The Rabbi asked me to give a dvar Torah while he is away.
Today I want to discuss with you the Hebrew word midot. Midot means positive character traits. I learned the work midot from the Beth Tfiloh School where my children attend. Each year the Beth Tfiloh Third grade performs a Midot program to emphasize the importance of good character traits.
My theme related to midot is the following. When selecting someone for an important role or undertaking, midot should trump brains, beauty, and wealth. To illustrate my theme I will present four stories, one from the Torah, one from the Talmud, and two additional stories.
The first story concerning the importance of midot comes from today’s Torah Portion. Abraham sends his servant Eliezer on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac. Eliezer could have selected a wife for Isaac based on beauty, clever speech, or wealth. However Eliezer selected Rebecca as Isaac’s wife because of her midot. Rabbi Weisblum, in his book Table Talk, nicely summarizes Rebecca’s midot. They are as follows.
1 Rebecca dressed modestly
2. Rebecca treated Eliezer in a kind and respectful manner even though he was a stranger
3. Rebecca treated Eliezer’s animals with great compassion by remembering to give them a drink, even before considering her own needs.
4. Rebecca graciously offered Eliezer a place to eat and sleep.
5. Rebecca was thoughtful enough to provide a separate place for Eliezer’s animals to eat and rest.
The selection of Rebecca based on her midot was a success. Isaac and Rebecca were a good match and carried on the Jewish values to the next generation.
My second story concerning the important of midot comes from the Talmud. In an arranged marriage the groom first sets eyes on his intended bride at the wedding and announces that he cannot marry her because she is too ugly. Because the families are so distraught, the groom recants and says he will marry his intended bride if the rabbi convinces him that she has one redeeming quality. The following is a list of the rabbi’s questions to the groom and the groom’s answers:
Is her head beautiful? No, it’s like a watermelon
Is her hair beautiful? No, it’s like unwoven flax
Are her eyes pretty, No they are cloudy and bleary
Is her nose nice? No it is crooked and misshapen
Are her lips nice? No they are swollen.
Is neck nice, No it is hunched
Is stomach nice? No it protrudes
Are her feet nice. No they are like the feet of duck
The exasperated rabbi then asks for the name of intended bride and learns that her name means repulsive. The rabbi advises the groom to marry his intended bride because her name honestly reflects her appearance and she did not change the name. The groom follows this advice and has a happy marriage. Here the midot of honesty trumped beauty.
My third story also concerns marriage but now the setting is Eastern Europe perhaps two hundred years ago. At first it sounds like it violates the theme that midot trumps brains, but wait and see. A rabbi announces that the first young man at a yeshiva to answer a difficult Talmud question would be introduced to his daughter as a potential groom. The rabbi goes to various yeshivot asking his question, but no student can answer it. As the rabbi is leaving one yeshiva, one student requests the rabbi to give him the answer to the question, not for privilege of meeting the rabbi’s daughter, but because of an intense to desire to learn. The rabbi was delighted at the student’s midot of love of Torah learning and introduced the student to his daughter. The rabbi’s test was not the ability to answer the impossibly difficult question but demonstration of the midot of love of Torah learning.
My fourth story concerning midot is not about marriage. It takes place about two hundred years ago in Europe soon after the holiday of Sukkot. A rabbi has an opening in his Yeshiva for one student and there are two candidates. Both candidates have an excellent command of Talmud but one was a genius. Although everyone thought the genius would be chosen, the rabbi selected the other candidate. The rabbi had seen both candidates walking to his office near where the Sukkah had recently stood. On the ground was the material that had been the roof of the Sukkah. When coming for the interview, the genius had stepped on the material that had been the roof of the Sukkah while the other candidate walked around it. The rabbi realized that the midot of respect for a holy object trumped brains.
The lesson from these stories is that midot should trump brains, beauty, and wealth making a selection. Determining midot is not easy and I have no particular expertise in this matter although I must say I did a good job in evaluating the midot of my wife before we were married. Of course she also has brains and beauty, too.
One rule I have heard for quickly evaluating midot is to see how a person treats others that he or she does not need to impress. In summary we learn from today’s Torah portion, the Talmud, and other writings, that it is important to look for midot in making an important selection of a person. I wish you all success in such endeavors.