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Rosh HaShana 5764 How can a make this year a real NEW YEAR?? Introduction: What is my task in this world? What does Hashem (G-d) expect from me in this world? The Sefer Mesilat Yesharim starts off by telling us that achieving perfection in the service of G-d is dependent on a person's recognition of just what is his duty in the world and the goal towards which one should direct his vision and aspirations in all of his endeavors throughout his lifetime. On what should I put a greater emphasis? Man was created in this world for one sole purpose - rejoicing in G-d and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His presence. True perfection in this world leads to one's union with G-d and to bask in the delight of the Divine splendor, in the World to Come (Olam Haba). To reach such a lofty level, one must work hard in this world. The tools given to every Jew are the 613 commandments. Since we have many obstacles in our way, it is not enough to keep the commandments, one must also perfect his innerself and pass one's daily tests. When one keeps the 613 commandments, yet one lacks proper character traits, his Mitzvos are imperfect. Our job in this world is to find the specific character traits that we need to correct. Every human being consists of a "physical body" (Guf) and a "spiritual soul" (Neshama). A person's Neshama is like a lame man - the soul does not have the ability to perform its desires or thoughts through its own power. The soul needs the vessel of the body to perform its wishes. The body however - without the soul - is blind. We may have an inclination to stuff ourselves with food, ignoring any possible health concerns - the body without the soul for restraint, can bring one to complete destruction. We need to have the body and soul working together, allowing the body to perform good actions with the soul directing these actions to the right causes. By doing this, we get an result that a person eats to give himself more energy and the desired nutrients needed to sustain his body. One is allowed to take enjoyment from the physical world around him, to help serve the Creator better. Whatever is not required for a person in this world, one should distance oneself from. However, whatever one feels is required in this world (based on the Torah) - whatever the reason - since it is required - if one decides that he can do without it - he may in fact be sinning. The Rambam writes that the ultimate goal of creation is for man to use it to perfect his soul. When a person does this, he has made creation worthwhile. Every person is a special creation which includes the whole world, and all what we find in this world is to perfect our soul. We all go through daily trials and tribulations throughout our life, in order to help us attain that wanted perfection. 1) What are character traits? Some explain that a character trait is similar to other senses or powers that we have, like that of sight, speech... This would mean that one could not uproot them from oneself or switch them for a different trait. Others explain that it is based on intellect. Just like one can affect his intellect, one can also change his character traits. In summary, Rav Wolbe explains that Midos (character traits) consist of both intellect and senses. A person who has the trait of anger - when someone annoys him, he feels that he must get angry at the other person. If one would use his true intellect, one would see that by getting angry and yelling at another person, shows that I lost control of myself and instead of getting more respect from others, many times I actually loose respect in the eyes of others. When we are angry about something, this anger comes to us through our bad nature, which we might be unable to completely change, however we can always use our intellect and rethink how we should react when we have the angry sensation. By doing this we can correct our character trait of anger. When a person works on his good character traits and builds on them to reach completeness in those traits, one will notice that even his bad traits have now turned to good traits. Each person has in himself one special "ultimate trait", which when worked on with all one's powers, one can perfect in this world. The same is true with one's bad traits. Each person has a specific bad trait, which if not watched over, can make one worse than others. Once we realize which are those two traits in ourselves, we are already on the road to perfection, because we now know what Hashem wants from us in this world. So you ask, how do I find these two main traits? In each and every one of us, we can find all the possible character traits, yet some of the traits, one will barely notice, some traits one may notice a bit more, and there are two which really stand out. When we find this one positive Midah which stands out over all the other Midos, we know we found the right one if this Midah exists in our actions during all circumstances that we are found in. This is the character trait which Hashem has blessed us with. For example, when we see a child who will always tell only the truth, even if this will bring him punishment, we know that such a child was gifted with the trait of truthfulness. When we see a person who has great joy by helping another person, even when it is hard for him, we know that such a person has the Midah of kindness in him. Make a list of the traits that you feel exist in you, place on the top of the list, the trait which you think is the one which you are best at, and at the bottom, the one which you are worst at. Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote that there are 4 foundations to all character traits, just like we find that everything that exists in the world comes from 4 fundamental elements - Fire, Water, Air and Dust (Earth). a) Fire - One's intellect - this is the desire to ascend in life and to rule over others. Bad i.e. - haughtiness, anger, rigid, authority, demand of honor, hatred, inflexible... Good i.e. - modesty, humility... b) Air - The power of speech. Bad i.e. - idle chatter, flattery, lie, slander, Lashon Hora... Good i.e. - speak only what is necessary, talk about Torah thoughts... c) Water - The spiritual background of the vital Soul. Bad i.e. - enjoying physical pleasures - lust after money, love of women, jealousy... Good i.e. - disgust from unneeded extra physical pleasures... d) Dust - The spirituality of the Body. Bad i.e. - sadness, grief, laziness, hopelessness.... Good i.e. - satisfied with what you have, serve Hashem with happiness... As we see, every one of the 4 fundamental character traits has two parts to it (good and bad). There are also some character traits that are made up of more than one fundamental. An example of this (according to the Rabbeinu Yonah) is "mocking others"(a joker). Such a person is made up of Air (Slander/Cruelty) and Fire (haughtiness). 2) Imagination: Now that we are aware of the main Midos that are found inside us, we can now have a look at what awakens these inner character traits. The thing that awakens our Midos is called - imagination. Our traits are present inside us only through our imagination. Whatever our imagination conjours (desires, enjoyment...) becomes alive in our eyes. We see ourselves in the situation that our imagination places us. Imagination has the ability to make a person feel that he is actually in a situation that only his imagination has placed him in. Imagination is the totally opposite of intelligence. One's intelligence strives constantly for truth. At times our imagination comes to us in the form of intelligence, such as making us feel that we are in danger when we really are not, and therefor it takes great work to discern between the two. From the time that we are born, we have the sense of imagination, intellect however comes to us at a later stage in life. A person, who wants to take control of his life, needs to take a closer look at the "shadow of imagination" that follows him through his life, and try to see his true self. An example of our imagination in everyday life is when a person wants to take "just one more drink" or "one more cigarette". My imagination tells me that "one more" can't do any harm. And even if it will harm me, it can't do too much harm. Even if it will harm, I can live with the pain... One's imagination takes over one's common sense that something will be harmful and makes one think that it is OK. This is what happens to us when we neglect some commandments. "If I drive my car to Shul on the Shabbos, at least I am doing it for a good cause...I won't get punished like the others...and even if I get punished, how bad can it be..." In the past, people spent much of their time increasing their intelligence, even non-Jews. Nowadays, people waste much of their time on their imagination - watching TV, going to movies, reading novels, newspapers, internet chats... 3) Evil Inclination: At times we find ourselves doing a certain action, without any thought. We may have said something that caused another to turn red from embarrassment, without wanting to hurt the other person. We get no enjoyment from our action and we caused another person to get hurt. Why did we do this? It wasn't our imagination that caused us to do it, what then was the cause? It is the Evil Inclination - Yetzer Hora, which is found inside each and every one of us. The Yetzer Hora is like a snake which bites even if there is no enjoyment (imagination). The Evil Inclination is like a king over our actions, yet he is also like a pauper. Since the Evil Inclination doesn't give us any enjoyment, "one who starves it, feels full, yet one who feeds it - feels hungry". There are people who imagine doing a wrongful action and at the end give in and do the action. Yet there are times that we did not think to do wrong, but yet at the end we sinned. We get angry at another person or say slander, without any prior imagination. These are sins done through the Yetzer Hora. The trickery of the Yetzer Hora is that it comes to us without the use of the "imagination". 