It is a principle and a secret of healing, being that it is much easier, and it comes much quicker, for a person to turn from excessive squandering to generosity [the midpoint, the healthy trait] than for a person to turn from stinginess to generosity. Similarly, it is easier and quicker to come for a person to turn from being absent of feeling for pleasure to having balanced self-discipline together with fear of sin, more than turning from being uncontrollably and excessively lustful for physical pleasures to being balanced, pious and disciplined. In this, the one who has powerful drive to indulge himself with pleasure and gratification must repeatedly do acts which cause him to be absent of his pleasures. He must do this much more than the person who lacks feeling for pleasure must repeat the acts which develop his capacity to have pleasure. Likewise, we must require that the coward expose himself to risks more than we require the reckless risk-taker to soften his heart [to moderate his exposing himself to danger]. We will accustom the mean person with excessive goodheartedness more than we will accustom the one who is excessively kindhearted to become mean. This is the principle for healing character traits. Remember it.

[In sum, the Rambam's is making a central and important point. In human nature, there are things which are good and bad. Either, in the extreme, is bad. Either extreme requires hard, diligent effort to break away from. The person should be at the middle-point in character traits. However, it is, in relative terms, easy to break the bad which comes from "too much good," whereas it is, in relative terms, difficult to break the bad which comes from "too much bad." Each person must balance and subjugate his powers so that they may be used to achieve optimum service of Hashem.]

You will find all of the commandments instruct and train the powers of the spirit. For example, [the Torah] prohibited vengeance, grudgebearing and killing a person who accidentally killed one's relative; as [G-d] said (Leviticus 19:18), "Do not take revenge and do not bear any grudge," (Exodus 23:5) "You will surely help [your fellow Jew to unload his heavy burden, even if he is an enemy]," (Deuteronomy 22:4) "You will surely lift up [your fellow Jew's burden, and not hide yourself from helping him]." [These commandments are to bring one] to weaken the power of anger and excited temper. Similarly, (Deuteronomy 22:1) "You will surely return" [lost animals or property to the owner, or announce your find so that the owner may come to identify and claim it, which is] to remove the condition of stinginess. And similarly (Leviticus 19:32), "You must stand up for gray haired and honor the face of the elderly," (Exodus 20:12) "Honor your father and your mother," (Deuteronomy 17:11) "You will not turn from the instruction which [Torah sages] will tell you." [These commandments bring] to removing the condition of brazen impudence and bring one to moderate bashfulness.

Further, [G-d] distanced [us] from the opposite extreme. What I mean is: excessive shyness. And He said (Leviticus 19:17), "You will surely correct your fellow Jew [tell him to stop a sin, error or omission]," (Deuteronomy 1:17) "Do not have fear before any man [perform justice, abide by the will of Hashem]." [These are to bring] to removing excessive shyness also so that one remains in the middle path.

One who strives to come to add to these things is, without doubt, an imbecile. For example, he will prohibit food and drink, adding on what is forbidden among foods; or he will prohibit marital relations more than what is prohibited among prohibited relationships; and he will give all of his money to the poor or to religious purposes, [adding to] those things which are sanctified or which are defined in the Torah as charitable or assessable. He will be doing evil deeds and he will not know. He will reach the far extreme and go out of the middle completely.

I have never heard anything at all more wonderful on this subject from the sages than from the Jerusalem Talmud, in the ninth chapter of [tractate] Nedarim. They speak disparagingly of those who accept oaths and vows on themselves until they remain like prisoners. [The sages] said there this terminology, "Rabbi Idi said in the name of Rabbi Yitzchok, 'Is what the Torah prohibited for you not enough, that you prohibit for yourself other things?'" This is the precisely point which we have mentioned, not more, not less.

It is now clear to you, from all which we have mentioned in this chapter, that each person must direct [himself] to actions which are in the middle, and he must not ever go out from [the middle] to one of the extremes.

The only exception is for the purpose of healing, when one must stand against [that which requires healing] with its opposite. When a person knows the craft of medicine, and sees his temperament changing a bit, he will not forget nor neglect the illness, that it grow stronger until he needs a strong remedy to heal him. When he knows that one of his body parts is weak, he will continually guard it and distance from anything which can be harmful to it. He will direct himself to that which will help, until that body part will become healthy, or until the illness will cease increasing. In this same fashion, the person who values perfection must remember his midos [character traits] continually, and weight his deeds, and inspect the condition of his spirit every single day. Every time he sees his spirit inclining to the side of any extreme, he must hurry to heal it, and not rest with any evil condition, that [the evil condition] be strengthened by repetition of evil action, as we mentioned. Thus, one must always be aware of the deficient character traits which he has, and strive to cure them continually, as we mentioned, for it is impossible for a person to be without shortcomings. The philosophers already said that it is difficult and rare to find any person who is ready and prepared by nature with all virtues, meaning to say, ethical and intellectual attributes. In the books of the Prophets this [principle] is found many times. "He does not trust in his servants and he charges His angels with folly (Job 4:18)." By what will man be righteous with G-d and through what will one born to woman be exonerated? (Job 25:4)." And King Solomon, peace be upon him, said plainly, "There is no righteous person on the earth who does good and will not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20)."

