As we approach the Days of Awe, our annual exercise in self scrutiny and stock-taking can be a daunting task. Rather than highlight a single ethical dilemma this week, I offer here some suggestions, some “ethics-ercises,” as it were, to assist you on this journey.
Study Maimonides’ "Laws of Personality and Character Development." Click here
to link to some relevant selections from the sage’s “Hilchot De’ot” in translation. Dr. Rambam had some fascinating insights on human behavior and the relation between body and soul.
Note especially the following advice:
2:3 – There are times when one shouldn’t be moderate – there is no middle road with regard to arrogance and humility; we should all aim for Moses-esque super-humility.
2:4 – Cultivate silence.
2:5 – Enough with the kvetching already!
2:6 – Don’t be a phony.
2:7 – Find middle ground between moroseness and being giddy
4:1 – Dr. Rambam’s diet – only eat when you are hungry!
2:4 – Get 8 hours sleep
2:7 – Eat poultry first
2:11 – Avoid fruits (!)
2:15 – Exercise (and move those bowels, too!)
4:23 – A Torah sage needs to have these things in his community (includes a blood letter and a latrine)
5:7 – No Yelling!!
5:13 – Be honest
6:3 – Love everyone
for Rabbi Judith Abrams’ wisdom-filled quote-of-the-day on the intricacies of the process of Teshuvah (return /repentance). One example:
What Are the Criteria by Which God Will Judge Your Life?
Raba said, When one is led in for Judgment he is asked,
1. Did you deal faithfully [i.e., with integrity]?
2. Did you fix times for learning?
3. Did you engage in procreation?
4. Did you hope for salvation?
5. Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom?
6. Did you understand one thing from another? (B. Shabbat 30b-31a).
Another good site for Elul is Jewels of Elul
– a daily dose of inspiration, created by Craig Taubman. Pearls of wisdom are shared each day, culled from an eclectic array of voices.
Check out The Mussar Institute
, which, according to their website, “exists to provide people with ideas and practical tools deriving from the Mussar tradition in Judaism that will help, guide and motivate them to develop and improve the qualities of their inner lives, in fulfillment of the potential of their souls as well as for the benefit of the world.” Also, cultivate your “soul traits” (Middot) at Rabbi Ira Stone’s Mussar Pathways
. Check out the Middot table
and work on a different character trait each day, ranging from Patience
(and many more).
The road ahead will not be easy, but we can be comforted that the hard work of Teshuvah can also bring about great reward, simply in the doing. In this case, the journey itself is far more significant than the destination. The following wisdom from Nachman of Bratzlav can guide us:
“Know that it is necessary to judge each person favorably, and even someone who is completely evil, one needs to search for and to find in him some little bit of goodness, that in that little bit, he is not evil. By means of this, that one finds in him a little goodness, and judges him favorably, by this, one elevates him actually into favorable judgment and returns him in teshuvah… for how is it possible that there is within him no little bit of goodness at all – that he never did any mitzvah or good thing in his whole life? By means of this, you can find within him another small bit of good, a place within him that is not evil, and judge him favorably… until he returns in teshuvah…
… So too a person needs to find (a point of goodness) also within himself… even when he begins to look into himself and he sees that there is within him no goodness at all, and he is full of sins… even so it is not permitted to despair because of this, rather he needs to search and to find within himself some small point of goodness… and even if he begins to look at this good thing and he finds that it is full of flaws… despite all of this, he can extract from it some point of goodness, and continue to search for and collect other points of goodness and by means of this they will be made into niggunim ("melodies")… and then he will be able to pray and to sing and to give thanks to God…”
Good luck on your journey, and my best wishes for a year of sweetness, fulfillment and love.