Perfecting one's Middot

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Perfecting one's middot (character traits) is the reason for man's existence.[1] It is a prerequisite for all mitzvot[2] and bad middot are the basis for all sins.[3] The basis for perfecting one's middot is the mitzvah to cling to Hashem and become similar to Him.[4]

Uniqueness of every Person

  1. Everyone was created uniquely and with a variation of different middot.[5] A person's makeup is similar to the chemistry makeup of a compound, complex, varied, and alterable. Here's a few salient examples:
    1. There are people who anger easily, and people who almost never get angry.
    2. There are people who are exceedingly arrogant, and those exceedingly meek.
    3. There are people who pursue desires that they never satisfy, and those who don't even desire necessities.
    4. There are people who are exceedingly greedy, and will never have enough money; there are those who are satisfied with less than they need, and don't attempt to pursue a livelihood.
    5. There are some who gather money, and eat what they own with distress. And there are those who spend all of their money.[6] Acknowledging one's traits, strengths and weaknesses alike, is crucial in being able to begin one's journey in perfecting one's middot. [7]
  2. All of middot can be boiled down into three head categories: desire for pleasure, desire for honor, and anger. [8] A person who perfects these three middot positively will certainly have simcha of life[9], otherwise, they will suffer as though they are removed from the world.[10]
  3. Some say that the basis for all objectivity is selfishness or a desire to take.[11]

The proper balance of Middot

  1. Not only does one have to do Teshuvah for sins that require an action, like theft but one also needs to avoid bad middot [12]
  2. The good and straight path, is to accustom oneself to follow the middle path when it comes to character traits. For example, a person shouldn't be too stingy or too generous in giving away of his money, rather one should give according to one's ability. [13]
  3. Similarly, a person shouldn't desire physical items other than what a person needs to live. Nor should a person work too much in his business rather one should work to have enough funds for his worldly needs. [14]
  4. However, arrogance is a very bad character trait and should be avoided altogether. One should accustom oneself to have a humble spirit. Additionally, anger is a very bad character trait and one should stay far away from it. Thus, one should accustom oneself to refrain from anger even over something which is deserving of getting angry. [15]
  5. A person should attempt to engage in being quiet except for speaking words of divrei torah or something that's necessary for his worldly needs. Even for one's worldly needs one shouldn't speak excessively. [16]

Examples of Middot

  1. A person shouldn't laugh excessively [in empty matters], nor be sad; rather, one should be happy all one's days, with a good expression on one's face. [17].
  2. Jealousy, Desire, and Pursuit of Honor remove a person from the world [18]. Nonetheless, one shouldn't separate from them excessively, saying "I won't eat meat, drink wine, marry a wife, live in a nice house, or wear nice clothing; instead, I will wear a sack [of mourning]". This is also an evil path, and one is forbidden to walk on it. One is called a sinner if one does; even a Nazir is called a sinner for refraining from wine. The Torah has already forbidden enough, that we should add on more prohibitions. One shouldn't add on fasts unnecessarily. [19].
  3. One should be content with one's lot [20].
  4. One should be as bold as a lion, light as an eagle, as fast as a deer and as strong as a lion, to do the will of your Father in heaven [21]. Thus, one shouldn't be embarrassed from people who scoff at him in his Divine Service. Nevertheless, one shouldn't likewise respond brazenly to them, so that one doesn't acquire the character trait of brazenness / עזות פנים [22].
  5. Argument is very bad [23]. One shouldn't cause argument, even for a Mitzvah matter [24].

Jealousy

  1. Jealousy can remove a person from the world [25]
  2. However, sometimes jealousy can be used for a positive goal such as for spiritual growth. [26]

Humility

  1. Humility is the finest of all of the good character traits.[27] Therefore, one should be exceedingly humble. [28] How should one accustom oneself to humility? One should always speak gently, and have a bent comportment with a head looking down, with one's heart above. One should always view a person as more important than oneself. [29].
  2. For example, if one sees a rich person, when one sees his wealth, one must think that Hashem gave him wealth because he is fit for it [and able to dispense it well to charity]. [30].
  3. If the other person is smaller than oneself in wisdom or wealth, one should view him as more righteous, because if he sins, he is considered Shogeig or forced, and if you sin, it is considered Intentional / Meizid. [31]

Ways to Perfect Character Traits

  1. Man's nature is to be drawn in deeds after his neighbors, friends, and people of his locale. Therefore, a person should endeavor to attach himself to Tzaddikkim and Talmidei Chachamim, so that he can learn from their ways. [32]. One should distance himself from the wicked, so that he doesn't learn from their deeds. [33].
  2. Recognize that it is difficult to change one's middot.[34]

Correcting one's desire for physical pleasure

  1. In order to correct one's desire for physical pleasure is to indeed starve that desire in oneself and abstain from all situations in which a person would receive such pleasures.[35]

How can one avoid Lashon Hara?