And you know that Hashem, may He be blessed, already said to the master of all earlier and later people, Moshe our Rabbi, peace be upon him, "Since you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in front of the Jewish people (Numbers 20:12)," "Because you rebelled against My word at the waters of Meriva (Numbers 20:24)," "Because you did not sanctify Me among the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 32 51)." And the sin of Moshe, peace be upon him, is that he inclined to one side away from among the extreme among virtuous character traits. And this is [the trait of] savlonus [forbearance, patience, calm; from which Moshe veered to the other extreme]. He veered too far to the side of excited anger, when he said, "Hear now you rebels (Numbers 20:10)." Hashem, may He be blessed, was stringent with [Moshe], that someone of his highest calibre would be angry in front of the congregation of Israel in a place in which it is improper to be angry. A thing like this, in judging this man, is a profanation of Hashem. This is because all the people learned from his moves and words, through which the people hoped to reach success in this life and in the world to come. How could anger be seen in him, it being from the evil actions, as we explained, and it only will come from the conditions of the spirit which are evil? However, regarding [G-d's] saying, "You rebelled against My word," is like we explained. It means that [Moshe] wasn't talking to fools or to people with no virtues. Rather, [he was talking with] people, the [spiritually] smallest of whom was equal in prophesy to Ezekiel Ben Buzi, as the sages mentioned [Mechilta, Beshalach; when the Jewish people were saved from Egypt and went through the Reed Sea, they all saw high-level prophesy. The people all] examined everything which [Moshe] said or did. And when they saw him get angry, they said that he, may peace be upon him, certainly has no deficient character trait; he must have known that Hashem, may He be blessed, was angry at us for our request of water; and that we angered Him, may He be blessed; were it not for that, he would not have been angry. And we do not find that Hashem, may He be blessed, was angry, when He spoke to [Moshe] on this subject. Instead, He said (Numbers 20:8), "Take the rod and gather the people, you and Aaron your brother, and you will speak to the rock in front of their eyes, and it will give its waters, and you will bring out for them water from the rock, and you will give drink to the congregation and their animals."

We have gone away from the intent of this section, however we have solved one of the most puzzling questions of the Torah, about which many things are said, and about which is often asked, "What was Moshe's sin?" See what others have said of it and what we have said of it, and the truth will make its own way.

I will return to my purpose. If a person will weigh his deeds continually, and direct himself towards the middle in all of them, he will be on the highest level that a person can attain, and he will get close to Hashem, may He be blessed, and he will attain [G-d's] goodness. This is the most perfect way of serving G-d. Already the sages, may they be remembered for blessing, mentioned this subject, and they wrote (Sota 5b) of it and said, "All who calculate his ways and watches them will merit and see the salvation of the Holy One blessed be He, as it says (Psalm 50:23), 'The one who sets his path I will show the salvation of G-d.' Do not read sets [som]. Rather read shom" [put the dot on the other side and read the letter shin]. The verb "shom" means to measure to think logically. This is the principle which we have been explaining throughout this entire chapter. This is the measure of subject matter which we have seen necessary for this subject.



1. There are many character traits in each and every person, and each is different from the other and is very far in disposition from the other. One person has a furious temper, being always angry. Another person is calm and never gets angry, or if he does, his anger will be slight and will appear one time in many years. There is a person who is haughty in his heart in the extreme and there is the one who is humble with a low spirit. There is the person who has such overwhelming desires that he is never satisfied no matter how much he gratifies his desires. There is the one who is very pure hearted so much so that he does not even desire the few things that the body requires. There is the person who is so greedy that his spirit cannot be satisfied by all the money in the world, this being the subject the verse, "One who loves money will never be satisfied with money (Ecclesiastes 5:9);" and there is his opposite who is so narrow in the needs of his spirit that he has enough even with a small amount [which does not even fully supply his needs], and he won't pursue acquisition of all that he needs. There is the one who tortures himself with hunger to hold onto to everything in his position, being so stingy that he won't spend the smallest coin to feed himself except with great pain. There is the one who knowingly squanders all of his money. In these ways [there are opposite extremes and diverse temperaments in the numerous] remainder of all character traits. For example, there is the jubilant and mournful, the frugal and wasteful, the cruel and merciful, the soft-hearted and hard-hearted, and all the other human traits.

