To Think about Rosh HaShana

45 Days to Rosh HaShana

45 is the gematria of Adam in Hebrew and Adam in Hebrew has the meaning of Mankind.

One Mitzvah is to "Be holy!" - תִׁהְיוּ קְדשִֹׁים - Tehiyu Kedoshim

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “First be a mensch - then be holy)!”.

The meaning of the word Mensch in Yiddish is to be a "good" person.

Be a mensch! According to tradition, one can begin to greet others with L'Shana Tova (Have a good year) from Tu B'Av (the 15th day of Av). And now comes the question - why do we begin this greeting from Tu B'Av which is 45 days before Rosh Hashana and not Rosh Chodesh Elul which may seem a more likely time as Elul comes exactly one month before Rosh Hashana and the whole month of Elul is considered preparation for a new year?

According to Chassidut and Kabbalah the fact that Tu B'Av is 45 days before Rosh Hashana is very significant and is connected to the Talmudic debate over which month the world was created in: Tishrei, the month in which Rosh Hashanah, the New Year of years falls, or Nisan, the month in which Pesach falls and which is the New Year of the months (Rosh Hashanah 11a). Both sides make numerous arguments, but the Talmud reaches no definitive conclusion. Rabbeinu Tam, a later commentator, explained the underlying unity of both opinions: the world was created in potential or in thought in Tishrei and in actuality in Nisan.

The word for "thought" in Hebrew is machshava. When those letters are permuted they spell choshav-mah - "to think of mah - the essence of a matter; Mah = 45; thus one can read this allegorically as: G-d began to think of creating the world 45 days before Rosh Hashana!!

That day is Tu B'Av - this year the evening of August 18 through sundown the 19th of August. What this tells us is that we too should already begin the process of thinking about the essence of our lives and how we can be better, stronger, deeper - in effect a Mensch or a Menschette. And how we can become a self-actualized Adam/person, to coincide with the birthday of Adam, on Rosh Hashana. [Rosh Hashanah 27a] No coincidence that 45 is also the gematria of the name Adam, man or person. We thus have a 45-day program to think about the essence of our lives. In doing so, we recall the famous teaching of Hillel:

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

Wemakom Sheain Anashim, HaShetadal Lehayot Yish.

"in a place where there are no men, strive to be a man." In short, Be a Mensch! We have 45 days until Rosh Hashana, the birthday of Adam, to contemplate this directive, to use it as the basis for our teshuvah of our miss-takes against G-d, our miss-takes against others, our miss-takes against ourselves.

LaShana Tova!

Meditation for Tu B'Av

Thought (machshavah) consists of the letters Chashav-Mah (think of Mem-Hei) -Mem-Hei refers to Yud & Hei & Vav & Hei, fully spelled with Aleph יוד הא ואו הא

Because of Jacob, who is called Israel, it is written: "So G-d created man in His own image" (Beresheet 1:27) after the likeness of his Master. See the atttached yichud/meditation featuring this Name to purify one's thoughts during this 45-day period.

From the Ari: the word Mach’shava (thought) can be read as Cha’Shav Mah (think of MaH). This means that one should visualize five times the extended expansion of Hashem’s Name Havaya filled with Alefs, called MaH, like so:

יוֹד יוֹד הֵא יוֹד הֵא וָׁאו יוֹד הֵא וָׁאו הֵא

יוֹד יוֹד הֵא יוֹד הֵא וָׁאו יוֹד הֵא וָׁאו הֵא

יוֹד יוֹד הֵא יוֹד הֵא וָׁאו יוֹד הֵא וָׁאו הֵא

יוֹד יוֹד הֵא יוֹד הֵא וָׁאו יוֹד הֵא וָׁאו הֵא

יוֹד יוֹד הֵא יוֹד הֵא וָׁאו יוֹד הֵא וָׁאו הֵא

During the next 45 days, return to this meditation several times daily, to become an Adam, a Mensch.

This is also a good meditation to cleanse ones thoughts at any time during the year.

Meditation for 16th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

In the Mishna, Hillel declares, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man."

This is usually taken to mean that when other people are acting in an indifferent or cowardly fashion, one should stand up and be a mature, courageous human being. But it could also mean that one should act as a mensch -- a decent person -- when there are no others around, in a place where there literally are no men. G-d may be always watching but many of us care less for G-d's good opinion than for that of our neighbors. So we may have to fall back on the old standby -- strength of character, the kind of rock solid soul that would lead one to be heroic, even alone, on a desert island.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and controversy [Martin Luther King]:

Rabbi Avraham Twerski writes: In a cheder, the teacher taught the children the halachah/recommended path that a relative may not testify at a trial. One of the children asked, "Granted that he cannot testify in favor of the relative, but why is his testimony not acceptable if he testifies against his relative?" One of the other children, who later became a great Torah scholar said, "I know why. The Torah says, 'Two mentschen will testify.' Anyone who testifies against a relative is disqualified because he is not a mentsch."

Contemplate: Do you want the judgment of your own actions to be done by the testimony of Mentschen? or a normal human being?

Meditation for 17th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Hillel's teaching ‘In a place where there are no men strive to be a man’ is shown by the story of how Hillel assumed the position of Nasi: when there was no one qualified to deal with the halachic questions regarding the Pesach offering, Hillel accepted the role because it was clear to him that he was more qualified than anyone else there.

What does this mean for women? How may a woman strive to ‘be a man’ when she is clearly a woman?? Perhaps the universal message is that we should be aware of our weaknesses but always strive to overcome them… *While Korbanot tzibbur, public offerings, were sacrificed on Shabbat and Yom Tov--and serve as the basis for our davening mussaf on these days--private sacrifices were not.

Similar to a public offering, the korban pesach was brought at a fixed time. On the other hand, the obligation to bring such rests on the individual, leading to uncertainty as to whether it may be brought on Shabbat. "This law escaped the B'nei Betirah; one time, the 14th [of Nissan] fell on a Shabbat, and they forgot and did not know if the Pesach sacrifice overrides the Shabbat. Is there anyone who knows if the Pesach [sacrifice] overrides Shabbat or not?" (Pesachim 66a). It must have been many years since erev Pesach had fallen on Shabbat, and no one recalled the correct practice. While many today find a Shabbat erev Pesach inconvenient, during Temple times, the inconvenience was even greater; and the Sanhedrin tried to avoid such an eventuality--something that was much easier to do with a non-fixed calendar. "They said to them, there is a person who made aliyah from Bavel--and Hillel the Bavli is his name--who served the two giants of the generation, Shemaya and Avtalyon, and he knows if Pesach overrides Shabbat". Hillel, through a careful analysis of the biblical text, demonstrated that yes, indeed, the korban pesach may and must be brought on Shabbat.

The B'nei Betirah, leaders of the Sanhedrin, immediately resigned, insisting Hillel become the Nasi, the President of the Sanhedrin. Upon his appointment, he rebuked them, declaring, "What caused for you that I should come from Bavel and become the Nasi over you? The laziness that you exhibited when you did not serve the two giants of the generation, Shemaya and Avtalyon". The B'nei Betirah displayed great insight and humility in resigning their posts. They recognized that they were not quite up to the task of religious leadership-perhaps even that they really were lazy, and did not properly serve their mentors.

While a religious leader can't know everything, to be paralyzed into action over a question that is easily foreseeable is a sign of weak leadership. To their great credit, they recognized such and immediately, even eagerly, stepped aside so that Hillel could become the Nasi. Such, ironically, are the character traits we should seek in our leaders. Hillel's critique was thus unnecessary, and even insensitive.

