The Road to Character

In his book, The Road to Character, New York Times columnist, David Brooks, suggests that there are two types of virtues: Resume and Eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are the external qualities we put on our CV, they’re about what we are and what we do. Eulogy virtues are about our inner values, about who we are and what really matters for us. They’re also about how we would like to be remembered…

Brooks was inspired by Rav Soloveitchik’s classic depiction of the two Adams of the Genesis story. Based on the two different accounts of the creation of man in the first and second chapters of Genesis, he posits there is an Adam 1 and an Adam 2. Adam 1 is worldly and ambitious, he is a builder, creator and innovator committed to success and the external trappings of achievement. Adam 2 is more humble, aware of his limitations, yearning to understand the inner life, driven to discover who he is and how to be and do good. Adam 1 embodies the resume virtues; Adam 2 encapsulates the eulogy virtues. Both are necessary dimensions of our lives.

Delivering eulogies is very much part of the work that I do. I see this not as a duty, but as a privilege. It’s an awesome responsibility to summarise a life in a short speech, to distil the essence of an individual, their yearnings and dreams, their failures and foibles in a few paragraphs. A eulogy, by its nature, focuses on both the resume and the eulogy virtues, it gives recognition to Adam 1, it pays homage to Adam 2.

I got to thinking about these characteristics as I prepared for the consecration of the stone for my late father -in -law, Zelik Bedell in Johannesburg last Sunday. He was a remarkable man who lived a remarkable and long life. Born in Dvinsk, Latvia, Jewishness was at the very core of his identity; he never forgot its great heroes (the revered Meir Simcha and the Rogerchover Rebbe), its warm Yiddishkeit, its community spirit, and intellectual rigour. He was a soldier in North Africa and Italy in the Second World War, a master craftsman and respected manufacturer. But what ultimately mattered for him was connecting to people, building his family, representing his community. He was a man of success, he was a man of values, he was Adam 1 and he was Adam 2.

And I got to thinking about these qualities when I attended a tribute dinner for the late Rabbi Goldfein and his wife who just turned eighty. He was my Rosh Yeshiva and gave me semicha. He founded the Yeshiva Gedolah of Johannesburg and changed the face of the Jewish community of South Africa. The current Chief Rabbi of South Africa was one of his many students who hold positions across South Africa. He too was a man of achievement and accomplishment (his Torah learning and transmission were awesome), but ultimately he was more respected for the spirit of tolerance and moderation he inspired. He was as driven as Adam 1; he was as humble as Adam 2.

And I got to think of the resume driven culture of our times where what you do is more definitive than who you are, where what you consume is more important than what consumes you.

As we count down to the festival of Shavuot, we are reminded that it was Sinai that shaped the Jewish people and changed the face of the world forever. It was at Sinai that we were given the Torah, that we were taught the eulogy ethics, that we were called on to find the balance between Adam 1 and Adam 2.

It is reported that Albert Einstein once said to a graduating class, ‘I don’t want you to be people of success but rather people of value because people of success take a lot out of the world, but the people of value put a lot more into the world…’

As I stood in the hot sun on an achingly beautiful Highveld Sunday, it occurred to me that people of value carried within themselves all the clarity, hopefulness and crispness of that beautiful autumnal morning. It’s a road worth travelling!

About the Author
Rabbi Genende recently retired as the Senior Rabbi of Melbourne’s premier Caulfield Shule and took up the position of Senior Rabbi and Manager to Jewish Care Victoria, Melbourne’s largest Jewish organisation. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and of the DHHS ,Department of Health Ethics Committee and sits on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist, and they have three children and two grandchildren.