2. In each and every trait there are opposite extremities, and middle traits, distant from both extremes. From all of the traits, there are some which are in a person from the beginning of his creation and are in his physical nature. There are some traits towards which a person has an inclination, and, as he proceeds through life, he acquires them rather quickly, moreso than he will [accept] other traits. And there are yet others that the person does not have at all from the beginning of his creation, but he learned them from others or he inclined to them on his own according to independent thought which came upon his heart. Or, he heard that such is a good trait for him to acquire and for him to live with, and he trains himself in it until it becomes assimilated into his heart.

3. In every character trait, neither of the two far extremities is a good path, neither are the extremes at all proper for any person to go in, and no person should teach them to himself. If a person finds that his nature is inclined to one of them, or that he is receptive to one of them, or that he acquired one of them so that he is accustomed to it, he must return himself to the good, and go in the way of good people, and that is the correct path.

4. The correct path is the middle measure in all traits among all of the human character traits. This is the trait which is equally distant between the extremes being neither closer to one or to the other. Therefore, our early sages commanded that each person continuously evaluate his character traits, and measure them and correct them in the middle way in order that he will be a perfect person. What is an example? He will not be furious, being easy to anger, and he must not be like one who is dead, who doesn't feel. Let him be in the middle. He will never be angry except for a huge justifying cause which is appropriate to be angry at, in order that the likes [of the wrong thing that provoked the anger] not be done again. In similar manner, one should not desire after things which the body requires and which is impossible to live without. This is like the verse which says, "The righteous eats to satisfy his soul (Proverbs 13:25)." And he will not toil in his work except to acquire the thing he needs to live for the present, as scripture says, "A little is good for the righteous (Psalm 37:16)." He will not hold his money tightly in his hand and he will not scatter his money recklessly. Rather he will give charity according to his means, and lend fitting loans to those in need. He will not be wildly jubilant and silly nor depressed and mournful. Rather he will have inner joy all of his days, with calm and pleasantness. And similarly for all traits. And this path is the path of the wise. Every person whose character traits are moderate, being at the mid-point, is called wise.

5. One who is stringent on himself exceedingly and will distance himself a bit off the middle to the one side or the to other [to favor the better of the two extremes] is called pious. What is an example? One who distances himself from having an arrogant heart till he gets to the other side and is significantly humble-spirited is called pious, and this is called "meedas chasidus (the trait of saintliness)." If he distanced himself from haughtiness till the middle so that he is humble, he is called wise and this is "meedas chochmo (the trait of wisdom)." All character traits go in this fashion. The early pious people trained their character traits from the middle road to [the better one] of the two extremes. In one trait they would bend to the heavier extreme and in another trait they would bend to the lighter extreme. This is going beyond the strict requirement of the law. And we are commanded to go in these middle ways and these are the good and correct ways, as the Torah says, "And you will go in G-d's ways (Deuteronomy 28:9)."

6. This is the meaning of the mitzva to go in G-d's ways. Just as He gives graciously, you also give graciously. Just as He is compassionate, you also be compassionate. Just as He is holy, you also be holy (Sota 14a). In this way, the prophets referred to G-d by His good attributes, calling Him terms like, "Slow To Anger," "Abundant in Lovingkindness," "Righteous," "Just," "Perfect," "Powerful," "Strong," etc. This is to let us know that these are good and correct ways and man in obligated to conduct himself in them, and to emulate G-d with all of his ability.

7. How will a person accustom himself to these character traits to the point at which they are fixed in him? He will act according to a trait and do it a second time and a third time. He will keep acting according to the middle trait and go back and repeat [the actions of the middle traits] until they will be easy for him to do and they will no longer be an imposition upon him, and the traits will be set in his personality. Since the Creator is called by these names, and since these are the middle way which we are obligated to go in, this path is called, "the way of G-d." This is what Avraham our father taught his children, as the Torah says, "I know him, that Avraham will train his children and his household and they will guard the way of G-d to do generosity and justice...(Deuteronomy 18:19)," and the one who goes in this way brings goodness and blessing to himself as the verse continues, "In order that G-d brings on Avraham all that He promised him (Deuteronomy 18:19)."