As he was appointed, Hillel was asked, "What if one forgot, and did not bring the knife on erev Shabbat? What would be the law?" and, measure for measure, Hillel responded, "This law I heard, but I forgot". The Talmud simply notes, "Whoever displays arrogance, if he is wise, his wisdom will depart from him" (ibid 66b). Hillel learned his lesson well. "A person should always be as humble as Hillel" (Shabbat 30b), and story after story is told of his great patience, humility, and simplicity. "And why does the law follow the ruling of Beit Hillel? Because they were pleasant and humble, and taught their views and the views of Beit Shammai" (Eiruvin 13b). Hillel both taught and inspired his students to lives of great humility. And thus, a "heavenly voice" declared, the law is in accordance with Beit Hillel

Contemplation: Humbleness begins with choosing to not be right. True or not?

Meditation for 18th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

We continue to expound upon Hillel's teaching: ‘In a place where there are no men strive to be a man.' My first Kabbalah teacher HaRav Ariel Bar Tzaddok here first answers our question yesterday "but what if you're a woman?" and then interprets the Mishna in his own inimical manner:

"This statement is as applicable to women as it is to men. For being a man, as Hillel means it, is a metaphor for standing up with courage and doing the right thing, especially in the face of opposition, the worst kind being apathy.

Today, Torah Judaism is under a many faceted attack from its enemies worldwide. These attacks take the form of attacks on Zionism, on the State of Israel, on Jewish patriots now referred to as Settlers (the inference being settlers in “Palestinian” lands), and in the form of attacks on religion, morality and on Jews in general. Do not lie to yourselves to think that all these things are unrelated. In the minds of the haters of the Jews, it does not matter if it is Zionism, Israel, Torah, Hasidim or secular Jews, all are hated with equal passion.

A weak minded Jew refuses to see the connections and thereby does not act to defend his own best interests. A Jew, however, who walks in the ways of Torah and who has faith in his/her G-d rises up to be a leader, to be a voice of conscience and inspiration in his/her community. This is the voice of passion and patriotism; the voice that does not compromise or weaken when attacked.

Today Hillel’s advice cries out to us ever so loudly. Jews and Judaism are under attack from so many different facets of our same old enemy. Unfortunately, our age-old enemies are not Amalakites, Nazis, or even Arabs. Our age-old enemy is our own weakness and lack of focus on our own best interests. For only one with wisdom can properly focus and foresee what is best not only for oneself but also for ones community. Only one with real tested and proven faith in G-d will acquire the necessary wisdom to be a leader. Be he a man or woman, “to be a man” means to be a community leader motivating the community to recognize and pursue their own best interests, to stand up for what it means to be a Jew, an Israeli, a citizen of the People of Israel. Of course, such boldness puts us into direct opposition with the forces that seek to destroy the Torah and the State of Israel. Our enemies seek to confuse our minds and weaken our resolves. They have been successful with many, especially with many in the Orthodox religious communities.

Well, enough is enough! In a place where there are no men, no voices of conscience and patriotism, one must rise up and become that voice. One must rise up to become that man, be he a male or female, for the Jewish people at large need such leadership.

The help wanted signs are up. Seeking patriotic, courageous G-d fearing leaders to direct the Jewish people in their struggles against self doubt and world condemnation. Applicants needs simply apply through prayer to G-d and then to take up their mantle with faith – and be a man. This is a non-sexist position. Indeed, some of the best “men” today are women. Men please take note.

Contemplate: How to become a Mentsch

Give people gifts other than those you buy

Become a talent hunter

Share ideas and information that can enrich

Spend more time in the beginners mind

Don't tell people what they can't do

minimize the space you take up - become a relationship antropologist

Be Happy for Others

Let go of grudges

Help others caress the rainbow

Help people feel better about themselves

View promises as unpaid debts

Meditation for 19th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

A commentary on the Pirkei Avot asks the following question:

In all times and in all places one should strive to be a man.

Why the emphasis of "In a place where there are no men?" The answer: Some people act very frum — pious — in the company of their friends, but when they are alone at home with no one watching, there is much to be desired.

For example, in shul they daven slowly and with much kavanah, but at home they rush through the davening in a few minutes. When invited to a catered meal they make many inquiries regarding kashrut, but in their home they are very lax and extremely lenient. To them Hillel says, "When you are in a place where there are no men," i.e. in the privacy of your home, "strive to be a man." Be the same [person] as you are when you are in the company of others. Bear in mind that though no one sees what you are doing, Hashem does.

Contemplate the ways you act differently among people then when you are at home or someplace by yourself.

What is the difference between a Jerk and a Mentsch?

Characteristics of a Jerk ------------------- Characteristics of a Mentsch

1. They interrupt -------------------- They don't interrupt

2. They don't take turns ------------------- They take turns

3. They take advantage of people who are down ---- They don't take advantage of people who are down

4. They gloat in victory ----------------------------- They are gracious in victory

5. They are sullen in defeat ------------------------ They are noble in defeat

6. They are not fair ------------------------- They are consummately fair

7. They lack integrity ------------------------- They have integrity

8. They are the people you hope you don't grow up to be l ike -------- They are the people you hope you grow up to be like

9. They are the people you would not want your sister, brother, or child to marry ------- They are the people you would want your sister, brother, or child to marry

10. They are the kind of person you want to avoid when possible -------- They are the people you want to be around whenever you can

The choice is yours

Contemplate why a Mentsch acts like he or she does

Meditation for 20th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

That's the literal translation, but clearly the word איש eesh - man and אנשים anashim - men mean more than a matter of gender or simply a human being, in this context.

The word mensch can also be translates literally as “man” but it has a much deeper meaning as we see from the definition provided by Wikipedia: Mensch means "a person of integrity and honor.”….

According to Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, mensch is "someone to admire and emulate; someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.”

In Yiddish (from which the word has migrated into American English), mensch roughly means "a good person." A "mensch" is a particularly good person, like "a stand-up guy," a person with the qualities one would hope for in a dear friend or trusted colleague.

Menschlichkite are the properties which make one a mensch. When Moshe looks from side to side to see if there was anyone around, he was not acting out of self-interest. Moshe was looking for an eesh, someone to take action; a mensch in the larger sense of the word. When he realized that it was up to him to act, he did so.

In this sense, Moshe’s act was not impulsive but premeditated. There are times we must take action even though it is not necessarily in our own self-interest. His defense of the Israelite slave would put him on a trajectory that would lead to leadership and eventually to Mount Sinai.

Maimonides and Rabbi Shimon Duran offer other perspectives on menschlichkite. To be a mensch is not an easy thing to accomplish; it is a struggle. The natural human response is to act out of self interest and self gratification. We struggle with ourselves to serve the greater good while taking care of ourselves. Sometimes we must teach ourselves how to be a mensch if there is no one else around to teach us how to accomplish this goal in our lives.

Rabbi Duran offers an even more surprising perspective in menschlichkite. For the sages, the highest of all callings is the study of Torah – there are dozens of aphorisms in Avot that express this sentiment. And yet sometimes menschlichkite necessitates our parting ways with Talmud Torah so that we can strive for the greater good of society. Rabbi Duran uses the example of Moshe smashing the Ten Commandments and suggests, based on an interesting reading of a verse in Psalms, that there are times when we must abrogate the law in the greater interests of pursuing the higher callings of society.

Contemplate: Look at your actions that hurt another person. Was this action necessary in the context of the higher callings of society? Do not use this as an excuse but evaluate it honestly. Was there another way to acheive this goal?

Meditation for 21st of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

At times I've been surrounded by pseudo-individuals, sheep who pretended to be men by being anti-establishment. Of course, being “anti” is itself sheep-ish. Those who define themselves by what they are not are also letting someone else define them!

