Opinion: How to Be a Mentch

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mentchBy Boruch (Barry) Langer

I have a theory (as opposed to a dream) that Heaven is a three-class Boeing 777. You can sit in a narrow seat that doesn’t recline and eat chicken-like substances next to a screaming baby in coach class. Or, you can sit in a slightly wider seat that reclines slightly more and eat a beef-like substance in business class. But The Goal is to spend eternity in first class – specifically Singapore Airlines first class. Here your seat reclines to a completely flat position, and there’s a power outlet, personal video player, wireless access to the Internet, and noise-cancelling headphones. There are also chefs, not microwave ovens.

You cannot buy your way into first class; nor can you use frequent flyer miles. The only way to earn an upgrade is to be a mentch.

 Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, defines mentch this way:

Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.

The key to being “a real mentch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.

Here is my humble attempt to help you achieve mentchdom.

1.Help people who cannot help you. A mentch helps people who cannot ever return the favor. He doesn’t care if the recipient is rich, famous, or powerful. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t help rich, famous, or powerful people (indeed, they may need the most help), but you shouldn’t help only rich, famous, and powerful people.

2.Help without the expectation of return. A mentch helps people without the expectation of return – at least in this life. What’s the payoff? Not that there has to be a payoff, but the payoff is the pure satisfaction of helping others. Nothing more, nothing less.

3.Help many people. Mentchdom is a numbers game: You should help many people, so you don’t hide your generosity under a bushel. (Of course, not even a mentch can help everyone. To try to do so would mean failing to help anyone.)

4.Do the right thing the right way. A mentch always does the right thing the right way. A mentch would never cop an attitude like, “We’re not as bad as Enron.” There is a bright, clear line between right and wrong, and a mentch never crosses that line.

5.Pay back society. A mentch realizes that he’s blessed. For example, entrepreneurs are blessed with vision and passion plus the ability to recruit, raise money, and change the world. These blessings come with the obligation to pay back society. The baseline is that we owe something to society–we’re not a doing a favor by paying back society.

Exercise: It’s the end of your life. What three things do you want people to remember you for?

1.
2.
3.

I hope this helps you become a mentch. No need to thank me if it does. Helping you is reward enough – i.e., “Don’t mentchion it.”

{Matzav.com Newscenter}

9 COMMENTS

  1. Moshe Leib,

    Did you have any specific objections to what was said? Do you have a problem with encouraging people to be a Mentsch?

    The Wolf

  2. We should email this beautifully written article to everyone we know, and do business with. #3 is absolutely correct – it should be in every shul and beis medrash!

  3. 2.Help without the expectation of return. A mentch helps people without the expectation of return – at least in this life. What’s the payoff? Not that there has to be a payoff, but the payoff is the pure satisfaction of helping others. Nothing more, nothing less.

    How about a Mitvah?

  4. on one hand “tikun hamidos” is the ultimate accomplishment.

    but please don’t marginalize the afterlife.
    thank you.

    —-
    Also there are times when the Torah tells us to act what appears to be mean. You have to have Das Torah to know HOW to be a mentch.

  5. Yashir koach. Couldn’t have said it better myself 🙂

    We need far more of this sort of thing – which, incidentally, is the purest Musar of the teachings of R’ Yisroel Salanter and the Alter of Slabodka. Pirkei Avos has a take on this too, likewise R’ Shimson Raphael Hirsch, R’ Diskin, R’ Lopian, and all the other Musar greats. Maybe it’s time to supplement our endless concern with number of blatt gemara learned with a little concern for those people around us.

    To always ask, “What’s in it for me” is to be sure you wind up in coach.

  6. I thought helping someone else without reward from that person is a chesed, which one gets one olam habah.

    So it definitely does pay, in both this world (for the good feeling it gives you and consideration from the Big Guy) and the next (in terms of the airplane metaphor, a second pillow).

    Other ways of being a mentsch involve not using your cell phone as often as you would like, greeting people with a smile, showing courtesy on the roads, etc. All of which counts in a cosmic way.

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