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
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
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
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