Personally, I prefer an honest sheep to a fake man any time. But Rabbi Hillel is saying more than this. He is saying that there is value in being part of a community – that you shouldn’t be “an individual” for its own sake, for the egotistical desire to “be a man”. This is a pseudo-individualism that is worth less than nothing. On the other hand, when there is a good reason to be an individual, when no one else is standing up for what’s right – it needs to be YOU.

Meditation for 22nd of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Russian Proverb: If there is no fish, even crawfish is fish

Yiddish Proverb: If there is no fish, even Herring is a fish

The Hebrew quotation urges the highest ethical standard, but it is contradicted by the Russian proverb, which accepts an inferior option as good enough. The two references are playfully linked through the rhyme of ish("man" in Hebrew) and fish ("fish" in Yiddish). The Yiddish proverb substitutes herring for crawfish because while both are considered "poor man's food," the unkosher crawfish would not be acceptable to Jews. (Explanation from Benjamin Harshav, The Meaning of Yiddish.) A simpler version of the saying omits the Talmudic reference and parallels the Russian proverb: Az s'iz nito keyn fish iz hering oykh fish. - אַז ס'איז ניטאָ קיין פֿיש איז הערינג אויך פֿיש

If there is no fish, even herring is fish

Contemplate how a fish who lives in water all of its life - water is a code word in Torah for Torah - is like a man.

Meditation for 23rd of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

The Rambam commented about this passage: The word Strive/Hishtadel means “wrestle with oneself”, and also “force yourself to acquire good qualities”.

As this might not be your natural inclination when the day comes… How much can you Mensch?

Sanhedrin 4:5 reads--"Hashem minted all men from the mold of Adam, and not one is like another. Therefore, everyone is obligated to say, "For my sake was the world created." One might ask, inasmuch as the Torah requires that a person be extremely humble, and Hashem's Presence is repelled by ga'avah/pride, isn't the statement, "The world was created for me," very egoistic? The Chassidic masters said that a person should have 2 pockets. In one he should have the statement, "The world was created for me," and in the other the statement, "I am but dust and ashes." Ga'avah is the feeling that one is superior to and more deserving than other people.

The Chofetz Chaim was obviously aware that he knew the entire Torah, else he would not have assumed the role of being a major authority on halachah/law. Yet he was the paragon of humility.

Hashem created the world for a purpose, and a mensch has the obligation to fulfill that purpose, saying: If I were the only human being in existence, I would have the awesome responsibility of fulfilling the purpose of Creation. Inasmuch as there are other people, they share the awesome responsibility with me, but that does not detract from my own personal obligation. Thus, 'The world was created for me.' Yet, I must realize that 'I am but dust and ashes.'"

Action: Do you have these 2 statements in your pockets? why not? Contemplate how both these thoughts are unified

Meditation for 24th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Perhaps we should term אנשים anashim as "leaders." So suggests Artscroll. So, "in a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader."

Where there is no one to accept communal and spiritual responsibility and provide leadership, we are bidden to rise to the occasion and fill the role. The implication, however is that where there are compentent "men", we are to stand aside and devote ourselves to the study of Torah, as noted by Rashi.

Rabbi Yonah asserts that the "leader", the "man", is someone to direct us upon the proper path of G-d's service. In the absence of such a person, we must strive to improve ourselves. We all can be a mensch! The essence of G-d’s greatness is that the very person who is most distant from Him and most attached to physicality can and should serve Him. Such service is G-d’s greatest pleasure and delight! (Letter of Reb Nosson #213 - Main Student of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)

Contemplation: In your life How can you know when to drop Torah study to become a man/leader?

Meditation for 25th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

This is a lesson from the Chabad Rebbe

My father served as chief rabbi of Dniepropetrovsk, a major city in Ukraine, which supplied wheat to large parts of Russia. When the time came to prepare flour for matzah, people flocked from the surrounding areas seeking flour that was certified kosher for Passover. At the government’s request, my father accepted this responsibility, but he informed the authorities that, despite the cost, he must adjust some of their production procedures as well as appoint his own kosher supervisors. After accusing him of trying to rob the state, they sent my father to Moscow to take up his issue with the president of Russia himself. After meeting with the president’s circle, he returned with permission in hand, accompanied by an official order that the rabbinical supervisors’ instructions must be followed, no matter the cost. The lesson: when a Jew wants to raise his children according to his beliefs, and when he wants to observe any part of Jewish law, he need only stand proudly and appeal to the proper authorities. Not only won’t they obstruct him, they’ll command others to assist him as well.

Contemplate: How does this lesson apply to your participation in doing and living Mitzvot. Particularly the Mitzvah of Shabbat; the Mitzvah of Family Purity; the Mitzvah of Challah vs earning a living.

Meditation for 26th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky writes on this Mishnah [Life's Daily Blessings (p. 155)]:

" I never thought that the Rabbis were being gender specific--particularly here, but in most places. And while the literal translation of the Yiddish word mensch is man, it really means a great deal more.

Thus "strive to be a human being" and "strive to be a mensch" basically mean the same thing. Strive to exhibit the best of the G-d given traits you can muster. Be gracious to the other. Be kind to the other. Treat each other fairly. When no one else is doing so, stand up and be the exception. In her own way my grandmother used to say this every day when I left to go to school as a young child. She never said, "Have a good day at school" or "Be good." She always said, "Be amensch." And that was all I needed to hear."

Perhaps that's all we need to hear, for our kol demama daka, that silent still voice of Shechinah within, constantly calls to us [from Mt. Horev] daily, "Be a mensch." הַיּוֹם, אִׁם-בְקלֹוֹ תִׁשְמָעוּ Listen to your mother - Be a Mentsch.

Oh that we harken to that voice. Today!

Meditation: Try to hear that voice - the still small voice inside you saying "Be a Mentsch".

Meditation for 27th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid says: "Be like Pinchas and stand up for the right thing even if no one else does."

Pinchas has always been a problem in terms of menschlichkeit. We are told that this Parasha begins where it does, in the middle of the narrative – to cause an interruption between the violent act and the divine response, in order the record the disapproval of the Babylonian rabbis who divided the sidrot.

A distance is created between the horror of what he did, and the reward that G-d seems to offer. To read the story straight through would cause us many problems with G-d – how can such a terrible act be so calmly and gladly acceptable? The Rabbis of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 82b) struggle with the story too.

The act of Pinchas is repugnant. Rabbi Yochanan deals with the problem by giving all the responsibility to G-d : Rabbi Yochanan taught that Pinchas was able to accomplish his act of zealotry only because G-d performed six miracles:

First, upon hearing Pinchas’s warning, Zimri should have withdrawn from Cozbi and ended his transgression, but he did not.

Second, Zimri should have cried out for help from his fellow Simeonites, but he did not.

Third, Pinchas was able to drive his spear exactly through the sexual organs of Zimri and Cozbi as they were engaged in the act.

Fourth, Zimri and Cozbi did not slip off the spear, but remained fixed so that others could witness their transgression.

Fifth, an angel came and lifted up the lintel so that Pinchas could exit holding the spear.

Sixth, an angel came and sowed destruction among the people, distracting the Simeonites from killing Pinchas.

(B Talmud Sanhedrin 82b.)

Pinchas becomes simply the conduit of G-d’s will, and his act of individual violence is subsumed under the divine plan.

But this isn’t the only rabbinic struggle with the text:

on the same page of Talmud we read that after Pinchas killed Zimri and Cozbi, the Israelites began berating him for his presumption, as he himself was descended from a Midianite idolater, Jethro. ..

To counter this attack, G-d detailed Pinchas’s descent from the peaceful Aharon the Priest. And then G-d told Moses to extend a greeting of peace to Pinchas, so as to calm the crowd.

