Rav Yisrael Lipkin of Salant began the Mussar Movement -- an approach
to Judaism that stresses the achievement of strong character and ethical
conduct. With extraordinary character, intellect and will, he raised a veritable
army of Jewish soldiers, including an elite core of generals.
At age 67, Rav Yisrael met a young businessman, and convinced him to
attend several lectures. The businessman became transformed. After the passing
of his young wife, he withdrew from society for a time -- then suddenly emerged
-- renewed, invigorated, and ready to pass on the banner of Torah and exemplary
character to the entire generation. In two years he founded ten yeshivos;
the tenth -- Novaradok -- he personally headed. He became famous as the
"Alter of Novaradok" (Rav Yoseif Yuzel Hurvitz).
Madreigas Ha'adom (Levels of Man) is a collection of lectures from the
Alter. In the lecture Birur Hamidos (Clarification of Traits), a distinction
is made between one who seeks growth and one who remains stagnant.
Madreigas Ha'adom Chapter Six
"The difference between the one who will clarify his traits and the one
who will not, is admission... The one who stands up to
"clarification," when he is shown error, will open his ears, admit -- even
though he truly does not have this fault! By taking the reproof to heart,
he will penetrate the depths of his heart. If he finds some fault, he will
hasten to correct it. However, one who doesn't stand up to
"clarification," will deny... even when shown his actual faults!"
Madreigas Ha'adom Chapter Seven
In the story of King Dovid and Bas Sheva, the Talmud states that
"anyone who thinks Dovid `sinned' is in error." Legally, technically -- Dovid
could justify his actions. According to the letter of the law, there was
no `sin.' When Dovid was accused by Nosson the prophet, the King could easily
have had the prophet arrested for audaciousness. Yet, the all-powerful monarch
simply said: "Chatosi" (I sinned). The Talmud stated that Dovid had not sinned,
but Dovid recognized that he had taken advantage of the situation; regardless
of the technical loopholes, he instantly saw the need for correction:
"Chatosi" (I sinned).
The reason that this is important: Even if an act is actually justifiable,
the fact that it arouses suspicion, is, in itself, a great fault -- people
will think that a crime was committed, and this is the Chilul Hashem (Profaning
of Hashem's Name).
In our parsha, Avraham told everyone that Sarah was his sister. Avimelech,
the local ruler, had Sarah abducted and brought to the palace. Hashem appeared
to Avimelch in a dream: "You will die on account of the woman, for she is
married." Avimelech answered: "Will you kill a righteous people? I acted
with pure heart and clean hands..." Hashem replied: "Return the woman!"
Madreigas Ha'adom Chapter Seven
The dialogue can be understood as follows. Hashem said that Avimelech
would die if he persisted in keeping Sarah. Avimelech answered, "Since I
was unaware of her married status, I should not die for this -- even if I
persist in keeping her!"
The Alter states that every act should be carried out with "taste and
truth." Taste -- it must feel right, uplifting. Truth -- it must hold up
to logical scrutiny. After a discussion, he asked: What makes the difference
between the Tzadik (righteous person) and Rashah (evil personality)? Both
will act upon "taste and truth," but each has his own criteria for analyzing
"taste and truth!"
The difference is the order. It is essential to initially determine
"truth," then proceed to "taste." If "taste" comes before the
"truth," the truth may have already been contorted beyond recognition...