When you say, “Break your middos,” what do you mean by that?
To break your middos means to not allow your instincts or the characteristics of your mind to control you. You must learn to control your reactions, instead of your instincts and your middos controlling you.
I’ll give you one example. There’s a desire to talk; everyone has that desire. But yielding to that desire causes a great deal of harm. First of all, it makes you dishonored in the eyes of people. When people see you for the first time, they suspect that that you are a wise man. They see your face and they think that you’re full of wisdom. Until you give it away by talking. Like it says in Mishlei: פי כסיל מחתה לו – “A mouth of a fool is his ruination” (18:7). As you walk into a new place, everybody looks at you, they respect you. And then you ruin it by opening your mouth. You say something dumb and it’s finished.
And therefore, you have to break your instinct, your characteristic, of opening your mouth all the time. We have to learn how to keep our mouths closed. Even if someone says something to us, it’s not always necessary to reply. And even if you have to reply, the Rambam says לא ימהר להשיב ולא ירבה לדבר – “Don’t be hasty to reply and don’t speak many words” (Hilchos De’os 2:4). Think before you answer. And start with that, then you’re on your way to shvirashamiddos, you’re on your way towards being in full control of your reactions to everything in this world.
TAPE # 924 (July 1993)