How do we connect Torah Knowledge with Good Character?

Rabbi Hillel and Gina Bernstein

Milnerton Hebrew Congregation

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai had five students. (Pirkei Avot 2:8)

חמשה תלמידים היו לו לרבן יוחנן בן זכאי. (אבות ב:ח)

Rabbi Yisrael Lifschitz writes in his commentary to Pirkei Avot called Tiferet Yisrael about an amazing correlation between character, deeds and wisdom and how one leads to the other.

In Chapter 2:8-9, it speaks about the 5 greatest students of Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai (the leading Sage at the time of the destruction of the second Temple), who became the teachers of Rebbi Akiva and his colleagues. Each one is praised in a unique way and each one shares a motto of how to live an upright life.

It appears that they are unrelated, but Tiferet Yisrael shows how each motto is actually a way to acquire that unique quality which the Rabbi was praised for:

Rabbi Eliezer: A good eye leads one to have a retentive mind. Why? Because jealousy, worry and anger cause a person to forget his wisdom. By seeing all that one has in a positive light, it removes those negative emotions and actually improves your memory!

Rabbi Yehoshua: Having a good friend leads one to possess wonderful and praiseworthy qualities. Why? A good friend is one you can trust to give good advice and constructive criticism. A good character comes from listening to the advice and direction of others.

Rabbi Yosei: Good neighbours lead one to go beyond the letter of the law. Why? With good neighbours, one gets into the habit of sharing and giving to each other. One goes beyond what is required by law and becomes a giving person who does more than required.

Rabbi Shimon: Thinking before an act about the consequences of one’s actions leads one to avoid sin. When a person is constantly mindful of the consequence of his actions he will be careful not to do anything that might lead him to a compromising situation and thus won’t come to sin.

Rabbi Elazar: A good heart leads one to be an overflowing spring of wisdom. A novel idea comes to a person when he is in a relaxed and happy state. A good heart is someone who has a good outlook on life and is always happy. He will be blessed to constantly see new insights and ideas to share with others!

May we all be inspired, directed and guided by the beautiful ways of the Torah!

Chag Sameach from Rabbi Hillel and Gina Bernstein!

©2019 by The Office of The Chief Rabbi