Posted on March 13, 2006 by Rabbi Dr. Azriel Rosenfeld | Series: | Level:

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2. Traits of Character – Deos

a) Walking in G-d’s Ways

Human beings have many character traits each of which can vary from one extreme to the other. Some people are always angry, others are imperturbable; some are proud, others are humble; some are lustful, others are passionless; some are greedy, others are unselfish; some are misers, others are spendthrifts; and so on. Between each such pair of extremes lies a middle way, and we are commanded to follow these middle paths, as it says “And walk in His ways”.1 A person whose character traits are intermediate between the extremes is called wise, and one who leans somewhat toward the proper extremes — for example, toward humility — is called pious.a

From some traits, such as pride and anger, a person should keep as far away as possible.b However, it is not always good to go too far; if a person suppresses his desires to such a degree that he does not eat meat or drink wine or marry, or live in a suitable house or wear suitable clothes, he is called a sinner. A person should abstain only from those things that the Torah prohibits; he should not forbid to himself things which are permitted. Regarding such things Solomon said “Do not be too righteous”.2,c

The prophets referred to G-d as having many attributes in order to tell us that these are good traits and that a person is required to imitate His ways according to his ability: [“To walk in all His ways”–] “just as He is called merciful, so should you be merciful”.3,d A wise man should especially conduct himself with great propriety in all of his activities; [if he does not he has desecrated the Name].e

A person’s actions should all be directed toward G-d; even when he takes care of his physical needs he should do so with the intent of keeping his body fit to serve G-d. On this matter the sages said “And all your actions should be for the sake of heaven”4; as Solomon said, “Know Him in all your ways”.5,f

b) Human Relations

It is natural for a person to be influenced in his traits and actions by his neighbors and friends. A person should therefore attach himself to the pious and wise and keep away from the wicked, as it says “And you shall cleave to Him”6 — [“And to cleave to Him:] Can a man cleave to the Divine Presence? Rather, cleave to the wise and to their disciples”.7,g

One should love every Jew, as it says “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself”8; and there is an additional commandment to love a convert, as it says “And you shall love the stranger”.9,h In particular one should be careful not to oppress the unfortunate, as it says “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan”.10,i It is forbidden to gossip about anyone, as it says “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people”11; and slander is particularly prohibited.j

It is forbidden to hate secretly, as it says “You shall not hate your brother in your heart”.l2,k If someone sins against you you should not hate him and keep silent; rather, you should tell him about it, as it says “You shall rebuke your friend”, 12 and if he asks forgiveness you should forgive him.l But it is forbidden to embarass him, as it says “But do not sin on account of him”.12,m If you see that your friend has transgressed you should also rebuke him.n You should not take revenge on your friend or bear a grudge against him, as it says “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people”.8,o


1. Deut. 28:9 a. 1:1-5
2. Ecclesiastes 7:16 b. 2:3
3. Deut. 11:22 and Sifrei on it c. 3:1
4. Avos 2:12 d. 1:6
5. Proverbs 3:6 e. 5:1; see also Yesodei Ha-Torah 5:11
6. Deut. 10:20 f. 3:2-3
7. Deut. 11:22 and Sifrei on it g. 6:1-2
8. Lev. 19:18 h. 6:3-4
9. Deut. 10:19 i. 6:10
10. Ex. 22:21 j. 7:1-2
11. Lev. 19:16 k. 6:5
12. Lev. 19:17; see Sifra on it l. 6:6
m. 6:8
n. 6:7
o. 7:7-8