Beit Midrash

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

The Torah study is dedicated to the full recovery of

Dvorah bat Miriam

10. Self Criticism and Taintlessness

Part Ten of "Pathways in Character Development" After initial repairs have been made comes the stage of fundamental improvement, fundamentally cleaning one's qualities of every speck of filth.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Heshvan 5762
One who wishes to perfect his character, to improve his personality, and to develop his inherent abilities, in order that they be healthy, strong and admirable, is advised to read the book Mesilat Yesharim , "the Path of the Righteous," by the legendary Rabbi Moshe Haim Lutzatto . The reader will thus follow the straight path, as paved by the author himself, on the road to personality improvement, and will clime step by step, ascending higher and higher on the ladder of trait perfection.

We have dealt thus far with the first two qualities: " Zehirut" and " Zerizut ."

Zehirut implies inspecting ones actions and habits, in order to determine which are good and which are not. This, then, is the first step: becoming familiar with the situation by recognizing the state of one's behavior, determining what is acceptable and what is not, and deciding what needs fixing. It is, of course, important that in addition to recognizing weaknesses, a person be aware of his good points. Exaggerated self criticism is no less dangerous than no self criticism at all, for criticism which is out of proportion causes despair, and loss of faith in one's ability to affect change. Regarding this the Rabbis said: "Judge every man favorably" - even yourself. Do not go overboard when it comes to self criticism; judge even yourself agreeably.
At first glance, close self scrutiny appears to be praiseworthy, indicative of personal integrity, honesty, and humility. Yet the truth of the matter is that exaggerated self criticism is the origin of all sin. By destroying a person's self confidence, it denies him the ability to advance, and to improve.

After a person has inspected himself - recognizing his positive traits and taking comfort in them; recognizing his weaknesses and desiring to fix them - comes the second stage in Zehirut: developing the capacity to control one's self and the ability to overcome one's desires. "Who," ask the Sages "is the true hero? The one who conquers his desire !" Every victory in the battle against one's passions adds to one's strength. The individual, instead of playing slave to his evil inclinations, rules over them and becomes king over himself. The attribute of Zehirut is the first step on "the Path of the Righteous." First of all, avoid evil.

After Zehirut comes the second quality, "Zerizut." After avoiding evil comes the performance of good. Here, too, a person must first recognize his points of weakness, those weak areas which prevent him from doing good, whether it be the laziness before even beginning to act, or a lack of ability to follow through and complete good deeds. Here too one should be careful not of be overly critical. One should always strive to see his own strong points, so that they provide the encouragement necessary for him to continue and advance.

So, after pinpointing the sources of one's weakness, laziness and fear, and the hindrances which keep one from doing good, one must develop the quality of Zerizut. One does this by way of constant practice, acting with alacrity, vigor and swiftness, denying the possibility of weakness to develop. Every success brings in its trail additional successes, or, as the Talmud teaches, "Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah" - the fulfillment of one Mitzvah (commandment), brings about the fulfillment of another. With the fulfillment of one Mitzvah, the soul is inspired, and becomes filled with energy in order to more good deeds, with alacrity and perfection.

The Ramhal , Rabbi Moshe Haim Lutzatto, we have noted in previous lessons, constructed his book according to an ancient saying by the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Pinhas Ben Yair. R' Pinhas asserts that " Zehirut" and "Zerizut" are the first two qualities which need to be cared for and established if one wishes to develop his personality. After these two qualities, comes a third. After Zehirut and Zerizut, comes the quality of "Nekiyut." This is a new stage in the advancement of the building of the soul. After initial repairs have been made comes the stage of fundamental improvement, fundamentally cleaning one's qualities of every speck of filth.


Rabbi Moshe Haim Lutzatto - (b. Padua, Italy, 1707 c.e.; Acco, 1746) Mystic, poet and theologian. Despite the shortness of his life, the Ramhal , as he has become known, authored many works on Jewish thought and mysticism. His works are unique in that they are written in simple language, and in a style which makes them accessible to those not learned in mysticism. His book Mesilat Yesharim has become the classic of Jewish ethics.

Rabbi Melamed is a leading student and exponent of the teachings of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, and serves as Rabbi of the ever growing settlement of Bet El in the Israel's Shomron. He is also the Head Rabbi of the Yeshiva of Bet El.
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