004 The Minchas Chinuch’s Hopeful Prayer
In our previous video, The Rambam’s Understanding of Good Middos, we found a source for the idea of improving one’s middos. Not only is it a nice thing, but it is actually a mitzvah, as explained by the Rambam.
While this was a nice find, we were still left with our challenging difficulty — how do we explain why the Chayei Adam, in The Amazing Chiddush of the Chayei Adam states that if one must choose between the two, one should choose to have yiras shomayim, over basic knowledge of halachah? Though middos and yiras shomayim might indeed be a mitzvah, what about the other 612 commandments?
To continue our exploration, we’ve found a Sefer HaChinuch, attributed to R’ Aaron HaLevi (1235–1290) who quotes the same passuk of “וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו” as a source for the importance of growing in our middos. When studying the Sefer HaChinuch, it is important to view one of the commentaries, the Minchas Chinuch (R’ Yosef Babad, 1801–1874).
Generally, the Minchas Chinuch will explain the parameters of a particular mitzvah, how to understand when that mitzvah applies, and various resulting legal twists that will occur as an outcome or outgrowth of the laws of a mitzvah. However, in his explanation of this mitzvah, the Minchas Chinuch states, “The Mussar seforim have filled their hands with the laws of the mitzvah, look into their words, and they will be enjoyable to you. This is not the place for me to be lengthy.”
The Minchas Chinuch is filled with lengthy pieces, each one revolving around a subtle detail of each specific mitzvah. Yet here, he writes that he would prefer to avoid a long discussion. One can only surmise that a discussion of middos would be greater in length than anything else he had written. This must be due to the complexity, depth and profundity hidden within each middah. But not to worry – the laws of middos can be found in the exhaustive analysis of the sifrei mussar.
He concludes, uncharacteristically, with a bracha, “Praiseworthy is the one who fulfills this mitzvah.” The Minchas Chinuch explains 613 mitzvos, and of those, he uses this phrase a total of four times. And each time is in reference to a mitzvah that focuses on middos. Clearly, middos have a special place amongst mitzvos.
Thus, we have found another source that there is a particular mitzvah to have good middos. We have even found that the laws of this mitzvah are discussed in the sifrei mussar. The question from our first video, The Amazing Chiddush of the Chayei Adam remains, though. Why does this mitzvah seem have a particular primacy over the others? Let’s continue the discussion in our next video, Working on Middos: Is Success in the Success?