Got Character Defects?
Congratulations, You’re Human!
Hashem said, ‘Let us make man.’” All of Creation is done by
Hashem alone. Only in terms of the creation of man does Hashem say, “Let us make man.”
Hashem created animals, and He created angels. Both are created in a state of completion. Now, Hashem wanted a dif- ferent type of being, one that is created essentially as an animal but which, by his own efforts, will subdue his animalistic drives and become spiritual. Hashem could have created man fully spiritual, but then he would have been an angel, not a man.
Our character defects are part of our animal being. We have the ability to be different from animals, eliminate the character defects, and become what Hashem intended us to be — not an angel, but a spiritual human being.
“Where Are You?”
Reprinted from the Aish.com Daily Blast
We read in Bereishis that after Adam sinned, he tried to hide in the Garden of Eden. Was Adam so foolish to think that he could hide from Hashem? Certainly not! He was hiding from himself, because it was himself that he could no longer confront. Hashem’s question to him was very pertinent: “I am here. I am always here, but where are you?”
Adam’s answer to Hashem describes man’s most common defense: “I was afraid because I was exposed, and I therefore tried to hide” (Bereishis 3:10). Since people cannot possibly conceal themselves from Hashem, they try to hide from them- selves. This effort results in a multitude of problems, some of which I described in my book Let Us Make Man.
We hear a great deal about people’s search for Hashem, and much has been written about ways that we can “find” Hashem. The above verse throws a different light on the subject. It is not necessary for people to find Hashem, because He was never lost, but has been there all the time, everywhere. We are the ones who may be lost.
When an infant closes its eyes, he thinks that because he cannot see others, they cannot see him either. Adults may indulge in the same infantile notion — if they hide from them- selves, they think they are hiding from Hashem as well. If we find ourselves by getting to know who we are, we will have little difficulty in finding Hashem, and in letting Him find us.
The Delusion of Rationalization
The Torah says that the generation of the Flood was de-
stroyed because it was corrupt. The term the Torah uses for “corrupt” is chamas. The Talmud definition of chamas is taking something from another person by force, but paying for it. This is a type of thievery that a person may justify on the rationaliza- tion, “I paid him for it.” It is thievery nevertheless, because the person did not want to sell it.
An ordinary thief may do teshuvah because his conscience may bother him. A chamas thief will never do teshuvah, because he rationalizes his behavior and thinks he did no wrong. The generation of the Flood rationalized all their wrongful acts, hence they were beyond teshuvah and had to be destroyed.
We have an extraordinary ability to rationalize. We must be on guard that we do not delude ourselves.
Bad Company Is Bad for Recovery
The Torah says that Hashem spoke to Avraham after Lot had
separated from him. Lot was not a spiritual person, and as long as Avraham was in Lot’s company, he did not receive any Divine communication.
There is no question that Avraham retained his piety and integrity even in the companionship of Lot. Hashem related to Avraham in this manner to teach us that regardless how strong a person is in his convictions, the association with immoral people is hazardous.
In recovery, we are told to avoid “people, places, and things” that can jeopardize our recovery. The Mishnah says, “Do not trust in yourself [that you are beyond corruptibility] until the day of your death” (Avos 2:4). We must use utmost caution to safeguard our recovery.
Snap Out of Your Denial!
When the angels told Avraham that Sarah would bear a
child, she laughed. “How can I bear a child at my age?” God revealed to Avraham that Sarah had laughed in disbelief. Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh” (Bereishis 18:15).
The Sefas Emes says that Sarah was a holy person and did not lie. When the Torah says, “Sarah denied [it],” it means that Sarah was in denial, which is not the same as lying.
Sometimes we are unable to accept something about our- selves because it seems so alien to our being that we are certain that it could not possibly have happened. This is unconscious denial, and although it is not willful distortion of fact, it is no less destructive.
We must realize that human frailty is such that we are capable of things that we categorically disown.
It’s the Little Things
The patriarch Avraham sends his servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for Avraham’s son, Yitzchak. Standing at the well, Eliezer says, “I will ask a young woman for a drink. If she also offers water to my camels, I know that she is a proper match for Yitzchak.”
Rivkah gave Eliezer a drink and indeed offered water to his camels. She became the wife of Yitzchak, the matriarch Rivkah, mother of the Jewish nation.
The media makes us aware of great events: man walks on the moon, heart transplants, a Nobel prize for a great discovery. These are indeed epochal events. What significance can there be in the little things we do day in and day out? They do not move mountains or shake up entire populations.
A young girl gives a thirsty man a drink and water to his camels and changes the course of world history.
The little things we do are important.
Beware of Habit Becoming Second Nature
Yitzchak and Rivkah’s son, Eisav, married two pagan Hittite
women, who were a source of agony to his parents, because they indulged in idol worship.
