Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Pathways in Personality Development
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Avraham Ben David

1. The Quality of "Zehirut" - that Man Contemplate His Actions

Part One of "Pathways in Personality Development" When man lacks awareness of his behavior, he is like a blind man walking on the edge of the river, whose danger is no doubt great and whose demise is certainly closer than his deliverance.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Sivan 5761
Who doesn't want to develop his personality, to perfect his good qualities, and to free himself from all sorts of weaknesses of character? This is a desire which is common to all, and isn't dependent on a particular worldview. True, the greater a person's aspirations, the more he will sense the importance of developing his personality. This is due to the fact that the healthier the components of one's character, the more successful one will be when it comes to realizing his greater aspirations.

For example, discretion and contemplation of one's deeds, as opposed to indifference and avoidance of contemplation; or alacrity in the fulfillment of one's obligations, as opposed to sluggishness - these are qualities which every healthy person is interested in possessing. This being the case, that which follows is relevant to all.
One of the most outstanding guides to personality development is the classic book by the Ramhal (Rabbi Moshe Haim Lutzatto), written more than three hundred years ago, Messilat Yesharim , "The Path of the Just."

The Ramhal constructed his book according to an ancient saying by the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Pinhas Ben Yair, which asserts that " zehirut" is the first of those qualities which needs to be cared for and established if one wishes to develop his personality.
And just what is zehirut ? Zehirut , or discretion, means contemplating and inspecting one's actions and ways to determine whether or not they're desirable, that one not simply follow his old habits, like a blind person in the darkness. Just as it is man's nature to be careful not to fall into a pit, not to walk into a wall, and not to be burned by fire - and this is true concerning all animals - so, too, we must develop the trait of discretion when it comes to our behavior, that it be sound and not defective. For when man lacks awareness of his behavior, he is like a blind man walking on the edge of the river, whose danger is no doubt great and whose demise is certainly closer than his deliverance.

Man has a natural craving for many negative things: "The eye sees and the heart desires," and if a person is not careful to examine his actions he is in danger of downfall. Lack of contemplation on the part of man as to the nature of his actions is the origin of all downfalls. And concerning this Haggay the prophet warned, saying: "Pay attention to your ways." King Solomon, too, said: "Don't give sleep to your eyes or rest to your eyelids, escape like a deer from the hand of the hunter (Proverbs 6:4)." That is, don't be drowsy, inattentive about what befalls you. Man shouldn't let his natural inclinations control him, being drawn after them blindly, rather, he should contemplate and examine his ways, controlling his inclinations and directing them.

Behold, Jeremiah the Prophet would complain concerning the evil of the people of his generation because they were afflicted by the plague of this trait, and would hide their eyes from their actions, making no effort to determine whether they should be carried out or rejected. And he said concerning them: "Nobody repents of his wickedness, asking, What have I done? everyone turns to his own course, like a horse rushing into the battle." That is, that they would go along hurriedly in the course of their ways and habits, leaving no time to inspect their actions and their behavior, and would therefore stumble into evil ways without noticing. This is reminiscent of Pharaoh's plan, when he said: "Make the people's burden heavier," for his intention was that the enormous burden render them incapable of considering what was befalling them, and how to escape from the bondage.

So, the lack of examining the nature of one's actions is a deadly sickness, and therefore our sages have said: "All who inspect their paths in this world will be worthy to witness the salvation wrought by the Holy One Blessed be He." Even after one has become aware of his situation and knows what needs to be improved, he has still got a long road ahead of him, for it's not easy to change. It's not easy to overcome the inclinations of the heart, and one needs a lot of divine assistance in this matter. Yet one who sets his heart to fix, who "inspects his paths in this world," the Almighty comes to his assistance, and he is privileged to "witness the salvation wrought by the Holy One Blessed be He."

So, to summarize this portion, the first step on the way to improving one's character is that one contemplate his actions and be familiar with his ways.
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