1. To those whose body is sick that which is bitter tastes sweet and that which is sweet tastes bitter. There is a type among those who are sick who desire and who long for items which are unfit for eating, such as earth or charcoal. They are repelled by good foods such as bread and meat, all according to the severity of the sickness. The same is with people whose personalities are sick. They desire and they love bad traits, and they hate the good path, and they make themselves lazy so as to avoid it, and it is extremely burdensome to them, according to the severity of their sickness. And so Isaiah says of these people, "Woe to those who say that evil is good and good is evil, who go in darkness and consider it light and who go in light and consider it darkness, who taste sweetness and call it bitter and who taste bitterness and call it sweet; woe to them who are wise in their own eyes and see themselves to be understanding (Isaiah 5:20-21)." Scripture refers to them in its saying, "Those who abandon the correct path to go in ways of darkness (Proverbs 2:13)." And what is the repair for those whose personality is sick? They must go to wise men who are physicians of the soul and they will cure them. Of them with personality sickness King solomon wrote, "Fools despise wisdom and correction (Proverbs 1:7)."

2. And what is the way to cure them? If one has a furious temper, we say to him to conduct himself as if he feels nothing even if he is hit or cursed. He will act like this for a long time until he eventually uproots anger from his heart. If he has a haughty heart, he must conduct himself in great degradation, he sits in a lower seat than everybody else, he will wear old and torn garments that cause the one who wears them to be humiliated, and similar things to these until the arrogant heart is uprooted from him and he returns to the middle road, which is the good way. And when he returns to the middle path, he will go on it for the rest of his days. And, he will do along this line for all the rest of the traits. If he is too far to the one side, he will distance himself from it to the second side. He will conduct himself towards the other extreme for a long time until he returns through this to the good course, which is the mean - the middle measure for each and every trait.

3. There are traits which are so bad that it is forbidden to act with them even to a middle measure. Rather, one must distance himself from the bad extreme and bring himself to the opposite extreme. This applies to arrogance. There is no good path [even to get to the middle at which point] one would be humble, for a person is obligated to go to the opposite extreme to be very lowly in spirit and to be very undemanding. Therefore, the Torah praises Moshe our Rabbi as, "Exceedingly humble (Numbers 12:3)," and not merely "humble," only. Therefore our sages [using unusually intensive language] commanded us, "Be exceedingly, exceedingly low of spirit [again, emphasizing the extreme; Pirkei Avos, chapter four]." They further said that all who have a proud, haughty heart deny G-d (Sota 4b), as the Torah says, "And your heart will grow high and you will forget the L-rd your G-d (Deuteronomy 8:14)." And they also put into excommunication (Sota 5a) anyone with an arrogant, swollen heart - even if only a little bit. And likewise anger is an evil trait to the utmost and it is fitting for every person to distance himself from it to the opposite extreme, and one should train himself to not get angry even at a thing which is appropriate to get angry at. If one wishes to arouse fear on his children and the residents of his house or, if he is a community officer and he wants to express anger at them in order to return wrongdoers to the good [path], he may show himself as angry in their presence, in order to correct them. However, his mind should actually be calm within himself, like a man who pretends to be angry at a time of anger, while really he isn't angry. Our early sages said, "All who are angry are just like those who worship idolatry (Shabos 105b)." They further said, "Of all who get angry, if he is a wise man, his wisdom leaves him; if he is a prophet, his prophesy leaves him (Pesachim 66b)." "The life of all who have anger is not life (Pesachim 113b)." Therefore, they commanded us to distance ourselves from anger to the extent at which a person can conduct himself to not feel even things that are appropriate to evoke anger, and this is the good path. The Talmud (Shabos 88b) tells us that the way of the righteous is: when insulted, they do not insult; when they hear themselves disgraced, they do not reply; they act from love and they rejoice in their suffering. Of such people scripture says, "And those who love Him are like the sun going out in its fullest strength (Judges 5:31)."

4. One should always work seriously to practice silence. Never speak except in words of Torah or for things which are needed to kept oneself alive. It is said of Rav, student of Rabbi Yehuda HaNossi [the compiler of the Mishna], that he never spoke a purposeless word all of his life. This [purposeless words are the conversation of] majority of human beings. One should not add words [more than the minimum necessary] even for the [legitimate] needs of the body. The sages instructed us, saying, "All who add words bring sin (Pirkei Avos, chapter one)." They also said, "I found nothing better for physical well-being than silence (Pirkei Avos, chapter one)." And similarly, in words of Torah and in words of wisdom, a person's words should be few with their meaning abundant. This is what the sages commanded when they said, "A person should always teach his students in the most concise way (Pesachim 3b)." However, if his words are many and their meaning is little, that is foolishness, and on this scripture says, "A dream comes with much meaning and the voice of a fool has many words (Ecclesiastes 5:2)."

5. A protection of wisdom is silence (Pirkei Avos, chapter three). Therefore, on should not rush to reply and not speak more than minimally. One should teach students with calm and gentleness, without shouting or wordiness. King Solomon referred to this in saying, "The words of the wise are heard with gentleness (Ecclesiastes 9:17)."

