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Be a Mensch

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Be a Mensch

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Be a Mensch
How Good Character Is the Key to a Life of Happiness, Heath, Wealth, and Love
An Anthology Compiled by Moshe Kaplan, MD
Gefen Publishing House, 2009, 110 pages
ISBN 978-965-229-433-3

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - October 21, 2009

Dr. Moshe Kaplan uses mind, body, and soul integration to aid people in attaining optimal heath. In this book, he has gathered the writings of six very successful people in a wide range of professions, from a Nobel Prize winner to the CEO of a billion dollar business to a politician, psychiatrist and others, and presents their ideas as to how a person can develop good character. He introduces his book of six presentations with an introduction by Sara Yoheved Rigler, author of Holy Woman and ends it with his own Afterword. This is an interesting book that reminds people how to behave.

Although written from a religious Jewish perspective, none of the participants insisted that Jews should act properly because God said so. Instead, they tell how good character aids people. It offers many insights, such as:

Sara Yoheved Rigler reminds readers that lifeís goal according to Judaism is to improve oneís character traits: if a person is stingy, become more generous; if prone to anger, become more patient. No one would praise another person in a eulogy saying "I miss Sandra because she was wealthy" or "It is so sad that she is gone because she was happy." People eulogize the dead for what they did for other people.

Howard Jonas, Founder and CEO of IDT Corporation tells very interesting stories of how he became successful and stresses that humility, the ability to see that others have much that they can contribute, helped him pick employees who could aid him gain his successes.

Professor Robert J. Aumann, Nobel Prize Winner for Economic Sciences, introduces "Game Theory," and in a fascinating short piece explains why it makes sense to do such seemingly silly things as leave a sizable tip in a restaurant in a foreign country that you never expect to visit again and why peace can only be achieved by a strong country able to go to war.

Dr. Yakir Kaufman, Chairman of Department of Neurology, writes about the interdependence of all parts of the body and how changes in a personís state of mind can cause significant changes in the personís body. He tells of studies that show that people with good character traits have both a good mental attitude and healthy bodies; the same is true for religious people who tend to be healthier than non-religious people, and prayer leads to relaxation of tension, the cause of many diseases.

Natan Sharansky, a human rights activist who spent years in a Soviet prison because of his activism, writes two stories about how he was able to remain firm in his beliefs during his incarceration. In one, which is humorous, he persuades the prison official to participate with him in lighting the Hanukkah candles. In the other, he reveals how the biblical Book of Psalms helped him cope with prison life.

Dovid Gottlieb, a rabbi and senior lecturer of Jewish philosophy, offers about a dozen scenarios in which the reader must decide which of two people have the better character, such as one born good or one that is born with a bad disposition who works hard and changes her character. He concludes that good character is behavior that is motivated by love, and a good Jew is a person who copies the good acts that God, the ultimate source of love, shows humankind.

Dr. Judith Mishell, a clinical psychologist, lists what seem to be over a hundred mental and physical practical benefits that flow from good character. These long lasting joys, such as feelings of satisfaction, self esteem and well-being, a sense of self-actualization, increased interest, excitement, confidence, vitality, a helperís high, calmness, relief from emotional stress, optimism, enthusiasm and many others are simply too many to be summarized.

Dr. Moshe Kaplan offers the Afterword. He stresses that people must realize that they need to change themselves not something outside themselves, that this takes patience and constant effort, that failure to change harms both the mental state and physical bodies leading to diseases such as cancer, while a good attitude makes for a healthy life. He emphasizes that people should follow the Maimonidean principle of living according to the "Golden Mean," and avoiding extremes in behavior.


Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of seventeen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah and on www.yutorah@yutorah.org. His website is http://booksnthoughts.com.

The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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