The Big Question
by Deanna Chart
I'm going to speak today about how we should conduct ourselves. It will sound as if we live in an ideal world, but really the types of behaviour that I'll be mentioning can easily be practised regularly - if we are so inclined. As I speak, just imagine a world full of people with the character traits I'll be describing.
My talk is based on chapter 2, verse 9 of the Ethics of our Fathers.
One of our much revered sages and scholars, Rabban Yochanon ben Zakkai, asked his disciples this big question, "What do you think is the best character trait for a person to acquire?" His students, who were rabbis, told him what they believed the answer should be. Rabbi Eliezer said, "A good eye", meaning someone who is generous and kindly. Rabbi Yehoshua said, "A good friend." Rabbi Yosi said, "A good neighbor." Rabbi Shimon said, "To foresee the repercussions of your actions." Rabbi Elazar said, "A good heart."
Rabbi Yochanon thought about it for a few minutes and replied, "I agree with the view of Rabbi Elazar, because all of your ideals are contained in a good heart."
Shall we pause for a moment to ponder what is meant by a good heart? This is my big question and it's based on the commentary of Rabbi Yona, a grandson and student of Nahmanides, who was known as the Ramban. (Just an aside - in his commentary, the Ramban refers to men, whereas we're a women's group, so I'm referring to women).
A good heart refers to someone who is pleasing - and pleasant - to others. It is a person who has endless reserves of patience, someone who distances herself from anger. She responds to everyone with gentleness, regardless of the circumstances. What's more, even if someone wrongs her, she bears it without t speaking a harsh word. All the words that flow from her lips are sweet and pleasant.
A person of such inner excellence is good to her family, friends, neighbours - indeed, to everyone with whom she comes into contact. She also possesses the golden trait of generosity. She dedicates her heart and spirit to fulfil the will of others.
A good heart includes every other good virtue. This is because the steadfast wish to do absolute good, regardless of the circumstances, is more difficult to achieve than the performance of a good deed. It is all about goodness, decency, and bringing joy to others.
May we merit the wonderful character trait of a good heart, and then we will be pleasing and pleasant to all of our family, friends and neighbours as well as the entire world.
And finally my big question to you is this: Today and every day, should we not all make a special effort to say a kind and pleasant word to every person with whom we come in contact?