6. It is forbidden to conduct oneself with smooth language or deceptive seduction. One may never say one thing with his mouth while being something else in his heart. Rather, one's inner self must be the same as one outward self. The subject matter which is in the heart must be what one speaks with one's mouth. It is forbidden to steal a person's mind [i.e. manipulate, deceive, mislead, flatter], even that of a non-Jew. For example, one may not sell unkosher meat to a gentile representing it to be kosher. One may not sell a shoe whose leather came from an unkosher animal representing it to be from leather of a kosher animal. One may not invite another to eat with him when he knows the other will not eat. One may not make gestures of friendship which he knows the other will not accept. One must not open a barrel of wine, which he needs to open in order to sell, to deceive [his guest into believing] that because of his honor the host opened [the wine]. And all such [cases of misleading or falsity is forbidden]. Even one single word of seduction or stealing of another's mind is forbidden. One must always have lips of truth, an honest spirit and pure heart without scheming nor mischief.

7. A person must not be prone to laughing or mocking, nor unhappy and mournful; rather he should carry inner joy. Our sages said, "Jesting and levity bring a person to prohibited physical relations (Pirkei Avos, chapter three);" and they commanded a person not break beyond the bounds of moderate laughter and that he not be depressed or mournful, but that he receive people with a cheerful countenance. Similarly, one should not have a demanding, insatiable spirit which quests for wealth, nor too sad or idle to work to earn self-sufficiency. Rather, he should have a fully satisfied attitude, minimize his work for livelihood and emphasize his work in Torah, and that bit which is his portion should keep him joyous. One must not engage in quarrel, jealousy, worldly desire nor pursue honor; and this is what the sages said, "Jealousy, desire and honor take one out of the world (Pirkei Avos, chapter four)." The general principle in this subject is that one go in the middle measure that is in every single trait, to the point where all of his traits will be set in the midpoint. This is what King Solomon said, "Make the course of your feet even and all of your ways will be correctly established (Proverbs 4:26)."



1. Perhaps a person will say, "Since jealousy, desire, honor and, similarly, [all] negative things are an evil path, and remove one from life [Pirkei Avos, chapter four], I will separate myself from them to the extreme and distance myself to the opposite extreme." He goes so far so as to not eat meat and not drink wine and he will not marry a woman and he will not dwell in a presentable home and he will not dress in presentable clothes. Rather he will go in sackcloth and hard wool like the priests of the gentiles. This is also an evil way and it is forbidden to go in it. The one who goes in this way is called a sinner. The Torah says [Numbers 6:11] of the Nazir [who separates himself from wine], "And [the kohain] will atone [with the Nazir's sacrifices] for him since he sinned against the soul." Our sages said [Taanis 11a], "If the Nazir only separated from wine and needed an atonement, one who holds himself back from all permissible things all the moreso [requires atonement]." Therefore, the sages commanded people not to hold back from things except for those which the Torah held back from us. One should not prohibit on himself permissible things through vows or oaths. The sages said (Yerushalmi, Nedarim chapter 9) on this, "Is it not enough for you that which the Torah prohibited, that you would rather forbid to yourself more things?" In this objectionable category are included those who continuously fast. They are not on a good path. The sages forbade a person to torture himself with fasting. On all of these things and all things like them King Solomon commanded and said, "Do not be over-righteous nor excessively smart. Why should you destroy yourself [Ecclesiastes 7:16]?"

2. Each person must direct his heart and all of his deeds entirely and exclusively to know Hashem, may He be blessed. A person's sitting and standing and his speaking must all be towards this goal. What are some examples? When one does business or does his work in order to earn wages, the intention in his heart will not only be to collect money. Rather he will do these things in order to acquire the things which he needs to live, such as eating, drinking, dwelling in a residence and marrying a woman. Similarly, when he will eat and drink and have marital relations, he will not have in his heart that his intention is exclusively to have pleasure. Then it would come about that he will only eat and drink that which is sweet to the palate and he will have relations for pleasure's sake. Rather, he must intend in his heart exclusively that he will eat and drink in order to make his body and limbs healthy. Therefore, he must not eat all that his palate desires, like a dog or a donkey. Rather, he will eat things which help his body, whether they are bitter or sweet. And, he will eat not eat things which are harmful to the body, even if they are sweet to the palate. For example, one whose body is warm should not eat meat nor honey, nor drink wine, such as King Solomon said metaphorically, "Do not eat honey to excess (Proverbs 25:27)." This person should drink chicory water even though it is bitter. Since it is impossible for a person to live except with eating and drinking, it should come out that his eating and drinking is only in accordance with the requirements of health or healing, in order that his body be healthy and that he remain complete. Similarly, he will have marital relations only when it will contribute to health and to bring about a child. Therefore, he will not have relations every time he desires; rather he will every time when he knows that it is indicated by medical need or to bring about a child.

