Middot – character traits – are at the core of our moral and religious lives.
As the Vilna Gaon writes, “For it is your life: For a person is alive only in order to break a [negative] character trait that he has not broken until now. Therefore one should always strengthen one’s self; for if he does not strengthen himself, why is he alive?”
And as the Baal Shem Tov also said, quoting Rav Saadia Gaon, “For the main purpose of man’s creation in this world is to break his bad character traits.”
The Torah does not admit of the idea that there are facet’s of life for which good middot are irrelevant. For example, one might think that Torah study is like other intellectual disciplines, that it is an endeavor unrelated to possessing moral excellence.
When Bertrand Russell was called before the Harvard Board of Governors for engaging in an affair, one of the board members remarked: “But you are a Professor of Ethics!” Russell replied, “I was a Professor of Geometry at Cambridge, but the Board of Governors never asked me why I was not a triangle.”
Yet the study of Torah does, indeed, require moral excellence, as we learn in Avot 6:5, the Baraita of Kinyan Torah.
Read on to learn about character improvement…