In this generation, most of us are overly concerned with the superficial, materialistic, external aspects of our lives. We need to live in the “right” home, have the “right” job, wear the “right” clothes, drive the “right” car, and on and on. The list can be both mind-boggling and endless. However, provided we can afford such luxuries, after attaining our superficial goals, we are still left feeling like we are “missing something.”
Unfortunately, this fake and deceptive view of the world has crept into many of our own communities. We can have long peyot and beards, spend all day or night learning Torah, and can even be held in high esteem by our community, and yet we still manage to speak lashon hara, not guard our eyes, not have peace in our homes, and lust after our every base desire.
Rebbe Elimelech teaches us that “People are created in this world only so that they might break their natural inclinations. Therefore, a person should strive to fix one’s personality traits…” (Tzetel Katan 16). So, it turns out that many of us have much more interest in “fixing” the external realm of our lives while completely ignoring our own internal reality, which is actually the main purpose for us coming down to this world.
Rebbe Elimelech warns us that “Improper character traits are the root of all sins. It is because of bad midot that a person transgresses G-d’s will” (Noam Elimelech, Tazria). If we want to do Hashem’s will, we need to work on correcting our bad midot.
Fortunately, Rebbe Elimelech gives us great advice on how to correct our bad midot:
It is impossible to completely break your natural inclinations; instead, you should elevate and sanctify them. For instance, a person who gets angry should redirect his petty and trivial shows of emotion into indignation toward the wicked. The same applies to every trait — it should be redirected toward holiness.
Ultimately, a person will come to such a high level that he is totally divorced from these lower inclinations. His inborn negative qualities will never surface in him again, for everything has been greatly sanctified. (Noam Elimelech, Tzav)
By working on our bad midot, we begin to break our natural inclinations, greatly reducing our sins, which allows us to do Hashem’s will. “Then, when he fixes his personality traits and can act properly for the rest of his life, he will be happy in this world and fortunate in the World to Come” (Noam Elimelech, Tzav).
Based on The Tzetel Katan, Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, Tzetel Katan 16, Collected and arranged by E. S. Zisman