‘I Wish Only To Be Remembered As A Mentsch’

Einstein once said “if I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”
What’s wrong with the world today? Is there a unifying cause which explains all the ills engulfing us?
I came across an interview in the FT with Maurice Levy, Chairman of Publicis. (We are hosting him on the CJL Fireside Chat July 15). He is asked: How do you want to be remembered? To which he responds: “I wish only to be remembered as a good man; in Yiddish one would say a ‘Mentsch.’”
There are schools and universities around the world dedicated to teaching every possible subject or discipline. Perhaps there should be one dedicated to teaching people how to be a Mentsch. I’m sure one day soon.
In the meantime, I know of no better source than Maimonides. In his magnum opus, Mishnah Torah, he dedicates seven chapters to “Character Development”.
He opens the first chapter by enumerating eleven cardinal principles, which form the basis of what it means to be a “Mentsch”.
I will mention only four of the eleven to illustrate a simple yet fundamental point.
Principle 3: Love one’s fellow
Principle 4: Love the stranger
Principle 5: Don’t hate one’s brethren
Principle 6: To admonish (your fellow)
Sometimes in order to fully appreciate the text we must first begin from the end, and then return to the beginning. Sequence is vital, especially when studying Maimonides.
Judaism believes in social responsibility. It is this gift of empowerment which was bestowed upon us by G-d when we were chosen as his people at Mount Sinai. However, before we can admonish others, we must ensure that we do not hate them in our hearts. For not only will it not be effective, it will be counterproductive.
But how do we overcome hate in our hearts? How do we rid ourselves of animosity towards others?
The answer lies in principle 3, “Love you’re fellow”. In order to negate a negative we must focus on the positive. Fill your heart with love, not with hate.
But how is that possible? How does one make this most dramatic change? How does one replace hate with love?
The answer lies in principle 1: To emulate G-d’s ways. Try look at the world from His perspective. When siblings don’t get along it is because they see themselves as the axis of the family dynamic. The truth is however, it is the parents who should be at the centre, infusing all the children with a unifying spirit.
We are all children of G-d. Every child is loved equally by Him. We have all been empowered to play a unique and vital role to make the world a better place. We all need each other in order to solve our problems, that is why G-d created each and every individual.
Yes, we have the responsibility to speak out when we sincerely believe someone has said or done something wrong. Yet before we do so we must remember the sequence. We can only admonish when love fills our hearts. We can only have a healthy dialogue when we are respectful and loving of all mankind, including and especially the ‘“stranger” (principle 4)
Unfortunately there are no shortcuts in life. Things will only change when we all take a good deep look into our hearts. Only then can we change the world. One heart at a time.
About the Author
Founder and CEO of Center for Jewish Life, London UK.