Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Maimonides on habits formation

Today is the 15th day of Tebet, 5771

Maimonides (Rambam) affirms in Hilkhot De'ot that we're all driven by habits. These habits are part of our personalities, either because of a natural (today we would call it: 'genetic') tendency toward a specific behavior or because we have acquired this habit, imitating our peers, family members, etc. With time habits -good and bad habits- become a second nature.

By being more conscious of how habits are formed and how they become part of our character, we might be able to control them.


What is more significant in terms of character formation? To give a big amount of money to charity at once or to give one dollar at a time? (We are not examining here the merits of the different charities, just the impact of this habit on our character)

Maimonides says:

"positive behavior characteristics are not acquired by doing (a one time) great positive act but rather through the repetition of many positive acts. For example, giving one thousand gold coins to one charity will not accustom a person to the habit of 'generosity', whereas giving one gold coin to a thousand charities will do so. By repeating an act many times, an established behavior or emotional pattern is formed. In contrast, one great act might represent a one time arousal to good, after which that motivation might disappear".

Over time, one simple act repeated several times -a string of small experiences- can accumulate to become strong enough to overwhelm even a major experience.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024