Sanhedrin 82b.

Here the Rabbis show the Israelites shifting the responsibility for Pinchas’ actions not onto G-d, but onto Pinchas’ own mixed ancestry, implying that Pinchas maybe wasn’t quite ‘one of us’, his actions perhaps not those of a mensch, not like the HaChassid statement quoted at the top.

In these examples we see that the Rabbinic tradition felt both a revulsion for what Pinchas did, and a need to transform the event in some way; to try to reconcile our disgust at his act, with G-d’s approval of it. While G-d may have valued Pinchas’ actions enough to offer him the reward of the priesthood, our tradition remains uncomfortable. We find reasons for this reward – it was given because the plague stopped, it is because he saved the people, it is for anything but the actual act of violent murder without judicial process that it seems to be.

So the question remains: was Pinchas a mensch or not?

Contemplation: Does the approval of HaShem make a Mentsch; or is it the approval of men that makes a Mentsch; or does the actions themselves stand on their own?

Meditation for 28th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Midrash Shmuel adds "strive to be a man" and acquire perfection.

Rabbi Harold Kushner has suggested, in contrast, “a mensch is not a saint or perfect person but a person from whom all falsehood, all selfishness, all vindictiveness have been burned away so that only a pure [authentic] self remains." [When All You Have Wanted Isn't Enough (1986), p. 135]

What about this term "perfect"? נחַֹ אִׁיש צַדִׁיק תָּמִׁים הָּיָּה, בְדרֹתָֹּיו

Noah was a tzaddik (righteous man) and perfect in his generations.

The rabbinic commentators battle over whether this description is positive or negative. No matter which side it falls out, the bottom line is that Noach is not considered the founding father of Judaism which begs the question “why not?”

The Midrash says that not only did Noah build the ark but that he actually grew the trees to build it which took 120 years! It says that he in fact G-d specifically wanted this to take place over such a long period of time as well as appear odd, if not absurd to his neighbors, to instigate the conversation about G-d’s intentions. If that were not enough G-d instructed Noah to spend the time alerting the world to the peril, and the need to repent and follow him into the ark. Yet the Torah records no one joining Noah in the ark. So if Noah wasn't perfect, was he a mensch?

chanoch's Commentary

The word Tamim is better translated as complete rather than perfect.

Contemplate: Was Noah a Mentsch? He was not perfect but he was complete as far as he went. Does a Mentsch need to go farther to the level of a Tzadik or not?

Meditation for 29th of Av

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Ruach Chaim says: (1) it is beneficial to occasionally distance yourself from human company in order to meditate. (2) Even when you are alone and no man sees you, strive to act like a man, for Hashem sees all. The first teaching reminds us of hitbodedut, a technique perfected by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and his Chassidim: Likutey Moharan Tinyana: 25 Set aside time each day to meditate and pray alone in a room or some meadow and express your innermost thoughts and feelings and personal prayers to G-d. Use every kind of appeal and argument. Use words that will endear you to G-d and win His favor. Plead with G-d to draw you closer and let you truly serve Him. This is Hitbodedut. You should hold these conversations in whatever language you speak best. Our set prayers are said in Hebrew, but if this is not one's native language, it is difficult to use it to give expression to all one's innermost thoughts and feelings and the heart is less drawn after the words. It is easier to pour out your heart and say everything you need in your own language. You should tell G-d everything you feel, be it contrition and longing to repent over the past or requests and supplications to come truly close to God from now on, each person according to his level. Be very careful to get into the habit of spending time every day on your personal prayers and meditation. Fix a regular time for this and then be happy for the rest of the day! Hitbodedut is of the greatest value. It is the way to come closer to G-d, because it includes everything else. No matter what you lack in your service of G-d, even if you feel totally remote from His service, tell G-d everything and ask Him for all that you need. If at times you find yourself unable to speak to G-d or even open your mouth, the very fact that you are there before Him wanting and yearning to speak is itself very good. You can even turn your very inability to speak into a prayer. Tell G-d that you feel so far away that you cannot even speak to Him! Ask Him to have mercy on you and open your mouth to tell Him what you need. Many great and famous Tzaddikim have said that all their achievements came only through Hitbodedut. Anyone with understanding can recognize the supreme value of this practice, which ascends to the most sublime heights. This advice applies to everyone equally, from the very least to the very greatest. Everyone is capable of practicing it and can attain great levels. Happy are all who persist in it. It is also good to turn Torah teachings into prayers. When you study or hear a teaching of a true Tzaddik, make a prayer out of it. Ask G-d when you too will be able to fulfill this teaching. Tell Him how far from it you are and beg Him to help you attain everything contained in the lesson. A person of understanding who wants the truth will be led by G-d in the path of truth, and he will learn how to practice Hitbodedutand offer words of grace and sound arguments to persuade G-d to bring him to true service. Hitbodedut rises to a very high place. This applies especially to turning Torah teachings into prayers, which creates the greatest delight above. Hitbodedut is the highest level: it is greater than everything. (2) And while we are alone with G-d, we should behave as in the presence of the King: וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת, עִׁם-אֱלֹהֶיךָ "Walk modestly with your G-d”—[Micah 6:8]. A staple of Jewish life is modesty. In the way we walk down the street, in the way we interact with others, and in the way we dress. As G-d’s children, we must act and look the part, conducting ourselves with dignity and modesty. Modesty does not mean a denial of self, nor does it force us into hiding. Rather, it creates a private area—a dignified space—in which we can work to excel, without concern for external judgment and approval. And even when we are alone, in the most private of places, we must also be appropriately dressed, for there is no place where G-d is not present.

Meditation for Rosh Chodesh Alef Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Tiferet Yisrael comments: You must not fool yourself. Even when you are surrounded by lesser men who see you as a giant, you must know that you are but a man. You should not rely on your limited wisdom, however great it is in the estimation of others. One time, the great Rabbi, the Chofetz Chaim, was riding on a train to his home town of Radin. At one of the stops, a Jewish man got on the train and sat down next to the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim said, “Shalom Aleichem, where are you traveling to?” the man didn’t know who he was sitting next to so he answered, “To Radin to visit the great Chofetz Chaim.” The Chofetz Chaim was a very modest person so he said, “The Chofetz Chaim is not so great.” The man was very sad to hear this old man say bad things about the Chofetz Chaim. “How can you say bad things about the Chofetz Chaim? He is one of the greatest tzadikim that ever lived.” The Chofetz Chaim answered, “I know him and he’s not such a great tzadik.” When he heard those words the man became very angry. He hit the Chofetz Chaim and changed to a different seat. As the train came to Radin, the man was very surprised to see that a large group of people had come to meet the old man. He asked them why they had come to meet this old man and they told him, “Because he is the great Chofetz Chaim.” When the man heard this, he ran over to the Chofetz Chaim with tears streaming down his face and begged for forgiveness. The Chofetz Chaim felt very bad because he had made the man so sad. He said that now he had learned a lesson. Just as we must never say loshon hara about other people, we must never say bad things about ourselves. We too can learn that the great Chofetz Chaim too knew that he was but a man...

Meditation for Rosh Chodesh Beit Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Meiri comments that if one cannot find a mentor or friend to teach him and offer him constructive criticism, he should strive to be his own leader and to offer himself corrective advice, striving to grow until he becomes a person of distinction.

Furthermore, a person should never be satisfied with his spiritual attainments, no matter where he is. Even in a place where there are no people who occupy a greater spiritual place than he, he should not rest on his laurels. Under such circumstances, the Mishnah instructs him that he must still strive to be a man, seeking to emulate the great people of earlier times and working toward greater achievements.

