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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
The hallmark of a person
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
In an era when when 'spirituality' as opposed to religion is on the rise, how can one tell what's authentic and not?
The Talmud gives the characteristics of the disciples of Abraham: a benevolent
eye, a humble spirit and a meek soul. The traits of disciples of Balaam, who is discussed in this week's Torah reading, are: an evil eye, an arrogant spirit and a greedy soul. The Talmud then says, ''How are the disciples of Abraham different than the disciples of
Balaam?'' (Ethics of the Fathers 5:22).
Why does the Talmud focus on ''the disciples'' of Abraham and Balaam? Why
not cite the differences between Abraham and Balaam themselves?
The answer is that anyone looking at Abraham and Balaam might not be able to
distinguish between the two. After all, did not Balaam subjugate himself totally to
''If Balak will give me his houseful of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the
word of G-d'' (Numbers 22:18). ''Balaam spoke up and said, 'Whatever G-d puts
in my mouth, that I must take heed to speak'' (ibid. 23:12). ''I cannot transgress
the word of G-d to do good or bad on my own. Whatever G-d speaks, that I will
speak'' (ibid. 24:13). Are these not the words of a tzaddik, a truly saintly person? Anyone hearing Balaam might conclude that he is a very G-d-fearing person.
Appearances can be deceptive. There were people who were Torah scholars and
who were even fulfilled their religious duties, yet all their disciples deviated from Torah
On the other hand, if one looks at the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, who founded the Chassidic movement, or the great ethicist Rabbi Yisroel of Salant, one can understand the greatness of their masters.
If you wish to know the true mettle of a person, look at his disciples. The true
nature of a person is revealed in those whom he taught. Their character, their
behavior and their belief reflect that of the teacher.
Of course, the finest parents have had an errant child, and the finest teachers
have had an errant student. However, if one looks at the body of students, one can
get a fair idea of what the teacher was like.
This is an important concept in moral and ethical education. The character of
the mathematician does not necessarily impact the subject he teaches. It is different
when the subject is human behavior.
In the secular world, one may find books on guidelines in life written by people
whose ethical and moral principles may leave much to be desired. In the Torah
world this is untenable. The sixth chapter of Ethics of the Fathers begins with
''Blessed is He Who chose them (the sages) and their teaching.'' Them is a prerequisite for teaching. Only those whose character is such that they deserve to be chosen are acceptable as teachers.
Before accepting anyone as authoritative on how one should live, check into
how he has lived his life.
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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 some 30 books to
his credit, including, "Twerski on Chumash" (Bible), from which this was excerpted (Sales of this book help fund JWR).
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