Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Mindful Monday: Wisdom Quotes for 2011 and Timeless Talmuldic Ethics For Everyone

becoming a mensch2.jpgBefore I met Ronald Pies, M.D., professor of psychiatry and lecturer on bioethics and humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University and professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, I did not know what a mensch was. I figured it has something to do with a short person.


However, for Christmas this year I received a signed copy of Pies’s newest book, “Becoming a Mensch: Timeless Talmudic Ethics for Everyone,” and I decided that I would like to become a mensch, much like Dr. Pies, for whom I have the utmost respect.


The American Heritage Dictionary defines “mensch” as “a person having admirable characteristics, such as fortitude and firmness of purpose. His book is a fascinating collection of personal case histories, often based on composites of various individuals he has treated professionally. These modern-day vignettes teach us the value of this ancient wisdom today.

I have gone through his book and pulled my favorite quotes. But I urge you to pick up a copy of his book if you’d like to learn how the Torah and the Talmud might help us on our journey to mental health.

On Kindness and Compassion:

What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other? -George Eliot


When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. -Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Without kindness and compassion, no matter what else you do in life, you are not a mensch, and you are not like a worthy and decent human being. -Ronald Pies

On Generosity and Charity:

If someone comes to you and asks your help, you shall not turn him off with pious words, saying, “Have faith and take your troubles to God!” You shall act as if there were no God, as if there were only one person in all the world who could help this man–only yourself. -Rabbi Moshe Lieb of Sasov, quoted by Martin Buber

On Self-Mastery and Self-Discipline:


Ben Zoma says: Who is mighty? One who conquers one’s passions, as it is said: “One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one who rules over one’s spirit is better than one who conquers a city.” -Proverbs 16:32

The more mental training man has, the less affected he will be by luck or misfortune. He will not get excited over a very fortunate event and will not exaggerate its value. Likewise, if one meets disaster, he will not be disturbed and aggrieved, but will bear it valiantly. -Maimonides

On Humility and Flexibility:

A person should always be gentle and flexible like a read [in his relationships with others] and never hard and unyielding like a cedar tree. -Taanit


On Justice and Retribution:

Where there is harsh justice there is no kindness, and where there is kindness there is no harsh justice! -Sanhedrin

Respect for Self and Others:

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. -Jerusalem Talmud

On Attentive Listening and Understanding:

Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live. -Isaiah 55:3

On Caution and Prudence:

I, Wisdom, live with Prudence … –Proverbs 8:12


A learned person … does not answer impetuously. -Pirke Avot 5:9

On Honesty and Integrity:

When a person is brought into the heavenly Court of Judgment, he is asked: Did you deal honestly? -Shabbat 31a

On Gratitude and Contentedness:

Ben Zoma says: … Who is rich? One who rejoices in one’s portion … –Pirke Avot 4:1

On Politeness and Tact:

With good manners, you can open any door. -Yiddish proverb

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  • Ronald Pies MD

    Hi, Therese–Many thanks for your generosity of spirit, in posting this. You are truly a “mensch”! I hope your readers will find the ideas in my book of help in their own lives, and in the lives of their families and loved ones. –Best regards and Happy New Year, Ron Pies MD

  • Irene Bayersdorfer

    I also struggle and I spent my life trying to be a mensch, I don’t think I totally fulfilled the mensch philosophy, I will keep trying.
    Thanks for the kind directions.
    Irene Bayersdorfer

  • Sandy Naiman

    Hi, Therese…
    I’ve been very remiss in my blog reading of late, but I happened on yours a few minutes ago and was delighted to see Ronald Pies new book. I have an autographed copy, too. And I cherish it.
    You know, I’m using his chapter on “Respect for Self and Others” (Chapter 9) in my “Leadership in Society” course this semester. It is fundamental to affecting change for the “greater good” (and within oneself) and it’s a perfect reading, unlike any I’ve ever seen in any text, for young people interested in understanding the theory behind “Community Service” and the life-skills theory that drive us to give back and to want “to make a difference” ~ a difference that cannot be quantified by profits, but by non-profits.
    Thank you for highlighting your favourite quotations. I’m sure anyone reading this engaging book ~ and your post ~ will find personal favourites because Dr. Pies has characteristically touched the soul of his subject. “Ethics for Everyone” ~ a challenging task that he has mastered, once again.
    All my best to you for this and many exciting new years to come ~ for you and yours. To new beginnings, every day, every week, every moment of your life.
    Here’s to celebrating and making the most of our “nows”…

  • Minnie

    Thanks for this post, love all the quotes.

  • Meg Y

    Thanks Therese for posting this. I think I shall go get Dr. Pies’ book. As a depressive, the quotes regarding Self Mastery and Self Discipline touched me the most, as I am learning that depression and to a great deal anxiety, are indeed “all in my head,” in as much as the thoughts that I allow in will affect my beliefs, feelings, and therefore my behavior. I like the wording of “mental training,” which I suppose goes on for a lifetime, but seems very focused for me as of late (2 years). God is working something in me that is not fun and I wish it would come to a conclusion, but I know He is fulfilling a purpose somehow. God Bless and Happy New Year! (PS: please don’t take my statements above to say that being depressed is “all in your head,” which I know to be contrary (and am on various helpful meds myself). I am speaking of the cognitive aspect that we can be aware of and control to some extent, and by focusing on God’s word, we replace lies with His truth, which will set us free!)