הוא היה אומר : לא עליך המלאכה לגמור ולא אתה בן חורין לבטל ממנה

He [Rabbi Tarfon] used to say: It is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to be idle from it.

A Mensch is not silent in the face of wrongdoing Eduyot 3:12:

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah's cow would go out into the public domain on Shabbat with a strap that is between its horns... A person may not allow his animal to go into the public thoroughfare on Shabbat wearing a burden.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah held that a decorative band was not a burden, but the Sages did not want to distinguish between this and any other thing that the animal may carry. The Talmud says that this was not Rabbi Elazar's cow, but that it was his neighbor's, but because he was silent and did not restrain his neighbor, it was referred to as "Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah's cow." [Shabbat 54b]

The message is that for a mensch if you have the ability to stop someone from committing a sin but do not do so, it is considered as if though you yourself had committed the sin. Indeed, the Talmud says that if a person fails to restrain an individual from doing a sin, he is held culpable for that person's sin.

If he had the ability to stop his community from committing a sin, he is culpable for the sin of the entire community. [Shabbat 54b]

Some folks choose to remain passive when wrongs are committed. They say, "I don't want to get involved." The Talmud holds them culpable. When we see wrongdoing, we must voice our protest, even though we may be powerless to stop it. [based on R. Twerski]

chanoch adds: The Halacha is "to admonish a friend one must first know in his heart that he loves that person". Plus "ignorance is not an excuse under both spiritual and physical laws".

Contemplate: How does one reconcile these two seemingly contracdictory spiritual laws? Answer: one is held accountable for the sin of his friend because he does not love him in his heart.

Meditation for 2nd Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Artscroll gives over the Sages' teaching: "A person should say, 'When will my actions reach the spiritual level of my ancestors?' [Tanna d'Vei Eliyahu 25.]

Rabbi Bunam of Pshishcha questioned this premise: can one actually reach this exalted level?

Rather, he explained, one must to attempt to at least touch the level his ancestors attained [the word yagia "reach" is rendered here as yiga meaning "to touch"]

One will grow by attempting to barely touch the level of those who came before him, for by doing so he will emotionally stretch himself to his limits.

On the verse: אִׁיש עַל-דִׁגְלוֹ בְאתֹתֹ לְבֵית אֲבתָֹם

"Each person to his flag with signs for the house of their ancestors". Sefat Emet writes: Every individual must ask himself, "When will my deeds reach the level of those of my ancestors?"

Our goal should be that our ancestors' achievements will act as a "signpost" for our own actions.

chanoch adds: In the orthodox tradition, in the morning prayer we say the verse from the Tanach: Tehillim Chapter 5 Verse 8 parsed in the following way: ואני ברב חסדך אבוא ביתך Line 1

אשתחוה אל-היכל-קדשך Line 2

ביראתך Line 3

As taught by the ARI the kavenah is that when saying line 1 think that you have reached the level of Avraham; When saying line 2 think that you have reached the level of Itzhak; When saying line 3 think that you have reached the level of Yaacov. then contemplate that now that you have reached the level of the Forefathers it is your responsibility to grow to a higher level

The Talmud teaches that we are higher than the forefathers because even though they did all the 613 Mitzvot they did not have the requirements of the Torah and it is human nature to resist anyone's order to do something even and in my opinion especially when it is HaShem.

Contemplate: Is it possible to reach a spiritual level higher than the forefathers? Also Why did HaShem create humankind to resist orders?

Meditation for 3rd of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

One should never settle for mediocrity in spiritual matters, according to the Ponovezher Rav. This is the key to solving a puzzling prophecy:

הִׁנֵּה יָמִׁים בָאִׁים, נְאֻם אֲדנָֹי יְהוִׁה, וְהִׁשְלַחְתִׁי רָעָב, בָאָרֶץ: לֹא-רָעָב לַלֶחֶם, וְלֹא-צָמָא לַמַיִׁם--כִׁי אִׁם-לִׁשְמעַֹ , אֵּת דִׁבְרֵּי יְהוָה

Behold, days are coming, says G-d, and I will send famine in the land. Not famine for bread nor thirst for water, but rather hunger to hear the word of G-d.

This does not seem like a terrible tragedy at all; if anything, it seems to portend a spiritual awakening. The Rav explained: a hungry person is so desperate for food that he will eat anything, even unappetizing food, and if he is thirsty, even filthy water will seem refreshing.

The prophet teaches that the unbearable lack of food for the soul will be so oppressive at that time that people will settle for a diluted version of Torah and synthetic religious experiences. Rather than experiencing the full vibrancy of Torah, they will settle for poor imitations of the real thing. Our Mishnah teaches us not to be satisfied with any spiritual status that is less than the best we can achieve. (Artscroll).

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's suggestions on this point are so myriad, it is so worth your while to read this lenghty discussion:

13 Ways To Become a Good Person Jewish pointers on living a good and ethical life.

by Joseph Telushkin

The Torah holds a skeptical view of human nature. Disappointed by humankind's propensity for violence and dishonesty, God laments, "The tendency of man's heart is towards evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21).

In other words, we are born morally neutral, with strong inclinations toward evil. In Jewish teachings, this "evil inclination" is not considered all bad. The rabbis of the Talmud taught that a good person should not endeavor to fully eradicate the yetzer hara, or evil inclination (the counter balance to the yetzer tov, the inclination for good), for within it resides the aggressive instincts that prompt creativity and achievement. Without the yetzer hara,the rabbis speculated, we would not engage in business, build homes, marry, or have children (Genesis Rabbah 9:7).

So, for example, our motives for engaging in sexual relations might emanate from lust (yetzer hara) no less than love (yetzer tov), but out of such mixed motives something very pure, a new life, emerges.

From Judaism's perspective, therefore, greatness of character is not measured by our lack of an evil inclination, but by our success in controlling it.

The rabbis of the Talmud also taught that "The greater the scholar, the greater his evil inclination" (Sukkah 52a). In other words, someone who possesses pronounced capabilities will find himself presented with a greater number of illicit opportunities around which he will have to exert considerable self-control.

For example, it is a greater moral achievement for a person who has built up his business from scratch to remain scrupulously honest in his dealings than for one who has always been employed by another, for the latter has less to gain from financial chicanery.

Similarly, it is a greater act of character for a person of good looks and a sensual disposition not to lead a promiscuous life than for one who does not possess this disposition and is afforded few such opportunities.

It is important for us to be aware of our own "evil" inclinations so we may channel them for good. For example, if we know we have a strong need to be admired, we might strive to become well-known for doing good deeds. Some people deride philanthropists who donate large sums of money to a university or hospital building campaign and insist that a building be named for them, but such behavior may demonstrate a proper amalgamation of both good and "evil" inclinations. The person's yetzer tov prompts her to contribute to a good cause, and she has channeled her yetzer hara's desire for acclaim into an activity that is worthy of it.

Developing Goodness Judaism regards improving character as the goal of life. As the Midrash teaches, "The Torah's commandments were not given to humankind for any purpose other than to refine people" (Genesis Rabbah44:1).

Based on Jewish teachings, here are 13 paths towards becoming a person of goodness.

1. Do good deeds often. We become good people not by thinking good thoughts but by doing good deeds again and again, until they become part of our nature. Maimonides teaches that it is better to give needy recipients one gold coin on a thousand different occasions than to give someone a thousand gold coins all at the same time, for "if he opens up his hand again and again one thousand times, the trait of giving becomes part of him" (commentary on The Ethics of the Fathers 3:19).

