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 We are currently in a period of repentance and thoughtful analysis of our lives and deeds. We tend to think this applies to our behavior and actions, to what we have or haven’t done, and to pledge ourselves to better conduct. This is partially true, but I feel that there is a very important point that is especially crucial in current society and especially regarding the family today.

We raise our children to be nice. We demand that they share their toys with their siblings and playmates, to say thank you and please and not to nag and pester. All of this is naturally important. This is the stuff of social civilization that is so necessary in order to be able to get on in this world with billions of people, all of whom have rights and identities. But I feel the real test of raising children, of educating students, and gaining a more harmonious citizenry, is not so much about being nice as it is about being good.
Good is a permanent attitude. Nice is a temporary superficial behavior pattern and, as important as we may feel it is, it does not have a lasting effect on our lives, on our families or society. Entire nations taught their children to be nice but many of these nations – Germany comes to mind immediately – perpetrated the worst evils on other human beings. Without the definition and goal of being good – and good is defined always in terms of morality and, if you will, religious beliefs – being nice is almost meaningless.
Good requires a mindset that influences our behavior and colors our actions. It is a way of looking at the world. Though it does not solve problems or provide immediate solutions to the difficulties that life presents us with, it provides us with goals, and more importantly, it allows for satisfaction and even happiness in life, despite challenging material and physical problems.
The Talmud teaches us that the Lord wanted to make us good people and therefore He gave us a great deal of Torah study and commandments to fulfill. Every commandment that we fulfill can help make us better people. Even though we are taught that the commandments were not intended to actually give us physical pleasure, nevertheless we all know, having experienced it many times in our lifetime, that when we do fulfill a commandment there is a piece of us that feels vital and good. The fulfillment of the commandments always represents a triumph of self-discipline and a recognition of the parameters of our lives.
It is much harder to be good than it is to be nice. Courtesy is necessary in the social construct in which we live, however courtesy does not really mold our character or set us on the road to experiencing inner happiness, achievement and purpose. I find it interesting to note that, to the best of my knowledge, nowhere in the biblical descriptions of Godly attributes is being nice mentioned. Rather, we define God, so to speak, as being good. Many of the blessings that we recite reflect that perspective of the eternal Almighty. In our prayers we speak against rudeness, with goodness as a goal, and not a list of table manners or the need for pleasant conversation.
We must ask ourselves on a regular basis how, in the framework of our life experiences and holy traditions, are the acts that we perform good ones or not? It is this mindset of constantly measuring ourselves on the scale of goodness that determines the degree of our repentance and self-improvement during this holy period on the Jewish calendar.
There was a phrase common amongst Eastern European Jews that when they wanted to describe a person of merit, they said that he/she was a ‘good Jew.’ Though the words ‘a good Jew’ could and did have many different shades of definition, there was a basic understanding amongst all those who used that phrase. It meant the pursuit of goodness no matter how difficult that pursuit might be. Perhaps that is why Jews always wished each other a good Sabbath or a good holiday in good old Eastern European Yiddish.
Shabbat shalom – Have a good one!
Berel Wein

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