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Personal Strengths and Weakness

Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

Last week we spoke about the three pillars of existence: Love (pleasure), Strength (goodness) and Truth (wisdom). Although we all have all three, each person has a slightly different expression of these traits, and the order of importance can be different as well. To find your true purpose in life, you must identify your core trait.

After that it's also worthwhile to identify which trait is secondarily important to you, and which one comes in third. In order to be in harmony with the universe, we need to develop all three.

We see other threesomes in creation as well. A musical chord is built from three notes. There are three primary colors. A cord of three strands is very strong. A stool needs at least three legs to stand on.

The Almighty created the universe in such a way that it has three main themes.

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The next step, once you've identified your core motivation in life, is to look at the Patriarch that exemplified that trait and noticed how he perfected it.

The middle pillar is exemplified by Isaac. He had what we call Gevura, inner strength. As the Sages say, "Who is the strong man? The one who conquers his desires" (Avot 4:1). Isaac showed inner strength in many ways. One of those ways is through consistency. It takes inner strength to be consistent. Isaac continued the religious philosophy of his father, repeating many of the things Abraham did: Isaac pretended that his wife was his sister, just like Abraham. Isaac redug the wells that Abraham dug. Isaac had one good son and one bad son, just like Abraham. You get the picture.

In what ways are you consistent? In what ways are you not consistent, but would like to be? This is a specific area of self-growth that you can focus on and gain spiritual benefit from. Don't just make a commitment to yourself, "I'm going to be more consistent from now on." Look for one small area of life that would just work out better if you were more consistent, and think about how in practical terms you can accomplish one small change. Because if you can do that, you can conquer anything. Spiritual accomplishments are often best done one small step at a time.

By the way, whether your root trait is like Isaac or not, being consistent is a good strength to have in life. People will appreciate that you're someone they can count on when they need you. Business dealings run more smoothly. Taking an accounting of your spiritual growth requires being consistent. Many areas of life are enhanced by being consistent.

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Another application of the three personality-trait theory is to identify the natural pitfalls of the traits. "Love" can become too lenient, or too giving. A parent may love a child and not want to see the child suffer, so every time the child asks for candy, he gets it (even at the expense of becoming overweight or developing cavities).

Strength can result in being too strict, with oneself or with others.

People into pleasure will often sacrifice a higher pleasure for a lower pleasure. Do other people think you waste money on luxuries? Are your bills for entertainment and restaurants higher than other people you know in your income bracket?

Much of life is built on curbing physical pleasures. Spiritual pleasures are greater, more long lasting, and more meaningful than physical pleasures. Alternatively you can focus on sharing your physical pleasures, or elevating your physical pleasures by tying them into something spiritual. Save your best food and clothes for Shabbat, a holiday, or an occasion when you especially feel gratitude to the Almighty.

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Excuse the cliche, but as Shakespeare said in Hamlet, "This above all: To thine own self be true." Whether or not you relate to this "three pillar personality system," it's important to know yourself. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew their strengths and weaknesses.

If you understand yourself, you can play up your strengths, perfect your talents. You can try to control your weaknesses and work to avoid the pitfalls that trip you up.

And that is all of life in a nutshell.

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Spiritual Exercise:

This week, identify and write down two of your greatest strengths, and one of your greatest weaknesses. Think of one small step you can take to develop each of these areas.

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