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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

What 'doctors' of the soul grasp far better than most mental health professionals

By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski





http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | As was noted previously, a major distinguishing feature between humans and animals is that animals are created in a state of completion, and their growth is essentially in size and strength. Their maturation follows a life cycle which is instilled within them, and any changes which may occur are the result of their genetic composition. Animals are unable, by volition, to make any material changes in themselves.

Man has the capacity to make changes in himself. He is not an unalterable product of his genetic makeup. There is little doubt that some people harbor inborn character traits and that there is a variation in peoples' innate emotional and intellectual endowment. However, in contrast to animals, man is not helpless insofar as his character is concerned, and he can make salutary changes in himself, even radical changes.

The fact that a person has the capacity to make changes in his character is not sufficiently appreciated by some psychologists, who tend to attribute a person's problems to factors beyond one's control.

It is common practice, for example, to take a detailed history from a patient, particularly about the various circumstances of his upbringing, which is certainly a necessity in getting to understand a person. However, when faults are discovered in the parents' handling of the patient in early life, the blame for the patient's current problems is often laid at the feet of the parents.

While the effects of parenting on one's emotional development cannot be minimized, this approach too often results in a "pity-party," with the patient bewailing the unfairness of his lot in life and essentially resigning himself to dysfunction rather than trying to improve things.

Not infrequently, a patient may remain fixated at this level and not take the necessary steps to improve himself. It is much easier to assign blame rather than to change oneself.

A much more constructive approach has been adopted by more modern schools of psychology, which can be summarized as, "Even if you are what your parents made you, if you stay that way it's your own fault." This approach does not deny the importance of early life experiences, but instead of emphasizing their role in the patient's current problems, urges him to make the necessary changes that will remedy them.

The human character is not cast in stone, and is not an unalterable product of genetic composition and/or early life experiences. The Hebrew-language work Tiferes Yisrael (Kiddushin 4:14 77) cites a Midrash which relates that a king had heard of the greatness of Moses, and was curious to know more about him. He therefore dispatched his artists to the Israelite encampment to draw a picture of Moses. Upon their return he gave the portrait to his physiognomists, who were able to determine a person's character by studying his facial features.

The physiognomists submitted their analysis: This person was vain, arrogant, greedy, indolent, irascible, and lustful. The king reprimanded his artists for their incompetence in properly depicting Moses, since there could not be so great a discrepancy between the analysis of his wise men and the accounts he had received of Moses' stellar personality. When the artists swore that their drawing was accurate, the king decided to see for himself.

Upon meeting Moses, the king saw that the artists had not omitted even a single hair. Knowing the reliability of his wise men, the king was perplexed, and confronted Moses with his problem. Moses explained, "Your physiognomists were not mistaken. You see, all that they can deduce from a person's facial features are his inborn traits, and indeed, I was born with all the contemptible character traits they described. However, I worked to transform them and to become the person that I felt I should be."

This Midrash says it all. We can be whatever we wish to be. Of course, a person who is tone deaf cannot become a cantor, and there are some talents which one either has or does not have, but insofar as middos (character traits) are concerned, we have the ability to mold ourselves into whatever we wish to be. The human being thus has the capacity to improve himself.

But what do we mean by improvement? What are the standards and measures of "better"?


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We cannot talk about gradations of good unless we know an item's function. Thus, we can say that one automobile is better than another, because the better one can provide faster, more comfortable, and more reliable transportation. It is meaningless, however, to say that an automobile is an improvement on a clock, since their functions are so diverse.

The finest automobile cannot tell you what time it is, nor can the finest timepiece transport you to where you wish to be. Self-improvement presupposes that we know what the function of a person is. If his function is dependent on his physical prowess, then self-improvement will consist of increasing his muscular strength.

If his function is to amass great wealth, then he will see self-improvement as consisting of acquiring the business knowledge and cunning that will enable him to make a great deal of money. It is evident that implementing the capacity of self-improvement is dependent on what one accepts as one's goal in life, in which case the desired changes are those that will enhance one's reaching that goal. Having established that according to all concepts, the ultimate goal of a Jew is achieved via performance of mitzvos (religious duties), self-improvement will consist of those changes that will enhance performance of mitzvos.

The Torah states that the Israelites received the manna prior to the giving of the Torah at Sinai. One of the commentaries explains that the miracle of the manna was that each person could gather only as much as he actually needed. If someone collected more than his needs, the excess would rot. If he collected less, the measure would fill on its own.

This was to teach them that G-d will provide everyone with the proper amount for his well-being, and that trying to get more than one's due is futile. Only after this principle was established could the Israelites receive the Torah, which prohibits any unjust acquisition of another person's property. Without this basic emunah (belief and trust in G-d), they could not have been expected to obey the commandments against stealing, swearing falsely, taking usury, coveting others' belongings, and all the other religious duties relating to property rights.

