Parshas Shemos.


The laws of character qualities that one should strive after.


1. Every person has different qualities he is born with. To a large extent they determine his life as well as the tests he has to pass. Depending on character traits, the observance of Torah’s commands can become very easy or quite difficult. This is one of the reasons we are required to constantly work on improving our qualities trying to develop those traits that the Torah encourages and to avoid the ones it criticizes. We will now discuss some of the main negative traits: pride, anger, envy, hatred, greediness, deceptiveness, hypocrisy, flattery, jesting, sadness, talkativeness, lightheartedness, desire of pleasures and laziness.


- Pride – this is one of the worst qualities. The Talmud teaches us that the Creator Himself tells a proud person: “He and I can not coexist”, for the proud man pushes away Divine Presence. Many quarrels continue only because both parties do not want to concede due to their arrogance. Our sages teach us to be very, very modest. Modesty is main quality, because of which Moshe was chosen to become the leader of our people. Avraham considered himself like dust and ashes while Moshe thought he is simply a nothing. 


- Anger – also a terrible trait. The Talmud compares an angry person to an idol worshipper. The sages of Kabbalah explain that when a person gets angry, his pure soul departs him and an unclean spirit gets attached to him instead. Thus, an angry person brings on himself a spirit of idolatry.


- Hatred and envy – two terrible qualities that often come as a result of pride and anger. The Torah teaches us to love others and forbids us to hate them. Moreover, the mitzvah to love one’s fellow like oneself is the basis of the entire Torah. It is interesting to mention that a hateful and envious individual usually can not enjoy even his own life.


- Greediness – this quality prevents us from keeping a number of commandments including giving charity, giving loans, separating parts of the crop to be given to cohanim, leviim and poor, giving parts of the sheered wool and parts of the meat of slaughtered animals to cohanim. Moreover, many mitzvos require financial expenses, for example buying mezuzos, Tefillin, the four species to be picked up on Sukkos, etc. A thrifty person finds it difficult to buy beautiful Tefillin for $1000 and instead he looks for a cheap one spending $250 and thinking he got a bargain. In practice, however, the Tefillin he bought may not be kosher according to many opinions.


- Deceptiveness, hypocrisy, flattery, lightheartedness and jesting – the Talmud tells us that people possessing these traits are not accepted before the Divine Presence. Obviously we don’t have to describe the damage done through deception, hypocrisy and flattery. Regarding joking, unfortunately many people are completely unaware that this quality is severely criticized by the Torah. A lot of people think that there is nothing wrong with turning everything into a joke and making fun of every incident in life. In truth, the Torah has nothing against a healthy sense of humor, however, making fun of others is strictly forbidden. The Talmud teaches us that the one that makes his fellow turn pale is considered to be killing him. Moreover, derisive people easily transform any reproach into a joke. Thus, they can never be influenced through a sincere rebuke. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto compares their sneers to a shield, greased with oil, causing any arrow to slide off. Sometimes a heartfelt lecture delivered by a Rabbi has a strong effect on the assembled and many of them seriously consider making basic changes in their lives. However, one joker with the help of a jeer transforms the whole lesson into a joke and the effect from the lecture completely vanishes.


- Just as it is bad to be overly lighthearted, so too it is not good to be sad and gloomy. A person should be in a joyful mood, pleased with his lot. To be happy is not only a mitzvah, but also good advice for any person. It is good for happy people both in this world and in the next. They, as a rule, live a long sated life, helping others and wishing the best to them, while for unhappy people it is difficult to wish good to others. Certainly, there are times when it’s a mitzvah to be sad, for example the Ninth of Av, during the mourning over a deceased relative and so on. Moreover, in our exile we should not forget about destruction of the Temple, and even during our most cheerful moments we need to recollect it. For example, during a wedding, a glass is broken. Nevertheless, in general, the Creator wants, that we serve Him in happiness. Both Arizal and the Vilna Gaon said that they reached their high level because they served the Creator with happiness.


- Talkativeness – the quality that can bring a lot of damage and at the same time can be used for many mitzvos as well. Arizal writes that the people whose spiritual root is related to Abel, the son of Adam, have a talkative nature and can become good orators. In Parshas Chukas we discuss a strict prohibition against Loshon Hara – speaking badly of others and gossiping. People that are not careful watching their mouth will transgress this prohibition quite often. Moreover, the talkative people often reveal the secrets of others which is forbidden. On the other hand, a talker can use his abilities in order to teach Torah, console the mourning and the sick, etc.


- Desire of pleasures – this quality causes most sins such as forbidden relations, deceit, steeling etc. Certainly, working on this trait is very difficult. Still it helps to know that for every forbidden pleasure there exists a permitted way. While a sinner gets his gratification through violating the laws of Torah, the righteous get a similar enjoyment through keeping its statues. Moreover, the freeing of all physical desires frequently leads to the opposite effect: no pleasures satisfy the individual. On the other hand, the one who receives a particular delight from time to time is happy as a result. As an example, consider the Torah’s prohibition to have relations with a wife who is Nidah, until she counts seven clean days and immerses in a Mikvah (see Parshiyos Sazria and Metzorah). As a result of this prohibition, a religious couple’s life consists of a series of honeymoons. Each time when the wife goes to a Mikvah, they feel pleasure as though they just got married. As one of the results, in religious families disloyalty is almost completely prevented. On the other hand, the couples who do not observe the laws of family purity quickly get bored of each other and start searching for other partners. The result is clear – high percent of the divorces, broken families, single mothers and people constantly dissatisfied with their family life. 


- Laziness – one of the most dangerous bad qualities. As opposed to the traits mentioned above, this one does not lead to any active violations of Torah laws, but prevents a person from fulfilling many positive commandments. A lazy person often waists an enormous amount of time that could be used for mitzvos and accomplishments.


2. Every person knows which bad qualities he has and needs to work on correcting. Just as different illnesses require different medicines, so too working on different qualities demands different approaches. The general advice is – when a certain bad quality prevails it is necessary to force it in the opposite direction. For example, the person who is greedy by nature has to constantly give tzedoko. It is better to give one dollar a thousand times, than one thousand dollars once, so that the act of giving will become a habit. Usually it is impossible to change all bad qualities at once, it is necessary to work gradually, even small victories are very important. It is possible to compare this to people which try to lose weight – they constantly weigh themselves. If they lose even one pound a month, in a couple of years they can not be recognized. So, for example, the person who wants to learn to not be angry, constantly checks itself. If he managed not to get angry for a whole day, this is a real victory!


3. There exist many books on Musar - Jewish Ethics. These books give advice about how to work on oneself and get rid of bad qualities. It is a great mitzvah to learn these books, many were translated into English. The most popular ones include “Paths of the Just” and “The Gates of Repentance”. The most important rule is that one should not just read these books as a theory, but apply their words in practice. We work on our qualities all our lives – the harder it is – the greater will be the reward. This is a general rule – the Creator compensates us according to the difficulty we encountered. For this reason, for example, a stingy person will get a greater reward for giving tzedoko than a generous one.