While in the past I have attempted to post something close to the 25th of Shevat, when Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt’l was niftar. I am opting to repost the text of a little pamphlet I put together. Rabbi Micha Berger also has a great post, here.
If interested there is also a biography of R Yisrael Salanter zt’l from 1899 that I posted a while back, here.
אמת – שלא להוציא מן הפה דבר שאין הלב מעיד על אמיתותו.
Truth– Never speak a word unless your heart can testify to its truth.
Do the words we speak to others clearly reflect the feelings in our heart? It is vital that when we talk with our friends or family members we open up ourselves and show them who we really are. Our heart serves as a witness to what we say and who we are. The gemara in Yoma 69b states that Hashem’s “seal” is אמת, truth. By committing to speak the truth in all matters, we are connecting to Hashem in a very powerful way.
-שלא לבטל רגע לבטלה. כן לעשות מה שדרוש לעשות.זריזות
Alacrity– Never waste a single moment; do what has to be done.
Do you grab moments in life or do they slip away? This middah is about grabbing the opportunities that Hashem puts in front of us when they come our way. When it comes to doing what has to be done, it’s all about priorities. Some things are clearly not as important to do as others. The sefer Orchos Tzaddikim says that we learn alacrity from Avraham. Before the Akeida, he “woke up early in the morning” (Bereishis 22:3). We are not just talking about mitzvos, though. We have to approach daily tasks with this same energy. It can be emails in your inbox, dishes in the sink, an assignment in school, or laundry. Things need to be accomplished in a timely fashion.
חריצות – לעשות מה שהוחלט לעשות בשקידה וברגש.
Diligence– Do what you have determined to do and do it with feeling.
How long is your “to do” list? If you are like most people, just when you take one thing off your list, two more are written down. While the previous middah dealt with doing what has to be done in a timely manner, this is different. This middah is more about actualizing your decisions by following through. We can make plans to exercise, start dieting, or even to learn more Torah, but for many these are just “plans”. Making up my mind is only step one. Step two is to make it happen. Rabbi Yisrael teaches us the secret to following step two. He says, “Do it with feeling.” To take an idea or make a decision and bring it into this world is a powerful thing. When we are passionate about what we try to do, we are that much closer to success.
כבוד – להיזהר בכבוד כל אדם ואפילו של זה שאין אנו תמימי דעה עמו.
Honor: Be careful to treat all people with honor, even those with whom you have little in common.
Do you treat everyone you know with honor? The idea behind this middah is that everyone is created in the image of Hashem, even if we don’t like them. This means that we have to recognize that their neshama (soul) is connected to Hashem. We all know sometimes it’s easier to be nice to strangers in a store than it is with those that we live with. To be known as a nice person on the street isn’t a big deal. Being a nice person when we enter the front door of our homes is much more difficult. There are people you meet in life that you simply find it difficult to connect with or even get along with. They might be more or less observant than you, daven somewhere else, or have totally different values than you do. We can’t forget that they are also created by Hashem.
מנוחה – מנוחת הנפש, לבלי היות מבוהל ולעשות כל דבר במנוחה.
Tranquility: Find an inner calmness; do not be overwhelmed; always act with deliberation.
Do you find time to relax and chill out? The middah of menucha, or tranquility, is an important and overlooked trait. We are all so concerned about staying connected and running from place to place that it’s easy to forget that we need to have a feeling of calmness within us. Rabbi Salanter urges us not to get overwhelmed with life, especially with problems that arise. If I start out with a sense of balance within me, then it’s easier not get overwhelmed and panic stricken. When we feel the pressure of having too much to do, we find it difficult to make decisions. This is why it’s suggested to “always act with deliberation.”
נחת – דברי חכמים בנחת נשמעים, ולכן השתדל לדבר כן.
Gentleness: The wise speak in a gentle manner; always try to speak softly.
When do find yourself shouting? The Ramban, in his famous letter, instructs his son to, “Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone.” Speaking to others gently allows you to not only be heard, but to listen to another person. When we get aggravated and raise our voice, usually someone will do the same. We end up yelling so loud that we can’t even hear the other person or their side of the story. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter is teaching us that that our words are powerful. Everyone has been hurt by something that someone has said to them. While physical abuse is outwardly more apparent, verbal abuse hurts us on the inside. Sharp words hurt. Softly spoken words can hurt too, but might be better received.
ניקיון – ניקיון וטהרה בגופו ובבגדיו.
Cleanliness: Attain cleanliness and purity in body and clothing.
