Character & integrity matter

Character Matters

“Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our father Abraham, and whoever possesses the opposite three traits is of the disciples of the wicked Bilaam.”

The disciples of our father Abraham have a good eye, a meek spirit, and a humble soul. The disciples of the wicked Bilaam have an evil eye, a haughty spirit, and a gross soul.

What is the difference between the disciples of our father Abraham and the disciples of the wicked Bilaam? The disciples of our father Abraham benefit in this world and inherit the World to Come, as is stated, “To bequeath to those who love Me, and their treasures I shall fill” (Proverbs 8:21).

In the Ethics of our Fathers, we are told that the disciples of the wicked Bilaam inherit purgatory and descend into the pit of destruction, as is stated, “And You, God, shall cast them into the pit of destruction; bloody and deceitful men, they shall not attain half their days. And I shall trust in you” (ibid., 55:24).

That was a mouthful.

Why did the Rabbis not tell us more succinctly, “Become the students of Abraham our Patriarch, who had a good eye, meek spirit, and humble soul” as they encouraged us regarding Aaron when they said, “Become the disciples of Aaron — a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah”?

What’s up with this comparison against the students of the wicked Bilaam, and why the detailing of the punishments and rewards? Also, why do we end the above teaching with words King David used to express his own inner strength and had nothing to do with the evil traits of the students of Bilaam?

The above urging of our sages regarding Abraham is not at all like the guidance regarding the students of Aaron spoken about in another place in the Ethics of our Fathers. There, everything is oriented toward action. “Love peace” and “pursue peace” in this world. Love people and draw them toward the proper path, into the ways of Torah.

In our case above, because the Rabbis are counseling and appealing not to the realm of action but exclusively to character, they felt it necessary to expand their teachings because people have a tendency to believe the only thing that matters is what they do, and not what is going on inside of them. In this world of action people falsely believe, character has little significance.

For this reason, the Rabbis took the time to explain that developing the qualities and character traits of Abraham our Patriarch, even before it is brought into any kind of action, is already considered a positive achievement.

Our Rabbis want us to know the reward expected for those who develop these positive character traits, and the punishment for those with the negative traits, not only in the world to come but in this world, right here and now. For this reason, they included the verse, “Bloody and deceitful men, they shall not attain half their days” — to save us from these tragedies.

Because evil traits bring terrible results and have the power to cause harm, we conclude with the prayer and strength of King David, “And I shall trust in you.” This prayer is the antidote to all the negativity generated by those with negative traits.

Everything comes from God, and in the end, no one has anything to fear from another human being. A person’s trust in God, in and of itself, gives him the power to withstand the traits of evil people. As King David tells us in Psalms, “But as for him who trusts in the Lord, kindness will encompass him.”

Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak Schneerson once said, “This is the entire contribution offered through the study of Chassidus — to eliminate all character traits that are no good. To refine and transform and elevate (oneself) to the upper levels of holiness, so there can be the revelation of the great and infinitely merciful God, which is how blessings are drawn into this world — because God, His essence is (all) blessings and compassion, and is completely and totally goodness itself.

Chapter 269

About the Author
Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui is an author and lecturer. A Spiritual Soul Book & Maimonides Advice for the 21st Century. Opened the first Chabad Center in Palm Beach Florida and the first Orthodox Synagogue on Palm Beach Island.
Related Topics
Related Posts