3. One who conducts himself according to the needs of medicine, if his intention is only that his body and limbs are to be complete, and that he will have children who will work and toil for his needs, this is not a good path. Rather, he must intend in his heart that his body be whole and strong in order that his spirit be correct in order to know Hashem; because it is impossible to understand and contemplate wisdom when one is hungry and sick or when one of his limbs is suffering with pain. One should intend in his heart that he will have a child, perhaps a son who will be sage and leader of Jewry. In this way, one who goes in this way all of his days is a servant of G-d continually, even at the times when he is in business and even during marital relations. This is because his thought in everything that he does is in order that he obtain his needs so that his body be whole to serve Hashem. Even at the time that he sleeps, if he sleeps for the purpose of resting his mind and body in order that he not get sick, being that while he is ill he would not be able to serve Hashem, then it comes out that his sleeping is service of the Omnipresent, may He be blessed. And regarding this our sages commanded, "Let all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven (Pirkei Avos, chapter two)." And similarly, King Solomon said in his wisdom, "In all of your ways, know G-d, and He will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:6)."



[By profession, Rambam was a physician. He was royal doctor to the ruler of Egypt. Rambam lived in a suburb adjacent to the capital and rode by donkey every day (except shabbos) to examine the ruler, his family and the officials in the palace. This is an excerpt of a letter written in response to a letter from the son of the ruler of Egypt. The prince of Egypt, Al-Afdal, was 30 years old and lived a life of the luxury and indulgence that could be expected in his royal situation. However, his physical excesses harmed his health and he wrote to Rambam explaining his ills and seeking instruction.

Rambam shows himself to be Torah sage as well as physician of the mind and soul in this treatise. Although respectful to his ruler, he writes on how physical, mental and spiritual health are all connected. Rambam's letter is known by several names to scholars, such as Letter To The Sultan or Treatise On Health. It contains four chapters, most of which is medical. Later in the third chapter, Rambam switches to matters of spiritual and emotional healing, and this portion is furnished here.]

It is known to my sovereign, may G-d give him long life, that the emotions of the soul cause significant changes in the body in ways which are apparent to anyone. I will offer this demonstration of this point. You may see a man with a powerful build, with a strong voice and shining face. When he receives news that causes him great worry or melancholy, his facial appearance instantly falls and loses its shine. The color in his face changes, his posture drops, and his voice becomes feeble. Even if he were to exert himself to raise his voice with all his power, he could not. His strength diminishes and he would tremble because of all of his weakness. His pulse becomes smaller, his eyes weaken and his eyelids become too heavy to lift. His skin becomes cold and his appetite decreases. The blood and body heat would withdraw more deeply into the body, causing all of these symptoms.

On the other extreme, you may see a man with a weak body, pale physical appearance, and a weak voice. When news reaches him which causes him great joy, you would see his body become strengthened and his voice raised. His face would brighten, his movements would quicken, his pulse would increase, his skin warms, and joy and happiness become apparent on his face and in his eyes. These conditions are very obvious, cannot be covered, and do not require close observation for them to be recognized. The blood and body heat move towards the surface of the body, causing these symptoms.

Likewise, the characteristics of the frightened person and of the hopeful person who expects a secure and calm situation are known. The emotional responses of the defeated and victorious are clearly known. The defeated person can feel so desperately downhearted that he cannot see because his visual function is diminished and despairing. However, the victorious person's sight significantly increases so much so that the light in the air looks like it has increased and grown. This is so clear that it is unnecessary to explain it.

Physicians have taught, because of this, that a person must constantly be concerned about and aware of emotional activities in his personality. One must keep them in balance when healthy or sick. No other health regimen may take precedence over this in any way. The physician should want every sick person to be relieved of a troubled emotional disposition, and should see every healthy person as having a cheerful disposition, such that [the physician] removes all activities of the personality which cause troubled emotions [anxiety, depression, gloom, etc.]. In this manner, the health of the healthy person is maintained. This is a highest priority in healing any person who is ill, especially when his illness relates to the personality or its powers, such as hypochondria or morbid melancholy. Concern about emotional activities of the personality in these people is of utmost necessity. Likewise for any person overtaken by worry, obsession, fear about things about which it is not normal to be afraid, or a person who distances himself from things which he was previously close which were pleasant experiences. In all of these [people], the physician should make nothing a higher priority than improving the emotional condition of the person's mind by removing all of these [extreme, unhealthy, negative] emotions.

