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- Friday, February 8 '02 - Parshas Mishpatim 5762

20. TRUTHFULNESS (EMMESS, MODEH AL HA'EMMESS) - a sign of your wisdom and character is your ability to speak truth, which includes * saying, "I don't know," regarding that which you don't know about, * refraining from saying what you know to be false, * refraining from offering what you are not able to do or give, * refraining from offering something for the purpose of making yourself seem nice - when in your heart you don't really want to do it (e.g. offering a gift or invitation that you hope or expect the person will refuse to take), * having the courage to say, "I admit it, you are right, I am wrong, I'm sorry," * saying G-d's "true truth," not "flesh and blood truth," such as not saying that you "truly" believe there is a fault in another [e.g. "You are/so-and-so is ugly, fat, stupid, clumsy"] in a way that hurts the other person's feelings (because hurting feelings is a Torah prohibition - and hurting people is NOT G-D'S TRUTH), * scrupulously and uncompromisingly keeping your word and monetary obligations - at all times.

A Jew must be ready, willing and able to say and acknowledge truth, even when it will be painful or against one's ego. Without the ability to speak and admit truth, human relations and society cannot endure (Pirkei Avos chapter one). G-d hates the person who speaks one thing with his mouth and another thing in his heart (Pesachim 113b). In the Siddur we say each morning, "A person must ALWAYS acknowledge the truth and speak truth in his heart."

21. KEEPING ONE'S WORD (OMAID BIDIBURO) - one's word is very serious. A Jew must always be honest and never be false or deceitful (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, chapter 62). When you say you are going to do something, you are obligated to do it, and do it fully as stated, in a timely and pleasant manner. One must speak with * the understanding that one is committing himself to fulfillment of his words, and * intent to fulfill those words. Generally, the more the issue (the subject matter of your word) means to the other person/the recipient, the more serious your obligation is to fulfill your word to him/her.

So strong is the Torah value of fulfilling one's word, that even if you only * partially express that you will do something or * give a signal or hint that you will do something or * decide silently in your heart to do something, you should do it.

Even though some cases may not be legally enforceable should you retract (e.g. making a non-damaging mark on an article as a signal to a merchant that you will buy the article, or deciding in your heart to do a good deed), the Talmud requires extra stringency when one's word pertains to: * a spouse, * one's children, * peace, * any person in need or trouble, * any mitzva and * matters of money or business; and the Talmud negatively characterizes a person who retracts from his word (even in a case that isn't legally enforceable - depending on the precise conditions) as being repugnant, cursed, lacking faith, etc.

This all applies when it involves another person or involves a Torah obligation or concerns any kind of vow or oath.

In a case that involves only oneself AND does not involve a Torah obligation (e.g. "I will buy myself ice cream") AND it was not an oath or vow of any kind, one is generally not obligated to keep his word (although it would be good practice).

Whenever you say that you will do something, always use the phrase "blee nedder (literally: without a vow)." "Blee nedder" means to say that you fully and sincerely intend and agree to do a given thing, but if something beyond your control or unforeseen prevents you from doing it, you are not considered as having broken your word. One should never use any oath-type language (e.g. "promise" or "swear" or "vow" to do something). Any non-fulfillment would count as a serious sin. One should always say, "I will do such-and-such, BLEE NEDDER."

If you took on commitment for something too big, or if something unforeseen came about which blocked you from keeping your word (in a way that was beyond your control), or if you expressed anything and need to know the implications, take all such matters as a question to a competent rov.

22. SLOW TO ANGER (KASHEH LICHOSE) - maintain self-control, gentleness, management of your behavior from what your intellect knows and from your awareness of what is for the greatest long-run good. Behaving in accordance with G-d's will is imperative at all times (no exceptions) and anger is an impenetrable barrier to doing so. A midrash compares anger to idolatry. Rambam calls anger "evil to the utmost." As a practical matter, anger is a behavior that people in a relationship will (immediately or eventually) cease to tolerate. People in relationships sooner or later abandon the angry person. The angry person is viewed as crazy (Orchos Tzadikim) and is left with nothing in the end except his anger (Kidushin 41a). For practical matters to be worked out in relationships, there should be an atmosphere of calm, stability, trust, "two-sidedness" and emotional security.