2. Cultivate the friendship of people who are both good and wise. In his "Laws of Character Development" (6:1), Maimonides says, "It is in the nature of human beings to be influenced in their opinions and actions by their friends and neighbors....Therefore, a person should strive to become friendly with righteous people, and to stay in the presence of those who are wise, so that one will learn from their actions." Experiencing friendships like these and spending time among kind people will inspire us to want to become better. If, for example, we spend time in a household where the family members speak to each other in a consistently loving manner, it is likely that we--at least while we are with these people--will also speak in a calmer, more loving way. The same wisdom applies when we seek out a new home. Whereas most of us chose a home based on its beauty, from a Jewish perspective it is more important to ascertain the character of the people who live in the neighborhood--the environment in which we and our children will live and the people with whom we will associate. The better their characters, the more likely we and our children will grow in goodness.

3. Avoid people with bad character and unkind dispositions. The Book of Psalms [1:1] states: "Fortunate is the person who doesn't follow the advice of the wicked, who doesn't associate with sinful people, and who doesn't spend time among scoffers." People with bad characters can easily influence us to become like them. The contagious quality of bad character helps explain the phenomenon of children from "good homes" who engage in self-destructive and/or criminal behavior. Frequently they have been swayed by bad companions who exert a stronger influence.

4. Live up to the reputation to which you aspire. Judaism places great value on maintaining a good name. Even at the time when men dominated the household, the rabbis ruled that if a man forbade his wife from helping her neighbors, she could have a court compel him to grant her a divorce. Otherwise the woman would acquire a bad name among her neighbors (Ketubot 72a). My grandfather, Rabbi Nissen Telushkin, used to advise people, "Don't be so concerned with being humble that you try to hide from others all knowledge of the good you do. It is good to be known as something of atzaddik, a righteous person. If nothing else, you'll be afraid to do something bad because you'll fear that it will become known, and will harm your good name." In short, if you're proud to have a good name, you will never want to do something to sully your reputation.

5. See every act you do as one of great significance. Maimonides suggests that we regard ourselves as being equally balanced between good and evil, and the world itself as similarly balanced. Thus, a single good act will tip the balance toward good in our own life, and in the world. Conversely, one bad deed will tip the balance toward evil ("Laws of Repentance" 3:4).

Criminologists know that when broken windows in a neighborhood remain unrepaired, crime, including violent crime, in the area increases; the shattered glass becomes a signal to potential offenders that this is a neighborhood where disorder is accepted and crime tolerated. Fixing broken windows can thereby tip the balance of the neighborhood toward more civil behavior; and ignoring such a seemingly minor detail might pave a path toward moral deterioration.

6. If you offer personal prayers to God for your own well-being and success, pray for others before you pray for yourself. Offering such prayers helps us develop greater empathy for others. Often, when we hear of someone else's hardship, we feel a momentary sense of sympathy and concern, but soon forget about it. But if, each morning, we spend a few minutes praying for others, their hardships and needs will remain fresh in our consciousness. In so doing, we may help them--such as the case of a man who prayed daily for his unemployed friend and was thus prompted to make a considerable effort to help him find work, and eventually his efforts paid off.

7. Cultivate and develop your moral strengths. Commenting on the verse "Follow the path of your heart" (Ecclesiates 11:9), the nineteenth-century rabbinic scholar Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv) taught that each of us must find our own way of serving God. One person may carry out his Divine service and fulfill his life's mission primarily through Torah study, another through prayer, and a third by means of charity and acts of loving-kindness. Clearly, these are not mutually exclusive, but represent a person's primary focus. It is incumbent on each of us to discover the path for which we have a natural affinity and cultivate it. If, for example, you have the ability to listen to people, console them, and help them make decisions, you might choose to perform this mitzvah for others. Conversely, if you have a nervous or morose disposition, it would be wise not to choose bikur cholim (visiting the sick) as your particular mitzvah. Ask yourself what you can do best in the service of others. If, for example, you enjoy cooking, contribute a home-cooked meal to a housebound person.

8. Keep a daily "character journal" focusing exclusively on the area in which you wish to improve yourself. If we are honest and comprehensive in what we record, we will soon note patterns in the events that can provide insights into our inappropriate behaviors. For example, if we are prone to lashon hara (gossiping), we might realize that we are most apt to pass on personal information during lunchtime at work or dinnertime at home. By acquiring such awareness in advance, we can take steps to avoid such behavior in the future (see point 9). Keeping a journal will help us to lead the kind of life we want, instead of allowing ourselves to be controlled by emotions and impulses.

9. When trying to correct a bad trait, temporarily embrace the opposite extreme. As a medieval commentator on Maimonides explains, "To strengthen a bent bamboo cane, we [must] bend it in the opposite direction, until it bounces back to the middle. If we bend it back only to the middle, it will remain permanently misshapen." Although going to extremes is usually counterproductive, sometimes we need to do so for the short term to achieve balance. For example, if you have a tendency to gossip about other people's faults, for the next week do not allow yourself to say anything bad about anyone, even if it is well-intentioned. If you tend towards stinginess, over the next few months, donate one or two of your best garments to an organization that helps the poor.

10. Avoid even sins that seem minor because, as a rabbinic maxim teaches, "One sin will lead to another" (The Ethics of the Fathers 4:2). The Bible teaches that King Ahab violated the Tenth Commandment by coveting the vineyard of a man named Navot which adjoined his winter palace. He offered to buy the land, but Navot refused and Ahab returned home depressed. When his wife, Queen Jezebel, learned of his upset, she arranged for two witnesses to offer perjured testimony that Navot had cursed both God and king, a capital crime for which Navot was executed and his estate confiscated. Jezebel then rushed to her husband with the happy news: "Come take possession of the vineyard of Navot...for Navot is no longer alive; he is dead" (I Kings 21). What began with Ahab's violation of the Tenth Commandment against coveting quickly led to violations of the Ninth Commandment (against bearing false witness), the Sixth Commandment (against murder), and the Eighth Commandment (against stealing).

11. When confronted with a situation that leaves you uncertain as to whether you are taking the right action, ask yourself one question: "What is motivating me to act in this way, my yetzer tov(good inclination) or my yetzer hara (evil inclination)?" Just answering this question will usually determine the appropriate course of action.

12. Look at your life from the future. As moral educator Michael Josephson teaches: "If you want to know how to live your life, think about what you would like people to say about you after you die--then live backwards." All of us can strive to leave a legacy of goodness. As the rabbis taught, "Righteous people are even greater after their deaths than in their lives" (Chullin 7b). Those who leave a legacy of goodness affect not only their own generation, but succeeding ones.

I was raised on the story of my maternal grandfather, Abraham Resnick, who acquired an apartment building during the 1920s. When the stock market crashed in 1929, he lost his savings, many of his apartments became vacant, and the remaining tenants could pay rent only sporadically. One time, my mother went with my grandfather to collect rents. Inside one apartment, a man was seated with his wife and children. "Mr. Resnick," he said to my grandfather, "we haven't eaten in two days." My grandfather handed my mother several dollars (a large sum of money for them during those difficult times), and told her to go out and buy groceries. My mother returned with bags filled with food which they gave to the family. This incident occurred more than seventy years ago, yet this story continues to affect me. It is now known to my children, who heard it from my mother and who, God willing, will continue to be influenced by their great-grandfather's kindness even a hundred years after it happened.