The trait of emunah is thus essential for observance of all the mitzvos that involve commerce and property rights. This is equally true of other traits which are conducive to proper performance of mitzvos. Self-improvement therefore consists of developing and perfecting these traits, and eliminating those traits that impede proper performance of mitzvos.

'VALUES' OF CONVENIENCE

We are fortunate in having a rich repository of Torah literature on the cultivation of proper middos. Foremost among these are Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers), Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Just), and Orchos Tzaddikim (Ways of the Righteous). These are all available in English. There are also a number of excellent books by contemporary Torah scholars, some of which have been translated into English, such as Michtav MeEliyahu (Strive for Truth).

It is important to be aware that Torah values differ greatly from secular values. We should also know that there is no way to totally escape the impact of the values that prevail in the environment in which we live, and that inasmuch as these often conflict with Torah values, we must be on our guard not to be influenced by them.

For example, the prevailing cultural concept is that wealth consists of having a great deal of money, and furthermore, that wealth is acquired by diligence and effort at making money.

If the average person were asked whom he considers as wealthy, he would undoubtedly name several billionaires, and if asked how they managed to become wealthy, he would respond that they were innovative, had a thorough understanding of economics, were shrewd in business dealings, etc. Torah teaches that the truly wealthy person is one who is content with whatever he has (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).

Hence a person who barely has enough to survive but is happy with his lot is in fact wealthier than the billionaire who tries to amass more riches and lives in anxiety that an unexpected turn of events might topple him from his lofty position.

Furthermore, the Torah warns against thinking that a person becomes wealthy as a result of his own efforts. Many people may try the same thing, yet only one becomes wealthy. This is because a person's fortune is decreed by G-d, and while it is necessary that a person do something to earn a livelihood, it is the Divine blessing that will enrich him (Deuteronomy 8:11-18).



Just as wealth is defined differently by Torah than by the culture, so are other values, such as wisdom, honor, power, etc. (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1). The Torah values are those that are conducive to the performance of mitzvos, whereas secular values are often antagonistic thereto.

We must also bear in mind that secular values are often determined by the same standards we apply to economics; i.e., success or failure, profit or loss. While the latter are appropriate in commerce, they have no place in morals or ethics.

An ethical person is one who tries his utmost to do what is right, with honesty and integrity, and if these efforts fail to produce the desired results, he is nevertheless a good person. On the other hand, a person who violates the principles of decency yet achieves great success is an unethical person.

Parents who do their utmost to raise a child with love and good training are good parents even if their child grows up to be a criminal, whereas parents who were self-indulgent and grossly neglected their children are bad parents, even if their child grows up to be a Nobel prize winner. Since we cannot control outcome, we must judge ethics and morality by how and why we act, and not by how things turn out.

Finally, secular values are often determined by courts and legislatures, which may establish laws that they feel to be expedient and beneficial to society. This leaves the door wide open for adoption of even the most corrupt and evil practices into law, as was so dramatically exemplified in the Holocaust, where eliminating Jews was considered to be good for the state, hence a virtuous act. According to Torah, morals and ethics are not subject to cultural desires. Whatever constituted murder or immorality several thousand years ago continues to remain an abomination even if the courts and legislatures rule otherwise.

As we will see, our judgments can be distorted by self-interest, and this is true of society as a whole as well as the individual person. Self-interest may be antagonistic to spirituality; hence true spiritual values are those revealed by G-d in the Torah, and are absolute and immutable.

The standards for selfimprovement necessary for spiritual development are the unalterable values established by Torah.


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Many of us can recall that as children we were often admonished, "Be a mentsh," or "Act like a mentsh." Although we walked upright and verbalized words and concepts, we were not yet a "mentsh." What was being asked of us is that we develop those traits that are the hallmark of a human being, the spiritual traits that elevate him above the level of Homo sapiens. Those who attended a cheder where Torah was translated into Yiddish will recall that the translation of naaseh adam was "Let us make a mentsh." G-d did not merely wish to create "man." Rather, He wished to create a mentsh, a spiritual human being.

As can be seen, we have thus far not included religion in the definition of spirituality, hence we may refer to this as a definition of generic spirituality. We may now move on to an analysis of Jewish spirituality, which is how a Jew should exercise his uniquely human capacities.

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Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with dozens of books to his credit, including, "Twerski on Spirituality", from which this was excerpted (Sales of this book help fund JWR).

Previously:


Not fully human: Reconsidering man as a spiritual being

Transformation in the true reality: The Battle Between Body and Soul

Man's mission: We are alive, obviously, for a reason. What is it?

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