23. NEVER INTERRUPT (NICHNAS BISOCH DIVRAY CHAVAYRO) - Pirkei Avos calls a person who interrupts an idiot. Not interrupting is a sign of a wise person and of respectful relating. This applies all the moreso if someone is expressing a Torah thought or their part in a discussion with you or someone else.

24. SOFTNESS (RACH KIKONEH) - be bendable as a reed (Ta'anis 20b); don't be pushy (Eruvin 13b); don't be rigid, angry or stubborn (except when there is danger to life or assault on Torah); don't do things that indicate abrasiveness or hardness of spirit. Always remain calm, relaxed, gentle, courteous, sweet, easy-going and thoughtful. When one is hard, stormy situations in life can tear him apart. The one who is soft and adaptable, flows better with adverse situations and remains standing when the storm is over.

25. OVERLOOKING TRANSGRESSION (MA'AVIR AL PESHA) - the Talmud (Megilah 28a) tells us that the person who overlooks another's transgressions against him (alternatively: waives his right to retribution) is forgiven all of his sins. The prophet Micha (7:18) tells us that G-d pardons iniquity and passes over transgression. The Talmud asks whose sins are thus forgiven by G-d (as referred to by Micha)? The person who overlooks another's transgression against him.

Rabbi Huna Ben Yehoshua became deathly ill. From his ruach hakodesh [Divine knowledge], Rav Papo said it was his time to die. However, he recovered. Rav Papo asked how he survived. Through his ruach hakodesh, Rav Huna saw that because he was not strict with others, G-d was not strict with him (Rosh HaShana 17a).

26. LETTING GO OF HAVING ONE'S WAY (MA'AVIR AL MIDOSOV) - don't require that things have to be one way or "my way." Don't be strict, precise, exacting or picky. The internal power to give way is key to emotional and spiritual growth, health and repair. Similar to "mivater (gives in)." "Giving in" and "letting go of one's way" never implies compromise of any Torah principle. These are applied to FULFILL Torah principles! G-d loves the person with this mida (Pesachim 113b).

27. RESPONSIBILITY (ACHARAYUS) - the internalized personal quality of making certain that things that have to happen, do happen (as appropriate or necessary) and making certain that things that have to not happen, do not happen (as appropriate or necessary). This applies in obligations to other people (family, creditors, employees, employers, neighbors, one's community, etc.) and to G-d (mitzvos, spiritual growth, prayer, etc.). Pirkei Avos (chapter two) says, "In a place where something is needed and there is no one [doing it], strive to be the needed person [i.e. strive to get the needed thing done]."

Included in practical responsibility are punctuality, delivering all that you owe to others (in every context), guarding against damaging or bothering other people, giving others peace of mind about your doing or producing what you are responsible for and conveying to them clearly that you can be relied upon, and doing everything in a mature and effective fashion.

The Hebrew word for "responsibility" is "acharayuss," from the word "acher (after)." The meaning is that true responsibility is "follow-up" - staying with something "after" - making sure that what should be is, and that what shouldn't be isn't - in practical and complete terms.

A good test that one is responsible is: do RESPONSIBLE PEOPLE rely on you? How much of a long-term, consistent track record do you have? When they are expecting something of you or are depending on you, do they have no second thoughts that the thing will be done (so much so, that if you don't manage to deliver, they KNOW it is beyond your control [heavy traffic, you got seriously sick, etc.]). What is your reputation with responsible people? Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevits z'l, former Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, said, "An irresponsible person is a fool. Responsibility is the foundation of being a human being."

28. MODESTY (TZNEEYUS) - a Jew must always operate so as to be consistent with the prophetic injunction (Micha 6:8), "walk modestly with your G-d." Modesty is one of the main ingredients in achieving sanctity and holiness. When men and women carry themselves in a "comprehensively modest" manner, in their clothes and demeanor for example, and by keeping quiet and out of the "limelight" in the background, they are promoting their achievement of the Torah's goals. To be continued.