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Parshas Shoftim 5758 - '98

Outline Vol. 2, # 43

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2 # 26

Elul to Rosh Hashanah

Character Traits

Rambam incorporated laws of character refinement ("Hilchos Deios") in his great codification of Jewish Law ("Mishnah Torah"). In his Laws of Repentance ("Hilchos Teshuva"), Rambam mentions that one must not only regret transgressions, and commit oneís self to mitzvos, but we are also obliged to regret having character flaws, and strive to correct them.

A large proportion of the Laws of Repentance is devoted to philosophy. Rambam needed to establish clearly the extent of Mankindís free choice. It is obvious why the philosophic digression was necessary: Readers would be sure to question -- who can say that man is able to choose his own personality?

Indeed, a person is not only identified by others by his personality and behavioral characteristics, he identifies himself with these, as well. When something unseemly occurs, he absolves himself from responsibility. "Itís just the way I am -- the way Iíve always been."

Who is at Fault?

People are not likely to find fault with themselves. How often it occurs that something possibly inappropriate happens; years later, the perpetrator is still proud of the accomplishment. He is only able to see himself in a favorable light.

Yet, when it comes to others, faults will certainly be given our immediate attention. If our derogatory comments are made out of earshot of the subjectís hearing -- or better yet, if we refrain from saying anything -- we consider ourselves models of good manners. Why is it that we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, but condemn others without mercy?

The ambiguity is that, for some reason, we see other people as having choice; we ourselves, however, are forced by circumstance to act as we do. Therefore, other people must be blamed; we ourselves, however, are entirely blameless.

Rav Yisrael Salanter: "Before studying Musar (ethical reproof), I thought the world was at fault. As I started studying, I decided that the world and I shared blame. After studying, I realized that the world was blameless, and I, alone, was at fault." (Tínuas Hamusar, "The Mussar Movement")

Secrets of Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is "the day of concealment." (Tíhillim [Psalms 81:4]) Rav Shlomo Zevin (Hamoíadim Bíhalacha) explains that Rosh Hashanah is the only Yom Tov which had no fixed time -- it could not be known in advance when it would occur (as we will examine next week). For now, we cannot avoid connecting the concealment of the day with the judgment of the day -- which is also concealed. The judgment is not only regarding concrete actions or lack of action, but subtleties of character. The crimes are hidden, the accusations are hidden, the trial is hidden -- and the outcome, too, is not revealed.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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