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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Pathways in Personality Development

33. More on the Trait of Piety

Rav Zeira's students asked him, “How have you lived to such a ripe old age?” He responded, “I was never officious in my own household, nor did I ever walk before somebody greater than I, nor did I ever dwell upon the Torah in unclean places . . . ”
Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora
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We now continue in our explanation of the trait of piety. One who has reached a level of piety has honed his personality to a state of perfection such that not only does he live correctly, his character is healthy and his traits are desirable, but he is also happy and content.
Pathways in Personality Development
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
1 - 1. The Quality of "Zehirut" - that Man Contemplate His Actions
2 - 2. Introspection
3 - 3. "Zehirut"- Inhibiting and Contributing Factors
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The students of R' Nechuniah asked their master, "By virtue of what have you lived to such a ripe old age?" He answered, "Never in my life did I receive honor through somebody else's disgrace." By this he did not mean that never in his life did he criticize another person in order to receive more honor himself. R' Nechuniah obviously would not act in such a manner. Rather, his words can be understood according to the example brought in the Talmud:

R' Chunah was once walking along carrying a hoe on his shoulder. R' Chana bar Chanilai came along and took the hoe from him so that R' Chunah not carry it himself. R' Chunah said to him, "If you are accustomed to carrying such a tool in your own city I will allow you to lighten my load. But if you are not accustomed to such, I refuse to receive honor through your degradation." R' Chunah responded in this manner even though it was R' Chana himself who made the offer.

R' Nechuniah added, "And the curse of my friend never went up upon my bed." Before going to bed each night R' Nechuniah would forgive whoever may have grieved him during the course of the day. He would not hold a grudge against anybody. These practices, to which R' Nechuniah attributed his long life, were permanent traits for him. This was his nature all the days of his life.

Rav Zeira's students asked him, "By virtue of what have you lived to such a ripe old age?" He responded, "I was never officious in my own household, nor did I ever walk before somebody greater than I, nor did I ever dwell upon the words of the Torah in unclean places, nor did I ever walk four cubits without Torah or without Tefillin, nor did I ever sleep or even nap in the study hall, nor did I ever take pleasure in a fellow Jew's downfall, and I never called a fellow Jew by a nickname."

R Zeira also notes that these traits were embedded in him from his very childhood. "I was never officious in my own household." There are people who know how to control themselves and their temper when in public, but at home they act freely, naturally. At home there is no need to make a good impression on anybody. R' Zeira tells us, "I was never officious in my own household ."

R' Zeira was so attached to the Torah that he would not even walk a few meters without engaging on the study of Torah. His attachment to the Torah was exemplary. It permeated his mind and his heart. And despite this, throughout his life, whenever he passed through squalid alleys where it is forbidden to ponder the words of Torah, he refrained from doing so.

A person who is not immersed in Torah does not find it hard to stop thinking about Torah, but for one who is totally consumed by Torah day and night, whose mouth cannot refrain from study, this is much more difficult. Pondering the Torah is second nature for such a person, and this indicates a very profound attachment to the sanctity of the Torah. R' Zeira was accustomed to spending all of his time in the study hall. This is liable to cause a person to begin to feel at home there. Nonetheless, R' Zeira would not even nap in the study hall.

Such exemplary conduct can only come from one whose heart is totally filled with love for all people. Therefore, nothing offensive ever came out of his mouth, for this would run counter to his will. One whose heart is filled with love and fear of God is not ready to separate from his attachment to God for even a moment. One who has developed complete self control, and is never officious, is worthy of being called pious. These are the character traits to which R' Zeira attributed his life long life.

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Some of the translated Talmudic sources in the above article were taken from or based upon Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom), or Feldheim's "The Path of the Just."

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