4) "Me" / "I": We are now slowly getting there. We learnt about our character traits, imagination and the power of the Yetzer. Now we have reached the center point in ourselves - "Me" / "I". The big "I" is the spiritual flow of our lives. The "I" is the pole, around which our inner world turns. This is what one has acquired throughout his whole life. It is something which is "mine" and no one can take it away from us. When we tell a person that "I want something", we are telling them that one of our inner character traits feels a need for something. There are thousands of powers that use this pipeline called "I", which comes to bring to the surface of our knowledge, our deep inner desires. The power of "I" also comes into play when we must make a choice over two or more alternatives, and we decide to choose one over the other. The "I" can bring close or push away, strengthen or weaken things. What is the essence behind the "I"? There are 2 things involved in our decisions (I). One is called "will or desire", the other is called "feeling of enjoyment or pain". Usually our inner desire is what shows us what paths to take in life and our day to day decisions. A person's will is very strong and usually is what helps make one's decisions. Even though this power usually wins, it is fleeting, for one does not feel any will or desire after death. There is yet another power, feelings which continue to exist in the eternal "I", even after one dies. A person always looks for things in life that give him a feeling of satisfaction, when his desires are fulfilled. When a person first starts off in life, he gets satisfaction only from physical pleasure. As one gets older, his desires change and if one decides to build himself spiritually in life, he begins getting more and more satisfaction from spiritual gain. The main point found in man from the time of birth till one's death - is to feel satisfaction and pleasure in life. Things that give us satisfaction are pleasant. We feel that it becomes part of us. Something like, "you are what you eat". We take pleasure in ourselves, and push away any feelings that give us displeasure. The inner feeling in "I" is the feeling of "pleasure", the outward point is that of "will". Our "will" knows through instinct to push off any feelings of pain, and seek pleasure. Pleasure is great and pulls along our "will". As long as a person does an action and does not feel any pleasure from that action, it remains external to him, even though he does it through his own "will". Once one feels pleasure from the action, it becomes an internal part of the person, even if at first his "will" didn't want to do that action. A person's will is awakened through his "enjoyment". 5) Bechira - Free Choice: "Free choice" is when the will and desire are in conflict and one decides which choice to make. "I" am therefore made up of will and pleasure and free choice. "I" is in charge of my physical body and spiritual soul. The power of one's "will", in itself, is spiritual. While the feeling of pleasure tends more to the physical part of us. When our will and desire join forces, we can see the joining of body and soul. It is up to the "I" to decide which power will pull the other. "Free choice" means - will we allow our "will" to become a slave to our body or our "pleasure" lift up our body to a more spiritual level. Children don't have "free choice", even if they have "will" and "pleasure". A little child sees a whole plate of chocolate chip cookies on the table, and he knows that if he takes one while his mother is not looking, he will get a nice spanking. Here the child has an inner battle between "pleasure" in eating some cookies and "fear" from getting punished. Whichever power is stronger, will win. The fact that one instinct wins over the other, is not "free choice". "Free choice" is when a person uses his own inner mature "knowledge" to decide which path to take. Most people may go through life without even making one "free choice", instead they act through habit, or peer pressure...Even a person who keeps all the Mitzvos can do this without every having to make an inner choice between physical and spiritual. "Free choice" is not found every day, a person has to work on himself to reach such a level. We must assume that most people do things in life out of - habit, education, and personal interest - as if one is forced to do it. Just like when a child pours his cereal all over the living room carpet and his mother yells at him, as if she had to yell, without any choice. As if it is part of human nature to yell when one is upset. Man can change this situation and add "free choice" into his life when he adds "spiritual pleasure" into his life, as a contrast to "physical pleasures". Our goal in this world is as we said above, "Man was created in this world for one sole purpose - rejoicing in G-d and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His presence". When a person realizes that intellect and holiness can bring such a thing as "spiritual pleasure", and we feel the difference between