However, inasmuch as he is a physician, the physician must not investigate or believe that his [medical] craft and knowledge can get rid of these [unhealthy] emotions. In fact, this capability is obtained from practical philosophy and from the moral admonitions and discipline of the Torah. Just as the scholars compiled books regarding the various sciences, so have they also compiled many books regarding the of moral virtues and disciplining the personality to develop moral virtues so that only good actions come from it. They warn against personality imperfections and teach how to remove them, should one find any of these [negative, imperfect] characteristics in his personality, until that condition that brings [the person to any] evil action is eliminated. Similarly, the moral disciplines of the Torah, the warnings and commandments which were taken from the prophets, may peace be upon them, from their instruction and their character, or from the subsequent sages, and the knowledge of their virtuous behavior, aid in the improving the virtues of the personality, until it acquires virtuous characteristics and only good actions [and temperament] come from it. Thus, you observe that these emotions only have meaningful impact on low level people who have no wisdom or knowledge of philosophical virtues, moral discipline or the admonitions of the Torah, particularly children, women and the uncultured. These people have fragile souls. Because of this, they become anxious and frightened. You observe that when harm comes to them, or when something unfortunate or catastrophic occurs to them, their anxiety increases. They yell, cry, slap their cheeks and beat their breasts. It can happen that sometimes the situation becomes so terrible in his perception that this low level person dies suddenly or after some time, owing to the stress and grief that overtake him. Likewise, when these low level souls have a good thing, from among the good things of this world, happen to them, their joy increases as a result. This low level person believes that he has acquired a great good, because of his lack of spiritual virtue. He will become driven after and will brag about the great good that he has acquired. Because of this, this person becomes greatly agitated. His laughter and wild merriment increase so much that some of these people die from excessive joy. This is from the dissolving and melting of the spirit which was intensely and suddenly turning outward, as was taught by Galen. This happens because of this soul's fragile softness and its ignorance of the true reality of things.

On the other hand, people who have learned and internalized philosophical virtues, and the moral discipline and admonitions of the Torah, acquire strong minds. These are the truly courageous. Their spirit does not change and is not affected, except [when it is changed or affected, it is rare and only] slightly. The more one internalizes moral admonition and discipline, the less he is affected by these two situations. I mean to say [the morally developed person is less affected by] a situation of good or a situation of harm. [A good] in a situation of this world is called imaginary good by the scholars. [The morally developed person] does not become agitated [from the worldly good] and he does not see it as great. Likewise, great harm or misfortune, from among the catastrophic evils of the world, are called imaginary catastrophes by the scholars. If [any of these worldly evils] come upon him, he is not anxious or frightened. He bears it in good spirit.

Surely a person this temperament in his personality when he contemplates the true reality of things and comes to knowledge of the nature of existence. The greatest good of this world does not remain with a person. Even if he has it all his life, it still is very insignificant because [all things of this world are] perishable and man, like all other living species, dies. The greatest evil in the world is likewise. When compared to death, which is inescapable, the greatest evil [of this world] is undoubtably less [evil or misfortune] than death. It follows that one should be less affected by any worldly evil [misfortune, harm] because it is less than the inescapable evil [death].

It is correct and truthful that the scholars have called the good things and evil things of this world imaginary goods and imaginary evils. The reason is that many good things that one imagines and thinks to be good are in truth evil, and many evil things that one imagines to be evil are in truth good. As an example, many a person has accumulated a great amount of money, attains honor and great power and possessions. These bring about the corruption of his body; the destruction of his soul through the degeneration of his moral character traits; the shortening of his life; and his distancing himself from G-d, may He be blessed, to Whom cleaving is the true good and eternal delight. Further, very many times a rich person has been robbed or his possessions have been lost to him, or a king has lost his kingdom. This [imagined evil] resulted in the improvement of his body, the perfection of his soul with virtuous moral traits, the lengthening of his life, his coming to be closer to G-d his Creator, and his cleaving to Him through serving Him. This is true ultimate good and eternal delight.

In truth, what your servant has just said in regard to the lengthening or shortening of life is derived from the teachings of the physicians, scholars and some of the authorities in religious laws which came before Islam. Basically, most of what the overall population consider to be good is in truth miserable, and most of what they consider to be miserable is in truth good. It is not the purpose of this document to articulate the truths of these matters, to explain them or to instruct their ways. Much wisdom has already be compiled on these matters in every generation and by every nation that has studied sciences. Your servant only cited all this information to motivate and to train the personality to reduce passions by serious study of books on moral virtues and principles, admonitions, and the teachings of intelligent people. [This is to be continued] until the soul becomes strengthened and it will recognize and know that what is true is truth and that which is imaginary is false. The passions of the personality diminish, evil or anxious thoughts will be eliminated, separation or distance from other people or society will discontinue, and his personality will expand so that the disposition will be pleasant in whatever situation the person will be in.