The Midrash says that Yitzchak was more distressed by the pagan rituals than Rivkah was, because Rivkah grew up in the
home of her father, Lavan, who was an idol worshipper. Having been exposed to pagan rites in her childhood, Rivkah was not as provoked as Yitzchak, who grew up in the saintly home of Avraham.
Although Rivkah was a holy, pious woman who detested paganism and idol worship, she was not as deeply affected by them because she had been exposed to them. We can lose our odium of abominable behavior if we are exposed to it.
Our children are exposed to much violence on TV. Regardless of their knowledge that violent behavior is wrong, they are not emotionally turned off by it.
We must be cautious about what we can become accustomed to.
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Get Up and Try Again
Yaakov reprimanded the shepherds who were sitting idly
by the well: “Water the sheep and go graze them.” The shepherds explained that they could not move the boulder that covered the well until all the shepherds came (Bereishis 29:7–8).
Couldn’t Yaakov see that there was a huge boulder on the well? Why did he reprimand the shepherds? Perhaps they had tried to move it but couldn’t?!
Granted, but why weren’t they trying again?
Just because you did not succeed at something is no reason to give up. Try again, and again, and again.
Safety Away from Home
The Torah says that Yaakov was afraid of Eisav, even though Hashem had promised him, “I will be with you and protect you.” That promise was given when he had just left the home of Yitzchak and Rivkah and was under their influence. Now, however, he had been with the wicked Lavan for twenty years, and Yaakov was worried that he might have been influenced by Lavan’s sinful ways, and he no longer merited Hashem’s protec- tion.
We must always be on the alert that we are subject to the influence of our environment. We may feel secure when we regularly attend the meetings with which we are familiar. But if we go to another location, whether for business or vacation, we may not have the protection to which we have been accustomed.
The enemy is cunning, baffling, and powerful, always looking for a weak spot in our defenses. When we leave a secure environ- ment, we must increase our defenses.
Run First, Explain Later
The Torah relates that when Potifar’s wife tried to seduce Yosef, he adamantly refused. Then he said to her, “My mas- ter has entrusted me with everything he owns and has not kept anything back from me except you, for you are his wife. How could I commit such a great wrong?” (Bereishis 39:8–9).
The Gerrer Rebbe commented that the sequence of Yosef’s words is important. His first response was to adamantly refuse, categorically and absolutely. Only after his refusal does he explain himself.
When faced with a serious threat to your life, your first action is to run away. After you’re safe, you can analyze the situation.
When confronted with something of questionable morality, your first reaction should be to refuse. After that you can reason and explain why. If you try to explain before refusing, you may rationalize why it’s okay.
If There Is a Problem, There Must Be a Solution
The Torah relates that Pharaoh told his dream to his sooth-
sayers, but they could not interpret it for him. Rashi says that Pharaoh did not accept their interpretations. They told him that he would conquer seven countries and lose seven countries; that he would have seven daughters and seven daughters would die. Yet he accepted Yosef’s interpretation that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Why was Yosef’s interpretation more acceptable to him?
The soothsayers gave him a prediction of good and bad, but offered no solution of how he could mitigate the bad. Yosef pre- dicted seven years of famine, but gave him a suggestion of how he could survive the famine.
When you’re confronted with a problem for which there is a solution, you can see the problem clearly and proceed to deal with it. If there is no evident solution, you go into a defensive denial, and you don’t even see the problem at all.
“We Will Not Regret the Past…”
After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he said, “Now, do not be angry with yourselves. This was Hashem’s de- sign.”
These were comforting words, but although it was Hashem’s design, they acted as free agents when they sold him into slav- ery. Hashem could have done it in other ways. There is no way they could escape their guilt. How could they not be angry at themselves?
The answer lies in the word “now.” The Talmud says that the word “now” denotes teshuvah. Appropriate repentance for the wrongs one has done, by resolving not to repeat them and by trying to eliminate from one’s character those defective traits that made the wrong deeds possible, can lift the heavy burden of the past off one’s shoulders and allow one to deal with the “now,” with an unencumbered present.
If we do proper teshuvah, there is no need to be angry with ourselves for our mistakes.
One Day at a Time
“The past is gone, the future is yet to be, the present is the blink of an eye, so why worry?” (Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra).
Yaakov assembled his sons to give them his blessing before he died. The exact words of the Torah are, “He blessed
them on that day” (Bereishis 48:20). What is the significance of the fact that he blessed them “on that day”?
We may translate the verse to read, “He blessed them with that day.” Yaakov gave them a blessing that they should live their lives on that particular day in which they find themselves, unencumbered by the burdens of the past and without assuming futile worries about those events which are not subject to change at the present.
This is indeed a blessing. If we would only channel our en- ergies toward doing that which can be productive, instead of squandering them in trying to make yesterday better or worry- ing about possible eventualities about which we can do nothing now, how much happier we would be!