Sunday, November 28th 2021   |

Character

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Basketball coaching legend John Wooden said, “The true test of one’s character is what you do when no one is watching.” This sentiment has a long history and deep roots in Jewish morality.

The Torah treats a thief who breaks in to a home under cover of night more harshly than a brigand who robs in broad daylight (Exodus 22:1-2), because the former fears not God… but only that people will witness his crime (Baba Kamma 79B).

Maimonides ranks anonymous, unseen philanthropy (neither the donor nor the recipient knows the other’s identity) as the preferred method of giving — second only to establishing a business partnership with the needy (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7-14).

The Prophet Amos bitterly criticizes those who draw attention to their own generosity and spiritual efforts: “Compound your transgressions… Proclaim freewill offerings loudly” (4:4-5)

The practice of publicly (and explicitly) announcing gifts to the Jewish community using the “Asher Nadav” (“…who generously gave…”) form of the Mi-Sheberach prayer subtly evokes the Prophet’s moral indignation. Amos’ “freewill offerings” (“Nedavot”) share a Hebrew verb root (n.d.b.) with “Nadav.” An “Asher Nadav” imputes a measure of prophetic disapproval for the ostentatious self-promotion it ostensibly celebrates

God knows. That should be enough.

“Character is what you do when no one (else) is watching.”

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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