13. Emulate God. God represents the ultimate biblical model for character building. Deuteronomy 13:5 commands that "you should walk after God." The Talmud asks, "How is it possible for a person to walk after God? This is what the verse means: You should follow the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He." For example, the Talmud says, just as God clothed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:21), so should we clothe those who lack adequate clothing; just as God visited Abraham when he was weak (Genesis 18:1), so should we visit the sick; just as God buried Moses (Deuteronomy 34:6), so should we help arrange for the burial of the dead. Over three thousand years ago, God said to Abraham, the first Jew, "and you shall be a blessing" [in the lives of those with whom you come in contact; Genesis 12:2]. If we take to heart these age-old Jewish teachings, we too, like Abraham, will become a blessing in the lives of all those with whom we come in contact, and in our own lives as well.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of The Book of Jewish Values, Jewish Literacy, The Ten Commandments of Character, and many other books. This article is adapted from A Code of Jewish Ethics: Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy, copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, published by Bell Tower, a division of Random House, Inc.

Contemplation: In the next few days the readings will be short. Please contemplate each of these 13 discussions as to which are meant for you to include in your actions of Teshuvah. Where have you absorbed some of these wrong traits and what good traits are you already doing? Be careful that you do this in a state of truthfulness and not trying to feel better about yourself.

Meditation for 4th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

This is continuing the comments of Rabbi Telushkin.

5 Common Character Weaknesses

1. Insatiability. The desire for more--more money, more possessions, more acclaim, more sexual partners--is a common weakness in human nature, motivating much criminal, wrongful, and unholy behavior. Since it is natural for most of us to want far more than we have, the fact that we don't have many things that we desire is not a sign that we are leading a deprived life; rather, it is more likely a sign that we want too much.

2. Rationalizing. Using our ability to reason to justify a wrong is a common, and unworthy, human characteristic. Wrong as it is to act immorally, it is an additional sin to convince ourselves that what we are doing is right. For example, it is preferable to admit that "I bought a dress to wear for a wedding, and then I returned it, but I know that Jewish law forbids my doing so" than to rationalize: "A lot of people do this, and besides, who was hurt by my action?" More than any other character flaw, rationalization makes repentance and self-improvement impossible.

3. Initiating arguments. Many of us argue and advocate wrongful positions for no other reason than the perverse desire to dispute any assertion made by those we regard as opponents (this is particularly common among religious and political disputants). After all, an assertion is not necessarily false because our enemy says so, or true because our friend says so.

In recognition of this tendency, the Talmud legislates that "Two scholars who hate one another must not sit together as judges in the same case" (Sanhedrin 29a). Maimonides explains: "Such a thing brings about a perverted judgment. Because of the hatred they bear one another, each will be inclined to prove the other wrong" ("Laws of the Sanhedrin," 23.7).

Are there people who so annoy or antagonize you that the moment you hear them assert something, your mind starts searching for arguments to refute it? Before taking up the argument, make sure you would feel the same way about the position had it been expressed by someone you liked.

4. Refusing to acknowledge mistakes. The refusal to admit an error causes us to persist in wrong and/or foolish behavior. As an old proverb teaches, "One who makes a mistake and doesn't correct it is making a second mistake."

5. Indifference to someone else's suffering. The Talmud records that Rabbi Judah, the editor of the Mishnah, had difficulty feeling compassion for people who were ignorant about Judaism. Once, during a famine, he arranged for food to be made available only to hungry people who were knowledgeable in Torah. When one of his students, who didn't wish to profit from his Jewish learning, went to Rabbi Judah in disguise and pretended to be a total ignoramus, Rabbi Judah refused to give him any food; finally, the man begged to be fed as one would feed a dog and Rabbi Judah relented. After the man departed, Rabbi Judah regretted that he had given food to an ignoramus, but when he learned it was his own student, he changed his attitude. "Let everyone enter [the storehouse]," he announced (Bava Bathra 8a). There are No excuses: When someone is in need of help, we should extend it.

Contemplate: Which, if any, of these character traits are within my actions in the past.

Meditation for 5th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Questioning Your Character

In order to struggle successfully with yourself, you must know your character intimately, and be aware of your faults. To achieve this self-awareness, sit down with pen and paper--this exercise will be painful--and write down what you feel are your most obvious character flaws and weaknesses:

Am I prone to anger? When I am angry, do I overreact and say or do things that inflict pain on others? Or am I the sort of person who, if asked, will deny that I am angry, yet will treat other people with coldness, disdain, and annoyance?

Do I judge others fairly, or am I harshly critical (both in what I say and what I think)?

Am I stingy with my money or my time?

Do I speak curtly, making people feel that I have no time for them? (This is unkind, even if we are busy.)

Do I avoid saying or doing what I believe is right because I fear how others will react or what they will think of me? (The question we should ask ourselves is not "What will others think of me?" but "What does God want me to do?")

Am I moody?

Do I make people around me feel that they are somehow responsible for my moods?

Does my unhappiness affect the atmosphere in my home, transforming, often in a matter of minutes, a general feeling of pleasantness and goodwill into one of tension and sadness? (Taking away the good mood of those around us and lowering their spirits is a cruel, even if unintentional, act of aggression.)

Do I treat strangers with more consideration than members of my own family?

Do I take other people's kind behavior for granted, or do I go out of my way to express thanks and help those who have been kind to me?

Do I blame my wrongful actions and mistakes on others, or do I take responsibility for the wrong I do?

Do I jump to conclusions and blame other people before I know all the facts?

Am I able to control my impulses, or do I give in to temptation easily?

Do I bear grudges and remain angry at others for a long time after an argument?

Am I tardy, and thereby waste other people's time by keeping them waiting?

Do I rationalize dishonesty with excuses such as "Business is different"?

When I hear of other people's sufferings or misfortunes, do I find ways to help them, or do I feel sadness in my heart but do nothing?

Am I jealous of the success of others? Do I begrudge others their good fortune?

Write down your list of weaknesses. Once you have drawn up your list, do not become discouraged, even if you find that you have many weaknesses. Drawing up a list like this is the first and most important step in changing your character for the better. —Joseph Telushkin

Contemplation: Utilize your list to change yourself to be better today than i was yesterday. How will you implement these character changes. If you need help contact us at yeshshem@hotmail.com.

Meditation for 6th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Rabbi Berel Wein relates: "Hillel knows that in many situations there is scant leadership and few good people to set a proper tone for society. In such instances the tendency is to give up, to bow to the tyranny of the majority. But Judaism allows for no excuses and rationalizations. It has no room for self-pity and false self-justification. It does not compromise its ideals and goals. Jews have therefore been able to survive as a small, persecuted, hated minority and yet prosper and be greatly influential in world affairs and civilizations. When there were no others to help rise to the challenges of paganism, hedonism, cruelty, and injustice, we nevertheless preserved in our struggle against these evils."

Judaism believes that a few good people can save humankind in spite of the many bad people. Sodom was destroyed not because of its hordes of evildoers, but because it lacked 10 good people in its midst. Our task therefore is to be a good person, no matter how lonely such a policy may be. If there are no others, then responsibility upon us to be "the leader" is even greater. Complacency, defeatism, depression, inaction, and passive acceptance of evil people and ideas are all foreign to Judaism."

Contemplation: Do i need to go along rather than follow my own path? Do i listen and follow leaders that may not be correct because i lack knowledge of what HaShem has told man to do. Just like Adam, am i still eating from the metaphorical Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil.

Meditation for 7th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Rabbi Avraham Twerski reflects in a psychological tone that low self-esteem may not allow a person to assume a position of leadership, except in those cases where one defends himself against feelings of inadequacy by exhibiting grandiosity. In the latter situation the person may strive to place himself above others and even to control them. A truly humble person, whose self-esteem is intact, may balk at assuming leadership, but when it becomes necessary, he will rise to the occasion.

This is best exemplified by Moshe Rabbeinu, who initially resisted the call to become a leader, and then became the paragon of leaders. A person with a healthy ego will swing into action and do his part, while a person with low self esteem will shirk responsibility. Like the person with misguided shyness, his unwarranted feelings of inadequacy may paralyze him. Hillel's humility was healthy and his self-esteem was intact. He was therefore able to instruct us on some of the manifestations of low self-esteem.

