V’hiyisem k’doshim leilokeichem
…and be holy to your G-d
Even after we remember to perform all of the mitzvos, we have a desire and, in fact, an obligation to climb ever higher. Our body usually stops growing at age 18 or 20, while our intellectual capacity continues to develop for a few years after that. Just as our body and mind develop, so too must we develop and grow in our ruchniyus capacity. However, whereas our physical and mental development is limited, our obligation to develop and climb ever higher spiritually is unlimited. We have the ability and opportunity to continue to grow every moment of life. In the words of Rav Shimon Schwab, that obligation requires us to grow in “midos y’sharos u’n’chonos (straight and correct [proper] midos)” and to constantly be more committed to Hashem and His Torah each day. Rav Schwab understands “vi’h’yisem k’doshim leilokeichem” as commanding us to separate ourselves from what we were yesterday (kadosh means separate) – in other words, to constantly elevate ourselves, to become more devoted and closer to Hashem each and every day. [Rav Shimon Schwab, Iyun Tefillah]
The Vilna Gaon (Even Sh’leimah) tells us: “It is the essence of the existence of man to be strengthened at all times [in the task of] the breaking of [bad] character traits – because if not, what is the purpose of his living?!”
As we see, refining our midos is of primary importance and is a lifelong process. While it is beyond the scope of our brief segments on Tefilah to delve in depth into tikun ha’midos, we will present very briefly one practical method based on the writings of Rav Yisrael Salanter and based on the sefer Cheshbon HaNefesh (as outlined by Alan Morinis in his classes on Musar found at jewishpathways.com).
It is important to remember that it is harder to perfect one midah
than to learn all of Shas
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter identified three stages in the practice of Musar:
- Sensitivity: Become sensitive to the soul-traits that are operating within us, and how they are motivating us to think, say, and do the things we do. We need to be able to identify those traits that we personally struggle with most. This opening stage is crucial. It means being aware of the seed of a thought, word, feeling, or deed as early as possible. The earlier we see what is arising, the more we will have a choice over the course that this inner impulse will take.
- Self-Restraint: Informed by our sensitivity, we swing into action to try to overcome potentially soul-damaging behavior. The goal of this step is simply to stop the negative behavior.
- Transformation: Rework the problematic soul-trait so thoroughly that it no longer stands as a barrier to connecting with Hashem and with our fellow man. This step requires a deeper understanding of the root of our negative behavior and working towards ultimate refinement, where we actually work on changing our thinking and character.
As a brief example, if one struggles with judging others unfavorably, self-restraint could be achieved by reminding ourselves that every person we observe is a “tzelem Elokim” and every Jew is a child of Hashem. Transformation would require understanding why we judge others unfavorably. We may determine that it is a result of our low self-esteem. If so, we now must turn our focus to driving home to ourselves that we are also a tzelem Elokim and a child of Hashem.
The basic process is as follows:
- Make a list of those traits we personally find most challenging in our lives. This requires self-examination but is worth the effort.
- Select the first midah to work on during Week One (or Month One if you want to spend more time on it). Select a phrase, a maamar Chazal, or a pasuk that succinctly captures the “ideal” of that quality and write it down somewhere where you can easily see it at will. A card you carry with you is one example.
- Every morning, read over your card for that midah several times, and think about it for a couple of minutes.
- During the day, be aware of the earliest signs of challenge in that midah.
- Every evening, think back over your day and write down in a notebook, computer, etc. how early you identified the challenge and how you handled it.
It is important to remember that it is harder to perfect one midah than to learn all of Shas. Working on our midos is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of “v’halachta bi’drachav,” and the Chofetz Chaim writes that “v’halachta bi’drachav” is the path to yir’as Hashem, ahavas Hashem, and d’veikus baShem. Even with limud Torah and yir’as Hashem, one cannot achieve the higher levels of loving Hashem and d’veikus without the mitzvah of “v’halachta bi’drachav,” which includes thinking about and doing chesed for others as well as refining our midos, which will certainly provide significant improvements in our relationships with others.
May we all be zocheh to receive siyata diShmaya that will ultimately lead us to yir’as Hashem, ahavas Hashem, and d’veikus.
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