spiritual and physical pleasure, the "I" in me comes to the for. 6) Knowledge: We now understand who "we" are. The feelings of "pain or pleasure" and "will" are instincts which we are born with. "Free choice" consists of another power - that of "wisdom and knowledge". "Free choice" is not an instinct found in man, it is not part of the nature in man, it is a lofty level that is acquired through wisdom. As we said above, a little child acts through instincts. He has a "desire" and "pleasure or pain". We know that man is greater than animals, for we were given the ability to choose. Animals also have desires and fears, yet they don't use knowledge. In the wild, when there is a shortage of water, you may see a single stream of water in the desert, with a lion sipping some water from the stream. The weaker animals don't dare come close to the water, for fear of the lion, even though they may certainly die from thirst, yet the fear of the lion is greater. A human being, who is blessed with knowledge, would go for the water even though he is risking his life, because otherwise he would certainly die. Such a person has wisdom and "free choice". When you add "wisdom" to "will" and "pleasure", you can now make a "free choice". When a person gains this level, he has already raised his physical body to a higher spiritual level. Knowledge of what one is doing, raises his initial instincts to a level of clear knowledge. When we know the inner "I", and we use our will with greater awareness of our actions, we are not making blind choices. Rather we are making choices through great thought - and we have now transformed our nature into positive traits. 7) Daily Knowledge: Now that we have learnt that we have such a thing called "knowledge", we must now learn how to use it on a daily basis. It is very easy to make mistakes when it comes to "character traits", such as when to use them and how much to use. In Halacha we are usually told what measurements to use, yet here, there is no Shulchan Aruch. When it comes to Midos, the measurement depends on the wisdom of each person. You may smile at a person, yet the same smile can be a kind smile or a sly smile. It is very hard to tell a bad trait from a good trait. It is much easier to find bad traits, since they are felt throughout the day, yet good traits are usually hidden inside our inner selves. It is possible that one knows his innerself well, yet he can't call his traits by a certain type or name. The fact that one knows and is aware of them, is really what is important, he doesn't have to know what its name is. 8) Take note of yourself: Man is "close to himself" and a person finds it very hard to see anything wrong in himself. Once we do reach the level of self criticism, we must be prepared for drastic changes in our life. We should not allow the negative traits that we find to bring us to despair, and when we find those positive traits, we should work on increasing them. Bad traits can be corrected and good traits were given to us inorder to perfect them. This is our job in this world. If a person still wants to know his innerself even better, one should look back to the days of his early childhood. Try to bring back memories of what games you liked playing with, what dreams you had for the future, how you felt in different incidents... Beginnings are the roots of everything. What did I like, what was I afraid of, this is the main key for knowing yourself. You will then get to know how things back then had an effect on the way you are today, and to better know your innerself. One who knows himself, will then know what he needs to fix in life. One who is working now on fixing his innerself, should make notes in a small notebook on what he needs to improve (A DoItYourself Manual!). We should also of course include those little things that made a change in our life, "Watching a person help an old lady cross the street", reading an uplifting Torah thought"...or even a lesson that you learnt. There is no need to write in the notebook fleeting feelings and thoughts or if you felt great or down a certain day. By keeping such a book, we will have a finger on our spiritual pulse, and be able to know when our spiritual pressure is going down and we need to put in more effort. It is normal to have some ups and downs in life, and by writing it out, we will have much more awareness of what is going on inside ourselves. 