||MIDOS - THE ESSENTIAL JOB OF LIFE, PART TWO: THIRTY GOOD MIDOS EXPLAINED [One Through Eleven]
- Friday, January 25 '02 - Parshas Beshalach 5762
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. To be continued.