Learning How to be a Mensch


How does one go about overcoming a negative trait such as anger or greed?



  1. A great rabbi once said that it is easier to memorize the entire 21 volumes of the Babylonian Talmud than to change one character trait. Self-improvement is one of the greatest and most difficult challenges that a person faces.

    My karate teacher supplied me with the answer when he said, “Always attack where the opponent is weakest.” The same logic motivated Winston Churchill to attack Italy, “the soft underbelly of the Axis.” Of all the manifestations of a particular character trait, the easiest to change is action; it is our weakest opponent. Speech, thought and emotion are extremely difficult to control, but most people are able to control their actions with relative ease. It is in the field of action that we will find the least resistance and therefore have the most chance of success.

    The commandments of the Torah train us to become better people by focusing on our actions more than our thoughts and feelings. The act of giving charity, for example, makes the person into more of a giver every time it is done. Thinking and meditating about giving will not necessarily make a person more generous, but the act of giving will inevitably create this effect. Saying blessings to express appreciation to God for everything that we receive instills in us the attribute of gratitude.

    Even a mitzvah that appears to focus on our relationship with God can also have an impact on our ethical behavior in the world. Stopping work to observe the Sabbath, no matter how important or profitable that work may be, teaches a crucial lesson. Financial success is not the ultimate value in life. We will not do “whatever it takes” to get ahead. Each week we train ourselves to exercise self-control and to consider the moral impact of our action.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team