Here is a very good thing to contemplate. This reduces evil thoughts, worries and sorrows. It can even be that these may be completely eliminated if one keeps this contemplation in view in the forefront of his mind. This means if a person thinks of something and the thought causes him distress and this brings worry, sorrow or sadness; this can only be caused by one of two things. Either he is thinking about a thing that already has taken place and has happened to him, such as the loss of money or the death of a person for whom his heart grieves; or he is thinking about things that might come in the future and he fears that they are going to occur, such as someone who thinks and talks about harm that he expects.

Rational examination makes us know that thinking about what has happened and passed is of no benefit at all in any way, and that sadness and sorrow about things that have passed are behaviors of people whose understanding is defective. There is no difference between a person who has grief because he lost money, or similar causes, and a person who has grief because he is a person and not an angel or a heavenly body or any other thoughts which are about the impossibilities. Truly, considering this line of thinking, any thought which brings a person anxiety of the spirit about something which might come to happen in the future should be seen in the same manner [as attributing truth to the false or impossible, as defective thinking which ought to be eliminated]. This is because everything which a person anticipates is in the realm of possibility. It might happen. It might not happen. Therefore, the same way that he has distress and worry because what he anticipates might happen, he can and should improve his disposition through faith in G-d. And, it is possible to be encouraged and hopeful, by this agreeable state, that the opposite of what he anticipates will actually happen; since the thing which he fears might happen and its opposite are both possible.

This is the end of what your servant deemed necessary to include in this section.



In the five Torah portions from Parshas Trumah through Parshas Pikuday, the Torah tells of the building of the Mishkan (sanctuary, the forerunner of the Holy Temple).

When G-d commanded the building of the sanctuary, He used seemingly difficult language: "Build for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them." The rabbis ask the obvious question: "sanctuary" is singular, "dwell among them" is plural. What is the meaning of the change from one half of the sentence to the second half?

The answer is that the meaning behind the commandment to build the sanctuary is to create, through it, a model for holiness that each Jew is to emulate and learn from. By deeply studying the building of the sanctuary, we learn how to spiritually "build," to develop and perfect ourselves.

The sanctuary had to be built to very specific, detailed and difficult instructions. The materials and measurements had to be exacting and precise. The instruction for building the menora was so difficult that Moshe could not comprehend what it was to look like. The Torah says that Moshe was commanded to make the menorah (Ta'aseh) and, in the same sentence, Moshe was told "and it will be made (Tay'oseh)," a seeming redundancy. One of my rovs, Rabbi Avrohom Asher Zimmerman, z'l, said that we learn from this that the menorah was actually impossible for a human to make. We are commanded to do all that we can to achieve spiritual goals. By acting to the extent of our powers, with sincere, total and devoted effort, we will merit that G-d will bring our work to success and completion. Similarly, the gemora in Megila says that if one genuinely toils in a spiritual endeavor, it can be believed that he will find the result. In Parshas Pikuday, all of the parts of the Mishkan were completed but the people could not set it up. It took miraculous aid from G-d, which was merited due to their putting their complete hearts into their work.

In Parshais Vayakhail, the tribal leaders (Neseeyim) were insulted by the Torah by its leaving out the letter yud in their name, because of "laziness in giving." They said that the people could bring the materials that Moshe asked them to bring and what ever would still be needed, they would fill in. Although a seemingly generous offer (they may have had to bring much), they did three things wrong: they 1. judged the Jewish people disfavorably (presuming they would not contribute enough), 2. set up a situation where they had no part in the general contribution to the Mishkan and 3. set themselves apart from the rest of the Jewish people, undoing the unity of the Jewish people's effort and service of G-d that otherwise uniformly characterized the building of the sanctuary, and making themselves into a separate category of contributor to our national model of creating Jewish holiness.

The Torah tells us (in "Shma") that we are to love and serve G-d with all of our heart. Less than full effort, less than giving ourselves entirely over to Him is not enough.

The sanctuary required complete and devoted effort, from the bottom of every Jewish heart, to create the model for how we each can be so holy that G-d should dwell in each of us. From this we learn that building holiness in ourselves is a difficult job, yet we are commanded to undertake it with a total and genuine effort. It is a hard job, but if we are sincere, work to make ourselves holy, work on all of the details and instructions of the "assignment," repair our imperfections, work on self-perfection to the extent of our powers and give of ourselves in the service of G-d with all of our hearts; G-d will help make this otherwise impossible task come to fruition, give us success and dwell among each of us.