9) Breaking down one's actions into separate parts: We have reached the point where we are going to look at our "actions" and check which character traits are present in that action. First of all, how do our actions develop? Here is an example to help explain one's actions: Korach rebeled against Moshe and claimed that he has a "better system" than that of Moshe. He believed that a nation that is completely holy, does not need a leader. Korach wasn't a fool, he saw through "Ruach Ha'Kodesh" that he would have a chain of great people coming from him. He saw Shmuel, who was, in his generation, equal to Moshe and Aharon. Yet what aroused Korach, was the trait of jealousy upon seeing that Moshe appointed Elitzaphon as a Prince of the children of Kehas. We see that Korach was aroused by the "trait" of jealousy. This attached itself to a spark of" truth", that Shmuel would descend from him. This ideology (system) brought about the Parsha of Korach in the Torah. The whole Parsha started because of an inner trait that went out of control. Similarly, every action that we do in life, is rooted in our Midos. Our "character traits" are the starting point of all our "actions". When we create for ourselves reasons to act (systems), the reasons are created by our Midos. Our Midos are usually not awakened on their own. They are usually stimulated by an external trigger. We see this in the case of Korach. The act of Moshe giving the position of prince to another person is what awakened Korach's trait of jealousy. When a trait is aroused, we usually feel that we have all the right "to be angry" or "jealous of the other person". Yet one must always use a microscope to look at our reason for acting, since our Midos are always involved, and there is certainly room for error or falsehood when our own Midos are involved in our decisions. When we specifically think that what we are doing is a Mitzvah, we must take extra caution. 10) The catalyst: As we saw above, the "catalyst" that awakens our Midos is our external situation. When we are in different situations, we should take account which of our Midos may be awakened, and we can be rest assured that they will certainly be aroused. Any action that we will do in such a situation, will be the outcome of that character trait. Since one's present surroundings and situation awakens his Midos, one should be constantly on the alert and prepared before hand, to control one's Midos. 11) Why must we be so careful? We must constantly be on the lookout for our Midos, because the power of our Midos is deep down inside us. At times, we may never even reveal them, even through hard work. Our mind is like a video camera constantly taking pictures more than half of the day, and we are unaware of many things that enter our mind and our sub-conscience. Most of these thoughts we are unaware of, and at times they even frighten us such as when we have a bad dream, which is usually based on our thoughts and what we saw during the day. These feelings and thoughts are what affect our actions and the way we interact with our surroundings. They bring us fear of war, stubbornness, or depression - and we never actually know what brings on these feelings during the day. We are also greatly affected by the media that we hear, amongst other things. How can we then tell what is really part of us, what we feel deep down in our hearts? Our Rabbis teach us that when we see something negative in another person, we should look at ourself to see if we too have such a trait. "For whoever finds fault in another person, usually he himself has such a flaw in himself". Of course right now he doesn't see this flaw, for if he would, he wouldn't see it in others. Rather it is probably hidden inside and he has not found it yet, or he forgot that he also once had this problem. We have an inner tendency to see other people's negative character traits. When we see a negative trait which is external to us, it is a signal to us to be extra cautious. It is possible that this negative trait is really inside us too and we are just unaware of it. Hopefully by now, we have learnt that an immediate positive point which we have gained by learning how to know ourselves better, is that we have learnt not to blame others and to see our negative traits according to the negative we see in others. 12) Excitement!! Since our traits are deep down inside us, we need to learn a special language, in order to understand our innerself. We need "excitement". Only what comes to our knowledge through "excitement" can assure us that what we see, is truth. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter would say that "learning Mussar (ethics) with great excitement, will merit one to learn his inner truths". Akavia Ben Mehalel told his son before his death - "Your actions will bring you close, and your actions will push you away". We are the only ones who can bring ourselves closer to G-d in this world. If we think that others will bring us closer to G-d, that others will tell us what is wrong with ourselves, we will never ascend spiritually. The Ohr Ha'Chaim writes that "To attain Holiness, one does not need others". All one needs is an inner decision. It's about time to get to know yourself! (Adapted mostly from Alei Shur (Rav Wolbe Shlita), also from Mesilat Yesharim First Perek, Lev Avigdor - First Perek, Shemen HaTov vol3, Artscroll Chumash, Shabbos Delights) --------***********-------- A special Thank You to my mother for checking & correcting the first DT draft. A special Thank You to Project Genesis - http://www.torah.org for hosting this list. If you ever want to remove yourself from this mailing list send a blank email to the following address: --------***********--------