Book Review: Be A Mensch

Be A Mensch Book ReviewWelcome to the third annual Mitzvot Unplugged! The mitzvot unplugged series is largely about teaching our kids mitzvot creatively, but it is also about ways to build character or help them to become mensch. There is no question that how our kids behave is influenced how we as parents behave. If they see us doing acts of chesed, they will want to do that too. If we show them that becoming a mensch is important to us, then it will be important to them too. A book like Dr. Moshe Kaplan’s anthologyBe A Mensch, printed by  Gefen Publishing House. is a good resource for parents both as a way to take stock and guide our children.

Be A Mensch Review

Be A Mensch, compiled by the founder of the Be A Mensch foundation, intends to focus on the various positive aspects of being a mensch- how it can help in business, health, happiness, relationships and allow people to lead meaningful content lives. I am not going to touch on every article but i will highlight a few. I thoroughly enjoyed Howard Jonas’s piece “But Will Good Character Pay My Bills?” which not only is funny and unexpected, but highlights the need for focusing on or acknowledging ones shortcomings. It was also good to focus on business since this is an area where people are not always upright and whether or not you will be rewarded, you need to keep upright yourself.

I’ve always appreciated Natan Sharansky’s “Fear No Evil,” and it was good to see the excerpt connecting Yirat Shamayim (Fear of God) with character traits. As in fear of not being worthy of the role of follower of God, leading to focusing on things other than ones self. This is also highlighted by Dr. Avraham Twerski’s piece, where he discusses that many of his patients come to him because they are more focused on self-gratification rather than pleasure in reaching beyond oneself.

When I was reading the book, I was reading it both from a perspective of asking what the goals of each other’s piece was, but also from my perspective, as a simple imperfect individual. How am I doing with regard to the various character traits each author highlights? For some, it was an uncomfortable reminder that these are areas I still struggle with, and need to work on, both internally and as a role model for my children. I imagine that this is also a goal of the book, to help us to remember to work on ourselves.

Reading the book inspired two takeaways.

Or rather takeaways I can use for helping my kids become mensch:

  1. Professor Robery J. Aumann’s piece “The Cooperative Character”, which focused on game theory reminded me of a “peula” I once did as a madricha/counsellor using The Prisoner’s Dilemma for the concept of kol Yisrael Arevim zeh lzeh.
  2. Judith Mishell’s “Psychological Benefits of Good Character,” which focused on a few character traits and their benefits, led us to implement sharing things we are grateful for at dinner, and my kids are going to make a “gratitude” jar, that we will fill each week and then read out on shabbat.

At the end of the day, we tend to be bogged down in living life, making ends meet, and dealing with our families. This book helps to remember ones priorities. If one has a finite number of days, what should your focus be? Character building is important.


For more about helping your children to become mensch, see the review of Seven Steps to Mentchhood.

Do you have something to contribute to the series? You can submit your post idea or link in the form below.

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