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“The answer is that a Shulchan Aruch, a legal code of right and wrong, is not enough. Our goal under heaven is not simply to observe the law, important and functional though it is. The goal of Torah is to transmute the human spirit, the character, into something fine and G-dly. David the Psalmist entreated the Almighty, ‘Guard my life, for I am a hasid’ (Psalms 86:2). In its age-old classic sense, this means a person of deep goodness, benevolence and piety. We mentioned the prescription of one sage: ‘The one who wants to become a hasid should observe the laws of n’zikin, laws concerning injuries and damages’ (Bava Kamma 30a). In other words, you should learn from the Torah how to avoid causing injury, and how to pay proper damages for the harm that you may bring. But for another sage this is not enough; his advice for becoming a hasid is, ‘Let him observe the teaching of Avoth.’ Knowledge and strict observance of the Law is not the be-all and end-all. The true hasid is one whose profound piety carries him above and beyond the strict letter of the Law. If he has the slightest doubt that he may be wrong in a dispute, or that his potential claim is questionable, he will give his fellow man the benefit of the doubt rather than use his legal rights aggressively. The hasid overcomes his acquisitive nature and looks beyond, to the spirit of the Law.”

R. Bunim concludes, “If you wish to reach this level of beneficence and loving piety, if you would be a hasid, the teachings of Avoth are essential.”

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(To be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.