Contemplation: Where am i on the scale of self evaluation with respect to self esteem. Remember self evaluation can be positive with respect to some of our accomplishments and negative with respect to other actions. Determine if there are items of Teshuvah to add to your list.

Meditation for 8th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

The Maharal of Prague believes that this statement addresses the total human being. If something must be done, and there is no one else to do it, then YOU should be the person to do it. There is extra merit in doing the right thing if otherwise it will not be done at all. However, if there is someone who will do it equally well, and who is willing to do it, you should let that person volunteer.

A mensch always sees the "silver lining" in every one - the spark of HaShem in every one.

A Tzaddik, or righteous person [and we dare add, a "mensch"] makes everyone else appear righteous before Hashem by advocating for them and finding their merits.

(Kedushat Levi, Parshat Noach; Sefer Bereishit 7:1)

Contemplation: Consider where you might have advocated for someone to another, in defense or another reason, or in their actually testifying in the nightly Beit Din. Do you need to add these actions or non actions to the list of items to do Teshuvah?

Meditation for 9th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Rabbeinu Yonah adds that where there is no one greater than you in wisdom, try to be a man; do not refrain from working to become even wiser. Even if there is no one as wise as you in the entire city, and even if there is no one as wise as you in the entire generation, you should view yourself as if you had lived in the time and place of the great Sages of the Talmud.

Even if you should manage to reach their level, imagine that you are standing among the prophets, with Moshe Rabbeinu. When will you reach their level of piety and wisdom? In this way you will never neglect your learning and you will refine your middot /attributes daily because you gain more wisdom and become like an overflowing spring. Keep on truckin!

Please note that the Mishna above uses the plural of Enosh to describe Man: ובמקום שאין אנשים

In describing the unique qualities of humankind, four terms are used: Adam refers to the quality of mind and intellect; ish to the quality of heart and emotion; enosh, weakness in either intellect or emotion or both; gever, who overcomes inner weakness and removes obstacles and hindrances to the attainment of an intellectual or emotional quality.

As an example, gever works upon enosh to elevate him to the plane of ish or adam. Since it is possible to turn enosh into ish or adam, it is obvious that enosh already possesses the potential qualities found in ish and adam.

Contemplate: If a Tzadik has the qualities of both an Adam and an Ish, does a Mentsch have both of these characteristics? Where are you in this scale of self evaluation?

Meditation for 10th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

OK! You've done real well, so far, and reached a state of piety based on the firm footing of a solid education. Don't plaster that status over the community!

The state of piety is also a state of humility. But modesty in this sense should not be taken to extreme. In a place where there are no people strive to be a person. Where there are leaders, there is no need to push to the top, but where leadership is missing, one should not hide one's acquired wisdom, Instead it must be shared for the benefit of the community.

Chassidic master Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk once referred to a certain rabbi as ah tzaddik in peltz -- "a righteous person in a fur coat." The Kotzker explained: When it is winter and it's freezing cold, there are two things one can do. One can build a fire, or one can wrap oneself in a fur coat. In both cases, the person is warm. But when one builds a fire, all who gather round will also be warmed. With the fur coat, the only one who is warmed is the one who wears the coat. So it is regarding spiritual warmth -- one can be a tzaddik in a fur coat....

Contemplate: Are you building a fire with your Torah study or do you wear a fur coat?

Meditation for 11th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

"My father the Rebbe once told me, related Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, "that during the Seder you should think to yourself, 'I want to be a mensch, ' and G-d will help. This applies especially at the time when the doors are opened. "Don't ask for material success," he concluded, "but for spiritual growth."

Kol Menachem Haggadah

Meditation for 12th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

When advising young couples, the Lev Simchah would refer to this Mishna "in a place where there are no men," means to maintain the high standards of modesty you adopted while under the chuppah.

Even within the privacy of your home, conduct yourselves modestly although no one is observing your behavior. [Maggidei HaEmet] This point is further stressed in a Chassidic explanation of a verse in the Torah:

כִׁי תִׁבְנֶה בַּיִׁת חָדָש, וְעָשִׁיתָ מַּעֲקֶה לְגַּגֶךָ

Translation: When you build a new house, you must make a railing for your roof.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe [Likutei Sichot vol. 2, pp. 384] notes that this law can be interpreted to apply to a newlywed couple about to embark on the exciting challenge of building a household. The Torah counsels the couple that they are commencing a new phase in their lives, with new responsibilities and tasks that they have never yet had to face. This new and intensified focus on life in the physical world is a "descent" relative to their previous, single lives, and they are therefore poised to fall from their previous spiritual level unless they take preventative measures.

They, therefore--as do all mensch in training [M.I.T.*], make a "railing", meaning to actually, undertake new spiritual safeguards to their observance of the Torah's commandments, not relying on their previous ones alone. Maintaining and enhancing their study of the Torah and observance of its commandments ensures that the euphoria of the wedding day continue throughout their married life.

*not to be confused with Massachussets Institute of Technology!

Contemplation: If Your married then follow the advice above and ask yourself what additional Mitzvot observance are you able and willing to do; If your single consider how the additional observance you take on will bring you a higher soul mate when you do marry. If you are a widow or widower consider that the additional Mitzvot will elevate your deceased spouse so that you may reunite if you wish and also keep you separated if that is what you wish; If you are still a child or teenager consider how the additional Mitzvot will benefit the world as well as yourself.

Meditation for 13th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

The Ben Ish Chai writes in his Chasdei Avot that there is a great obligation to study Torah and to do mitzvot at all times. However this obligation is even greater during the times when people don't do this, like in the afternoon or on the days before festivals or on Chol Moed, and other times of lessor consciousness.

The problem is when we neglect study below, we fail to give strength to the angels above who are aroused and inspired by our learning. "In a place where there are no men" means that it is important for us to busy ourselves learning at those very times when most people are not, for this brings down the supernal flow below that unfortunately is lacking due to our negligence on this earth plain.

Contemplate: In a place where there are no men may indicate Heaven and / or Hell since spirits of men are not considered men. How will your accepting additional spiritual work will help the Angels and Spirits of Men?

Meditation for 14th of Elul

"Be holy!" ק דשִֹׁים תִׁ היוּ

The Kotzker Rebbe added, “Kodem a mensch —- un nach dem heilig (First be a mensch — then be holy)!”. Be a mensch!

ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

UvaMakom Sheain Anashim, Hashetadal Lihiyot Ish

Hebrew Quotation: In a place where there are no men strive to be a man

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov once remarked "What must a man do in the world "Nohr davenen un lehrnen uhn davenen--Only praying and studying [Torah] and praying!"

Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #286 Breslov Story: Be a Mensch - During World War I, one of the few places where the people of Uman could hear the news of the front was the Breslov synagogue.

One day R. Hershel of Teplik came to Uman to do business and entered the shul to hear the news. He saw several groups and went to them to hear their conversations. But he was mystified with the people he found there. One group was speaking about learning, the other about hitbodedut, another about Tikkun Chatzot, a fourth about prayer, an so forth.

No one spoke about the war. "Isn't anyone here interested in the news from the front?" he asked. "This is the front--in the war against the evil inclination," the chassidim replied." R. Hershel was so impressed he became a Breslover chassid, organized an underground school when the Communists began to close the schools, and made mikvehs when they began to close them too.

He died in the dead of winter and one of his close friends immersed him in the river before burial. When asked why he took such a chance in the freezing weather, his friend said, "You know what kind of a mensch R. Hershel was!"

  • Think About a Matter Part 2 - 16th of Elul through Rosh HaShana