How important is it to refine our character and work on our midos? The Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), in Even Sh’leimah, writes that if we are not actively working to refine and perfect our midos, what is the purpose of our living?
How much effort should we put into refining our midos? HaRav Yisrael Salanter (1809-1883) said that it is more difficult to change one character trait than it is to finish all of Shas. We know how much effort is put forth by those who have merited to complete Shas. Are we matching that effort to refine and perfect our character?
HaRav Matisyahu Salomon (Mashgiach Ruchani of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood) wrote a sefer titled Matnas Chaim, a compilation of musar insights he gleaned from the sefer Tomer Devorah. In his introduction, HaRav Salomon writes that the Alter of Kelm would say that the sefer Tomer Devorah, written by HaRav Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570) is the “shulchan aruch” on the halachos of midos. The Arizal (1534-1572) is known to have stated that he considered HaRav Moshe Cordovero as his rebbe. HaRav Salomon also writes that the sefer Tomer Devorah is a “sefer kadosh written by an ish kadosh” and suggests that Elul is an especially fitting time to learn Tomer Devorah as a preparation for Yom Kippur. We will be using the sefer Matnas Chaim on Tomer Devorah as the primary source for our segments on the 13 Midos.
The Gemara in Rosh HaShanah )17b( states:
“And Hashem passed before him [Moshe] and proclaimed…” – Rabbi Yochanan said, “Were a pasuk not written, it would be impossible to say it. This teaches that Hashem wrapped himself [in a talis] like a shliach tzibur and demonstrated to Moshe the order of prayer. He said to him: Any time that Yisrael sins, let them perform before Me this procedure and I shall forgive them.”
This Gemara teaches us what we need to do to obtain guaranteed forgiveness from Hashem. If we do as the Gemara states, Hashem says that He will forgive us. The question is what exactly do we need to do?
Recitation of the 13 Midos is absolutely the most important part of our S’lichos. In fact, if one is not able to keep pace with a minyan when reciting S’lichos, one should skip whatever he needs to, in order to always recite the 13 Midos with the minyan.
Although the recitation alone is clearly crucial, the sefer Reishis Chochmah (a student of HaRav Moshe Cordovero) writes that he heard in the name of the Geonim (who preceded the Rishonim) that the intent of this Gemara is that we need to implement the 13 Midos in our lives and not merely recite them. This means that we need to work on refining our character until we actually become compassionate, gracious, kind, and patient people. The Rambam writes that the way to fulfill the mitzvah of following in the path of Hashem’s ways is to frequently perform acts of compassion, grace, kindness, and patience so that we eventually will become compassionate, gracious, kind, and patient. Compassion, grace, kindness, and patience are only four of the 13.
Our segments will focus on understanding the 13 Midos in a way that can be applied and integrated into our lives and ultimately into our very essence. We will also present a better understanding of what we are saying when we recite the 13 Midos, which we will, b’ezras Hashem, do so many times in the coming weeks.
To access print versions of previous Tefilah segments, please visit OU Torah’s Search portal, select the Topic of “Tefillah,”
and then select “Weekly Tefilah Focus” from the Series list.
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or simply search for “TorahAnytime Rabbi Finkelman.”
You can direct any questions or comments to Eliezer Szrolovits at 917-551-0150.