The outstanding characteristic of a person of character is that he is guided in his thinking and action by the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you". Judaism attaches great importance to the Torah’s teachings, set forth in the first Five Books of the Holy Bible, believed to have been given by God to Prophet Moses in the wilderness, more than 3,000 years ago.
These teachings contain a set of principles, to regulate our behaviour towards our fellowmen, and constitute the basis of civilisation. It is related that when an agnostic asked Rabbi Hillel to let him know in one sentence what is in the Torah, he replied: "Do not unto others what you would not have others do unto you." One is apt to judge people by the extent of their power or wealth, but as an ancient writer pointed out, "I would rather be adorned by beauty of character than jewels. Jewels are the gifts of fortune, while character comes from within."
Firm faith and belief in divine goodness does bring exceeding peace, which results in making one fearless and bold. A person of character is honest, because he is not afraid, and can afford even to incur the ill will and enmity of others, in the interest of justice, fair play and honesty. A man of character will never harbour thoughts of violence and his action at all times will be prompted by ideas of peace and non-violence.
The quality of reliability and dependability is important. No society or country can rise to greatness if there is utter disregard for punctuality and reliability, which really means a thoughtless neglect and lack of consideration for the feelings of others. A person of character is free of greed and corruption. Such evil tendencies can be compared to a dangerous growth, within the body. In brief, the strength of a nation depends on the strength and character of the individuals comprising it.
I would like to refer here to the importance attached by Gandhiji to character when he made the following statements:-
"All your scholarship, all your study of Shakespeare and Wordsworth would be in vain, if at the same time you do not build your character, and attain mastery over your thoughts and action,” wrote M K Gandhi. “When you have attained self-mastery and learnt to control your passions, you will not utter words of despair. You cannot give your hearts and profess poverty of action. To give one's heart is to give all. You must, to start with, have hearts to give. And this you can do if you will cultivate them."
Most, if not all, the attributes of good character spring from the acceptance in thought and deed of an abiding reverence for the Almighty, which is the foundation of wisdom. As the authorised version of the Book of Proverbs in the Bible puts it: "Respect for the Lord is the beginning of knowledge."
The person who is truly religious is rightly wary of transgressing the laws of good behaviour and character prescribed by Him. And such a fear of evil-doing is a positive concept that is akin to reverence for our Maker and Creator.
Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar heads the Judah Hyam Synagogue in New Delhi.