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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Pathways in Personality Development

Chapter 42

44. Tales of the Sages

Reading stories about the virtuous deeds of great rabbis is a most effective way to nurture desirable character traits. Parents who wish to instill in their children a love for the Torah should give them books on the lives of the sages of Israel.
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Reading stories about the virtuous deeds of great rabbis can have a strong influence on a person, and it is a most effective way to nurture desirable character traits. Reading stories about the great sages of Israel in both recent and bygone generations causes a person to want to emulate them.
Pathways in Personality Development (52)
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
43 - 43. Cautiously Stringent
44 - 44. Tales of the Sages
45 - 45. Conceit and Divine Service
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Whoever has read the life story of the righteous Rabbi Aryeh Levin can certainly attest to the positive impact it made upon him and the many good thoughts it awakened in him. When a person reads about great Torah scholars, their diligence and devotion to the Torah, he himself becomes inspired to devote himself to the Torah. When a person reads about the sages' love for humankind, one becomes filled with such a love himself.

Therefore, parents who wish to instill in their children a love for the Torah, kindness, and good character traits, should give their children books on the lives of the sages of Israel. As a matter of fact, it certainly does not hurt for the parents themselves to read such books.

The above advice is not my own. This is the advice given by Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzatto in "Messilat Yesharim." He adds that it is possible to acquire piety by studying and pondering the hymns of King David in the book of Psalms, hymns filled with love and reverence of God. David pours out his soul before the Almighty with devotion and reverence, and he does this while in various moods.

Sometimes David pours out his soul before the Almighty while he is pained and beleaguered; he supplicates Him like a child turning to his father for help. At other times, in a state of joy, David sings and praises God for all His kindness. David accepts everything submissively, with humility, and one who reads David's hymns in the book of Psalms cannot help but marvel at his piety.

It goes without saying that a person is able to acquire piety through contemplating God's grandeur, majesty, and extreme benevolence, as well as His great love for the nation of Israel and the preeminence of the Torah and its commandments. The more a person ponders and probes all this, the more infused he becomes with a burning desire to cling to the Almighty.

Conversely, the concerns and worries of daily life impede such contemplation and make it difficult for a person to acquire piety. Therefore the sages teach, "The divine presence does not dwell where there is sadness . . . It dwells only where there is the joy of the commandments."

And the thing that can keep a person from worrying is trust in God - the faith that everything comes from God and that God gives each individual exactly what he needs to have. This does not mean that a person can sit around doing nothing and make no effort whatsoever to support himself. Though a person is obligated to earn a living, he must be aware that his success results from God's blessing, not from the degree of his efforts.

Therefore, a person should place his trust entirely in God, for He "cares for all, and His kindness extends to all of His handiwork" (Psalms 145:9). Everything He does is for the best, and when a person places his trust in God, all of his worries disappear. Then there is room in his heart for piety and pure service of God.
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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