Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Self-awareness and Inner Understanding
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Asher Ben Haim

Part One: Love, Character Traits, and Emotions

For a person to develop his personality and improve his character traits properly, he must be aware of himself, his inner resources, and their interrelations. Therefore, we must begin our studies by addressing a most fundamental issue - self-awareness.


Rabbi Moshe Berliner

1. Love and Self-awareness
2. Character Traits and Emotions
3. The "Bakum" in the Sky

In order for a person to develop his personality and improve his character traits properly, he must be aware of himself, his inner resources, and their interrelations. Therefore, let us begin our studies by addressing the most fundamental of issues - self-awareness. We will not, of course, cover this subject in its entirety, for it is wider than the sea, and it also calls for inner observation on the part of the individual.

Love and Self-awareness
One of the questions frequently asked with regard to choosing a partner and achieving domestic harmony relates to the subject of love: What is love? How does one create it? How does one safeguard it? How does one deepen it? etc.

The source of the answer to this question can be found in the verse, "Love your fellow as yourself" (Leviticus 19;18). The Torah sees fit to base the love a person has for his fellow upon the love which he has for himself. This is because a person's love for his fellow has its beginnings in the love, respect, and esteem which he harbors for himself. A person who lacks self-respect and self-esteem will find it difficult to love himself, and it follows that it will be difficult for him to love others, for he does not know what love is.

How does a person arrive at love, for himself and for others? We find a profound answer to this question in the verse which describes the relationship between Adam and Eve: "And Adam knew Eve his wife" (Genesis 4:1). The word "knew" possesses great psychological profundity: the depth of knowledge reflects the depth of love. In other words, one's capacity to love somebody exists in direct proportion to the decreed of acquaintance with him.

It is impossible to possess true love for a person if one does not genuinely know him. This is the reason that the love which exists between a husband and wife, in a healthy marriage, becomes stronger year by year. Their knowledge of one another grows, and, naturally, the bond between them is deepened such that it reaches additional, deeper layers of the soul and embraces all aspects of life.

As noted, this principal also applies in the arena of a person's relationship with himself. It is the foundation of mental health. A person's ability to love and appreciate himself, and, via this self-appreciation, to fulfill his role in the world, is his ability to be familiar with himself and his inner resources, to look at his own inner mirror and say, "This is me, and I will make the best of it."

Character Traits and Emotions
Two concepts which shall accompany us throughout are "character traits" and "emotions." We shall attempt to define them, not with scientific precision but in a manner which will allow us to make progress.

Rabbi Kook defines character traits as "the attributes of the soul which clothe it and provide it with its appearance and its splendorous character so that it reveal itself in the expanse of life" (Olat Ra'aya, vol. 1, pg.4). Character traits are attributes of the soul - the form by which the soul relates to the inner and outer world. If I become filled with the trait of joy, then, like a magnet, I find myself attracting creation's joy. I take note of things which cause joy, and then I become filled with even more joy. If I harbor envy, envy will become the channel through which my soul relates to the fact that I have come across somebody who is smarter or more successful than I.

In sum, we can say that character traits lead a person to thoughts, feelings, and certain positions. They determine the manner in which we arrange and encounter the world, and, at a more advanced stage, the manner in which we act and relate to it.

And what are emotions? Rabbi Kook calls them "the faculties which portray and imagine, possessing taste and beauty" (Ein Ayah, Berakhot 9:191). More simply, emotion is an inner awareness by virtue of which a person knows that he is alive. This awareness is created via the encounter between one's character traits and the outside world.

Character traits exist within one's soul on their own right; emotions are always the result of something. If a person feels jealous or sad, there is always an underlying reason. We shall address this matter in upcoming discussions.

The "Bakum" in the Sky
A person rises in the morning and wants to begin his day. Suddenly he discovers that he possesses envy, hatred, love, and pride. There is a tendency on the part of some to blame themselves for the existence of these traits: "I am at fault for possessing the trait of envy." However, part of being self-aware is understanding that no person is responsible for the traits he possesses inside. Nobody ever stood before the Almighty's Throne of Glory and pleaded to receive an undesirable character trait. Character traits are not chosen by man. Rather, some of them are inborn and some are acquired through the influence of parents and environment.

Only when a person reaches the age of self-awareness, opens his eyes and ask questions about himself - only then does he understand that there are things about himself that need fixing. This is excellent. The first thing he must understand is that his character traits have been embedded in him by the Almighty. Once a person understands this, he will not have to live with the constant feeling that he is "at fault," and he will not blame himself for the existence of traits which are difficult to fix.

We can imagine the process of character traits being embedded into a person's character as follows: first, the Almighty "chooses" a soul from under the Throne of Glory. Then, in order to fill it with content, He sends it to the "Bakum" (IDF induction base) in the sky where it receives its equipment. In the Bakum, numerous officials are standing at the various counters distributing character traits, and rows of souls are waiting in line before each official. The official responsible for wisdom is busy allocating wisdom: one receives more, one receives less. After wisdom, comes patience, envy, hatred, etc.

After visiting Bakum, each soul goes out to its "unit." The Almighty sees a couple which is suited for raising a particular soul, and so He sends it off to them, and then ... "Mazel Tov!" on behalf of the newborn baby. A person arrives at a certain family in this world for a turn at life, and his inner, spiritual tools are the character traits which he is expected to work with in this world. And this takes us back to the beginning of our discussion - the importance of self-awareness. A person should know himself. He should be aware of the character traits he has received and understand what he is capable of doing with them.

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