  1. If one is a Talmid Chacham, one should study Torah.
  2. If one is unlearned, one should "ישפיל דעתו"--be more humble. [36].

How can one avoid Revenge?

  1. If you want to take revenge from your enemy, perfect yourself and walk in upright ways; your enemy will be distressed at your Middot and your good name [37].
  2. However, if you respond with lowly deeds, your enemy will be happy with your disgrace [38].

Financial matters

  1. There is a pious practice not to accept any gifts but rather to trust that Hashem will provide his needs.[39]
  2. One shouldn't be stingy, but one shouldn't give away all one's money. [40].

Consequences of Bad Middot

  1. Four groups of people don't receive the Divine Presence: -Scoffers -Flatterers -Liars -Speakers of Lashon Hara [41].

Related Pages

Sources

  1. Gra in Even Shelemah 1:2
  2. Rav Chaim Vital in Shaarei Kedusha 1:2 writes that middot are a prerequisite for all the mitzvot and that's why the Torah doesn't focus on them. The Gra in Even Shelemah 1:11 compares Torah to rain for the Nefesh and a person who has a pure Nefesh with good middot will grow positively and the person who has an impure Nefesh will grow negatively.
  3. Gra in Even Shelemah 1:1
  4. Rambam Deot 1:6. For example, see Nefesh HaRav p. 281 regarding tzeniut being a middah of Hashem.
  5. Gra in Even Shelemah 1:7
  6. Rambam Deot 1:1, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29
  7. Mesillat Yesharim (ch. 3 s.v. klal), Gra in Even Shelemah 1:3
  8. Gra in Even Shelemah 2:1
  9. Rav Dessler (Michtav M'Eliyahu v. 1, p. 2)
  10. Mishna Avot 4:21. See Rambam Deot 2:2 how a person effectively makes his life not worth living if he's an angry person.
  11. Rav Dessler (Michtav M'Eliyahu v. 1, p. 140)
  12. Rambam Hilchot Teshuva 7:3, Shulchan Aruch Hamiddot 1: page 177. see there for a discussion of the torah source for this obligation
  13. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:2, Shulchan Aruch Hamiddot volume 1: page 7
  14. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:2
  15. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:3
  16. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:5
  17. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:2
  18. Pirkei Avot 4:21
  19. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:6. However, a Rebbe said at a Sichas Mussar: modern society often confuses what actually is a necessity, and what actually is a luxury
  20. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:6
  21. Pirkei Avos 5:23
  22. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:8
  23. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:9
  24. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:9
  25. Pirkei Avot 4:21
  26. Gemara says in Bava Batra 22a "kinat sofrim tarbeh chachma" - the envy of Torah scholars increases wisdom.
    Sefer LiRayacha Kamocha pg. 159 points out that if one has spiritual envy of another because he is trying to outshine that person or in order to denigrate another, that would be in violation of the same jealousy as material jealousy.
  27. Ramban in Iggeret HaRamban
  28. Mishna in Pirkei Avot 4:4, Rambam (Deot 2:3)
  29. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:3. For example:
    1. If the other person is a greater Torah scholar, one must honor him.
    2. If the other person is wealthy, one must honor him.
  30. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:3
  31. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:3
  32. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:10. A Rebbe, when asked what the best way to acquire character traits is, responded that it is to find people that have those character traits already, and to imitate them
  33. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:10
  34. Rav Yisrael Salanter (wikiquote says that it is easier to finish shas than to change one middah.
  35. Gemara Sanhedrin 107a says that for one particular desire the way to combat it is by starving it. Rav Dessler (Michtav M'Eliyahu v. 1, p. 46) expands this to the general desire to take. Additionally, this corresponds to the approach of the Gra in Even Shelemah 1:3 and Rambam Deot 2:2 that in order to correct a middah a person needs to go to the opposite extreme.
  36. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 30:5
  37. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 30:8
  38. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 30:8
  39. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:21
  40. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:2, Ketubot 50a
  41. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 30:6