  • Brenda

    I read your post for today and I think there is alot of truth and wisdom there. But I have to say the Title of the book bothers me some the word Mensch is not in the Webster Dictionary.
    Because I see that we are quickly moving to a one world goverment where being an Aerican means little. We seem to be willing to give our language our rights and freedom up so as not to offend foreignors. I beleive in giving all people the opptunity to better themselves and their family not because we give them a free ride and over look thier illegal statis. But because they chose to come to the USA where the opptunities are here for them to be apart of and work within our guidelines to live here. Speak our lanague are they get an inturpter. We should not be changing and writing to all these foreign languages. If I went to their Country I would not expecet that they do everything in english for me or that they change their life style to accomdate me. But that I be preparied when I go. Lets stand together and be proud to be Americans. and stick to our language and belife in one God and one way to eternal life with Him. God has not told us to compise any of His word and ways for foreign Gods. We are American and we want America back.

  • Joan G

    The title “Mensch” is an interesting choice, and the book sounds like something I’d enjoy, but from reading some of the excerpts you’ve chosen, which are wonderful by the way,(and I’m familiar with some of them), I don’t think that title does them justice, although others may disagree.
    The Torah and Talmud are filled with such relevant thoughts for our own time; in fact, they are timeless, and nourishing for souls in need of succor, as so many are today. Thank you for sharing it, and I will check it out at the library
    I was raised Jewish but have become interested in Buddhism recently, but I find that the ideals of kindness and compassion predominate in both religions, and so, I’m both!! Thanks!

  • Your Name Debra

    This book is not available at Borders. Was disappointed, as I wanted to read and review it for my local NAMI newsletter. Can you post a link on how/where to get it?

  • SuzanneWA

    Rest easy, Therese – you are already – and have been – a ROYAL mensch for as along as I’ve been reading your columns. Thank God for people like you, who help keep people like me on the straight and narrow by writing missives that both encourage and motivate us through our mood swings, and show us that God – and those who believe – are in control. Have a HAPPY, HEALTHY and PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR!!!

  • Natalie

    I love this post. I am going to see if I can find this book at Half Priced Books next time I go to OK City! I did a search for the term “mensch” on Merriam-Webster’s website and it is there and the word is English but has been translated, like nearly every other word in the English language, from Yiddish and German. I love the quotes you chose to highlight. So many of them spoke to me for so many reasons. I am in a difficult place right now in a long healing journey that feels sometimes like it will never end (and who knows maybe it is a process I am going to walk through the rest of my life.) It was very comforting to read these though. Thank you so much!

  • CheekyPeaches

    Dear Brenda:
    Therese is sharing a book with us which encourages all to be the best in humankind. In doing so we rid ourselves of racism and bigotry. The original post speaks of love, charity and compassion. Please re-read it. Just because you caouldn’t seem to find the word doesn’t mean the US is falling victim to foreigners. I truly believe you are missing the point.
    While I understand we are all entitled to our own political,as well as religious, beliefs this blog post is neither the time nor the place for such rhetoric.
    My beautiful, loving, conservative, Texan heart encourages you to open yours to the differences surrounding you. I promise you will be amazed every day.
    (and the rest of the world)
    p.s. Websters DOES list the word MENSCH. Please see below.
    Noun 1. mensch – a decent responsible person with admirable characteristics
    Synonyms: mensh

  • Simcha

    How microcosmic of all we humans do.
    With a decade of living in the heart what may be the largest community of Orthodox Jews in the U.S., interacting with many, many hundreds of those claiming orthodoxy as their way of life, my sum comment on this article is: “Sounds GREAT on paper.”
    All these years, and I have never met anyone in this neighborhood who bothers to live these ideals, for to do so would undermine the relentless pursuits of the most egregious profits, and appearance of personal piety.
    Not one in a thousand has met my persistently-declining standards.
    From the landlords who charge four digits per month for little heat and hot water (only doing this to non-Jewish tenants, where their Jewish tenants report never once having such issues), to the bloody diamonds that every young bride is “entitled to” as a matter of course from the in-laws, to those wearing decidedly unkosher hats (made from rodents exclusively to serve vanity) that cost thousands of dollars each, dollars which, according to Torah and Talmud, are stolen from the least among us, not one lives or strives to reach a life abounding with these rich ideals.
    Yes, these ideals sound magnificent on paper. Too bad they are but lip service paid. So reminiscent of King David, who it is actually “illegal” and forbidden to malign, who slept with many hundreds of women, murdered his employee so he (David) could sleep with the murdered man’s wife, and continued to sleep with her for many years despite all the poems and psalms declaiming his repentance.
    Yes, these principles sound wonderful on paper. All I need is a role model to help inculcate these fine ways of living into my own existence.

  • barb

    it seems that nearly everytime you quote a book, i end up buying it! thank you for your good taste in reading. i don’t know where you find the time to read, however. good choice! thanks, me

  • Lynn Dover

    I’m glad it sounds great an paper. But, I’ll remind you that the book is about how to improve yourself – not judge those around you. I’m sorry that your experience with your neighbours has been bad. But their behaviour should have little impact on what sort of person you aspire to be. Who do you want to be?

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