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July 22, 2024
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Seven Steps to Mentschhood

Conclusion: Taking the Path to Mentschhood

Part 1

We have completed our study of the Seven Steps to Mentschhood. Followed carefully, they can provide a concrete set of guidelines for your children as you help them develop those behaviors and character traits that personify the kind of person we call a “mentsch.” They are especially helpful in their application to your child’s daily life in school.

In summary, while each step is different from the next one and increases in difficulty, it is helpful to recognize the overriding similarity that unites them.

Step #1

ואהבת לרעך כמוך

Love your fellow person as yourself (Vayikra 19:18)

Step #2

לא תשנא את אחיך בלבבך

You shall not hate your brother in your heart (Vayikra 19: 17)

Step #3

ולפני עור לא תתן מכשל

And you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind (Vayikra 19:14)

Step #4

פתח תפתח את ידך

Open your hand to your brother…(Devarim 15:11)

Step #5

ועשית הישר והטוב בעיני ה

You shall do what is right and good in the eyes of Hashem (Devarim 6:18)

Step # 6

דרכיה דרכי נעם וכל נתיבותיה שלום

The ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness… (Mishlei 3:17)

Step #7

קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ה’ אלקיכם.

You shall be holy—for holy am I, Hashem, your God. (Vayikra 19:2)

A quick review reveals that six of the seven steps are pesukim from the Torah. Of these six, five include a direct signature and message from Hashem. For example steps # 1 & 3 ‘…אני ה,’ step # 5 ’נשבע ה’

The conclusion is clear: As we learned in step #7, a fundamental principle behind the Seven Steps is the concept of imitatio Dei—to emulate Hashem and follow His ways.

Regarding step #6—the pasuk, “The ways of the Torah are pleasantness and all its pathways of peace” provides a broad guideline for “mentschlich” behavior. We can’t expect a list of every possible way a person may choose to act in order to acquire Mentschhood. If, however, we follow the spirit of this pasuk, it provides us with a perfect path. Whenever you are faced with a choice as to how to behave like a mentsch in any given situation, just ask yourself, “What would Hashem expect of us?” Once you get into the habit of asking this question, with the help of the Seven Steps, you are likely to make the right choice almost all of the time.

The Talmud (Brachot 25b) tells us: לא נתנה התורה למלאכי השרת—“The Torah was not given to the ministering angels.” On the contrary, we must always keep in mind what we learned from the Kotzker Rebbe, who taught us that the Torah was given to man—ordinary human beings. Just as Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, created us with many talents and traits, He also created within each of us the capacity to follow all of His mitzvot, if we set our mind and heart to it. And just as no set of skills can be acquired instantly or easily (think of any sport), the keys to following the Seven Steps require frequent discussion and practice.

Parents are advised to encourage their children in the performance of these mitzvot and steps, and to reward them with meaningful compliments for specific instances of progress and performance. Ultimately, there can be no better reward for a child than to hear a parent say, “You behaved like a real mentsch!

A final definition: In our daily “bentching” (Birkat Hamazon, Grace After Meals), we say the following:…ונמצא חן ושכל טוב בעיני אלקים ואדם.

We ask that we may “find favor and good understanding in the eyes of Hashem and of man.” (Proverbs 3:4). A mentsch is someone whose character and conduct are appreciated by people and Hashem alike. This pasuk teaches us that when we concentrate on following the Seven Steps, and we consciously strive to emulate those traits that Hashem holds in high esteem, we will find favor in the eyes of the people who observe our behavior. It means that they are going to say, “There goes a real mentsch!”

Stanley Fischman was the supervisor of general studies instruction at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was a yeshiva elementary principal for 35 years, and also served as director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. Recently he celebrated his 50th anniversary of educating Jewish children. He is the author of Seven Steps to Mentschhood—How to Help Your Child Become a Mentsch.

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