How do you appear to other people? This isn’t a lesson in my hygiene and appearance. It’s about how the outside world views me. If I recognize that my neshama was given to me my Hashem, then that needs to be reflected in how I present myself in the world. If we look in the mirror and are happy with what we see, it means something. Our outer appearance needs to reflect our inner appearance. The type of Jew we are at home should also be the type of Jew we are when we are not at home. If we really are children of the King of Kings, then how we carry ourselves and dress should reflect that honor.
סבלנות – לסבול במנוחה כל מקרה וכל פגע בחיים.
Patience: Calmly confront every situation and absorb each occurrence in life.
Is there someone that eats away your patience? The root of the Hebrew word for patience means load or burden (based on Alei Shur by Rabbi Shlomo Volbe zt’l). Being a patience person means seeing the whole picture, the parts we like and parts we don’t like. We might not like the person we are dealing with or a specific situation, but we carry that with us. Sometimes I’ll notice myself getting impatient and just stop what I’m doing and count backwards from 30 to 1. That usually helps me. We have to remember that challenges and difficulties are like a computer virus. If you stop them early, you can save your operating system.
סדר – לעשות כל מעשה ועניין בסדר ובמשטר.
Orderliness: Carry out your responsibilities in all aspects in an orderly fashion.
What happens when you don’t follow your GPS directions in order? We all know it is important to follow the correct directions or we’ll get lost. No matter if it’s a school report, project for work, a recipe for dinner, or the way to perform a mitzvah, there’s an order that has to be followed. It’s easy to get frazzled quickly when responsibilities stack up. This is why we have to have to know what needs to be done first. Pirkei Avos (5:7) states that one of the seven characteristics of a wise person is that, “He responds to first things first and to latter things later.” This is a simple, yet practical application of the middah of orderliness.
ענוה – להכיר חסרונות עצמו ולהסיח דעת ממומי חברו.
Humility: Recognize your own shortcomings and disregard those of your fellow man.
Do you know anyone that thinks they are always right? According to Rabbi Salanter, the first step in attaining humility is realizing our own strengths and weaknesses. We all excel in certain things and there are other areas that we need to work on. It’s important to remember this when dealing with others. We all need to learn to see the positive things in others. Each time we deal with someone, we need to stop looking at their shortcomings and see the positive things that we can learn from others. By doing this we can grow into the person we are meant to be.
צדק – כפשוטו וכדרשתו: ‘וותר משלך’.
Righteousness: In its most basic form; and also to be to “forgo your own interests”.
Are justice and righteousness the same thing? Both can only be measured by a set standard. In our lives, that standard is Hashem’s Torah. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter says that we have to be willing to even give up things that can benefit us. This could include: a parking spot, your seat in shul, the last delicious brownie, giving a smile or a kind work to another person. Rabbi Salanter’s great-grandson, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt’l, took this concept of giving and taught that there are two types of people in the world, givers and takers. Being a giver is truly a righteous thing.
קמוץ – שלא להוציא פרוטה שלא לצורך.
Thrift: Do not spend even a penny unnecessarily
Do we purchase what we need or what we want? This is a very different middah than the previous ones, because it directly related to so something material. How we spend our money gives us is an indication of what we value. We need to realize that every dollar and every penny is ultimately given to us by Hashem and we should be careful about how we spend it. There is nothing wrong with working hard and owning things that you feel you deserve. However, affluence isn’t everything. It’s what we do with our money that demonstrates the quality of who we are. As it states in Eruvin 65b: A person is recognized through three things – his Kos (how he acts after drinking), his Ka’as (anger), and his Kis (wallet or how he spends).
שתיקה – יחשוב את התועלת שבדבריו קודם שידבר.
Silence: Think about the benefit of your words before you say them.
How often do you say something without really thinking about it? Words reveal our thoughts and allow us to connect with others. We talk, text, email, constantly, connecting with others. We need to think about what we say and how those words can help another person. A kind word or show of thanks is an extremely powerful force. When praying, we also are using the power of speech. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter’s final middah challenges each of us to think about the gift of speech. When we communicate with someone, we need to realize that we are revealing part of our neshama, that which is connected to Hashem, the source of all truth.
This publication was written in conjunction with the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt’l (25th of Shevat)
The Hebrew text for the 13 middos is based on written accounts about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter printed in the sefer Mikor Baruch by Rabbi Baruch Epstein zt”l, page 1111.
My thanks to Rabbi Micha Berger for his essay and chart regarding the 13 middos. Available here: http://www.aishdas.org/asp/2010/03/lists-of-middos.shtml
For additional copies or a pdf file, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2012 Neil Harris