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De'ot - Chapter Two

De'ot - Chapter Two

Halacha 1

To those who are physically sick, the bitter tastes sweet and the sweet bitter. Some of the sick even desire and crave that which is not fit to eat, such as earth and charcoal, and hate healthful foods, such as bread and meat - all depending on how serious the sickness is.

Similarly, those who are morally ill desire and love bad traits, hate the good path, and are lazy to follow it. Depending on how sick they are, they find it exceedingly burdensome.

Isaiah 5:20 speaks of such people in a like manner: "Woe to those who call the bad good, and the good bad, who take darkness to be light and light to be darkness, who take bitter to be sweet and sweet to be bitter." Concerning them, Proverbs 2:13 states: "Those who leave the upright paths to walk in the ways of darkness."

What is the remedy for the morally ill? They should go to the wise, for they are the healers of souls. They will heal them by teaching them how to acquire proper traits, until they return them to the good path.

Concerning those who recognize their bad traits and do not go to the wise to heal them, Solomon Proverbs 1:7 said: "Fools scorned wisdom and correction."

Halacha 2

How are they to be healed? We tell the wrathful man to train himself to feel no reaction even if he is beaten or cursed. He should follow this course of behavior for a long time, until the anger is uprooted from his heart.

The man who is full of pride should cause himself to experience much disgrace. He should sit in the lowliest of places, dress in tattered rags which shame the wearer, and the like, until the arrogance is uprooted from his heart and he returns to the middle path, which is the proper path. When he returns to this middle path, he should walk in it the rest of his life.

One should take a similar course with each of the other traits. A person who swayed in the direction of one of the extremes should move in the direction of the opposite extreme, and accustom himself to that for a long time, until he has returned to the proper path, which is the midpoint for each and every temperament.

Halacha 3

There are temperaments with regard to which a man is forbidden to follow the middle path. He should move away from one extreme and adopt the other.

Among these is arrogance. If a man is only humble, he is not following a good path. Rather, he must hold himself lowly and his spirit very unassuming. That is why Numbers 12:3 describes our teacher Moses as "very humble" and not simply "humble". Therefore, our Sages directed: "Hold oneself very, very lowly." Also, they declared: "Whoever is arrogant is as if he denied God's presence, as implied by Deuteronomy 8:14: 'And your heart will be haughty and you will forget God, your Lord.' Furthermore, they said: "Whoever is arrogant should be placed under a ban of ostracism. This applies even if he is only somewhat arrogant."

Anger is also an exceptionally bad quality. It is fitting and proper that one move away from it and adopt the opposite extreme. He should school himself not to become angry even when it is fitting to be angry. If he should wish to arouse fear in his children and household - or within the community, if he is a communal leader - and wishes to be angry at them to motivate them to return to the proper path, he should present an angry front to them to punish them, but he should be inwardly calm. He should be like one who acts out the part of an angry man in his wrath, but is not himself angry.

The early Sages said: Anyone who becomes angry is like one who worships idols. They also said: Whenever one becomes angry, if he is a wise man, his wisdom leaves him; if he is a prophet, his prophecy leaves him. The life of the irate is not true life.

Therefore, they have directed that one distance himself from anger and accustom himself not to feel any reaction, even to things which provoke anger. This is the good path.

This is the way of the righteous: They accept humiliation, but do not humiliate others; they listen when they are shamed, but they do not answer; they do this with love and are joyous in their sufferings. Of them, Judges 5:31 states: "And those who love Him are like the sun when it comes out in its strength."

Halacha 4

One should always cultivate silence and refrain from speaking, except with regard to matters of knowledge or things that are necessary for his physical welfare. It was said that Rav, the disciple of our saintly teacher, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, never uttered an idle word in all his days - which is what the conversation of most people consists of.

One should not speak at length even about matters involving one's physical needs. On this point, our Sages commanded us and said: "Whoever speaks at length brings on sin." They also said: "I have found nothing better for one's person than silence."

Similarly, when speaking about matters of Torah or knowledge, one's words should be brief, but rich in content. This is what the Sages commanded with their statement: "One should always teach his students with brevity." In contrast, if one's words are many and the content scant, that is foolishness, of which Ecclesiastes 5:2 states: "The dream comes with a multitude of subjects, and the voice of the fool with a multitude of words."

Halacha 5

Silence is a safeguard for wisdom.

Therefore, one should not hasten to answer, nor speak at length. He should teach his students in calm and tranquility without shouting or wordiness. This is what Solomon stated: "The words of the wise are heard in tranquility" (Ecclesiastes 9:17).

Halacha 6

A person is forbidden to act in a smooth-tongued and luring manner. He should not speak one thing outwardly and think otherwise in his heart. Rather, his inner self should be like the self which he shows to the world. What he feels in his heart should be the same as the words on his lips.

It is forbidden to deceive people, even a non-Jew. For example, one should not sell a gentile the meat of an animal which has not been ritually slaughtered as if it were ritually slaughtered meat, nor a shoe made from the hide of an animal which has died of natural causes as if it were made of the hide of a slaughtered animal. One should not press his colleague to share a meal with him when he knows that his colleague will not accept the invitation, nor should he press presents upon him when he knows that his colleague will not accept them. He should not open casks supposedly for his colleague which he must open for sale, in order to deceive him into thinking that they have been opened in his honor. The same applies with all matters of this sort.

It is forbidden to utter a single word of deception or fraud. Rather. one should have only truthful speech, a proper spirit and a heart pure from all deceit and trickery.

Halacha 7

One should neither be constantly laughing and a jester, nor sad and depressed, but happy. Our Sages declared: "Jesting and lightheadedness accustom one to lewdness." They also directed that a man should not laugh without control, nor be sad and mournful, but receive everyone in a friendly manner.

Similarly, he should not be greedy, rushing for wealth and possessions, nor lazy and an idler from work. Rather, he should be of a goodly eye and limit his business endeavors so that he may occupy himself with Torah study. He should be happy with the little which is his lot.

He should not be quarrelsome, of envious temperament, full of desires, nor pursue honor. Our Sages have said: "Envy, desire and honor remove a man from life in this world."

The general principle is that one should follow the midpoint quality of each temperament until all his traits are aligned at the midpoint. This is what is implied by Solomon's statement: "Make even the turning of your foot and make all your ways firm" (Proverbs 4:26).

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