Mensch (German: Mensch, for “human being”) means “a person of integrity and honor”. The opposite of a mensch is an unmensch (meaning: an utterly cruel or evil person). According to Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, mensch is “someone to admire and emulate; someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous”.
In Yiddish (from which the word has migrated into American English), mensch roughly means “a good person.” A “mensch” is a particularly good person, like “a stand-up guy,” a person with the qualities one would hope for in a dear friend or trusted colleague. German: Menschlichkeit are the properties which make one a mensch.As a Rabbi and Counselor, I strive for this state of being daily.
So, what does it mean to be a person of integrity? I suggest that the following four values will be a good place to start:
- Help others – This may seem so simple that it does not bear inclusion, but it does. We know that we get so caught up in our own lives that we can easily forget about our responsibility to help others. Whether it is a small inconsequential favor or saving a life, we are required by God to intervene as we can and it does not put us at risk. How often do we hear about or read of tragic events where people have been asked why they didn’t intervene and they say that they did not want to get involved or asked what they saw and they claim blindness, etc. I have done that and so have you, yet when we see others do it we are highly critical. Let us accept our humanness and not judge others so harshly. Let us also resolve that we will do more to help others.
- Do the right thing the right way – Churchill once said that “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” What does this have to do with being a mensch? It is not enough to help others. We must learn to help them with an attitude of gratitude and with no expectations of receiving anything in return. It is wise to do on behalf of others and not tell anyone as the moment I am boasting of my good deeds, I have negated the positive qualities of being a mensch.
- Be a Peacemaker – This is a tough one for it requires that we do for others we don’t want to do for. If we see someone we don’t care for experiencing some trouble, we usually laugh and acclaim that they have gotten what they deserve. That is not a mensch. It is honest and human, but not Menschlichkeit. If we truly want to achieve Menschdom, then we must grow beyond our resentments and do for all.
- Strive to continually grow in your goodness to others – This is the ultimate standard by which we will either become or not become a Mensch. A famous Rabbi once asked; “If you won’t be a better person tomorrow than you were today, then what need do you have for tomorrow.” By awakening to the blessings and joys of a new day with an attitude of giving and helping, we will enjoy life more fully and be a positive influence in the lives of others.
My prayer for you today is that you will take one more step in growing your Menschdom.
I am a modern and independent Rabbi with an MSW Degree and 24+ years of sobriety providing addiction counseling focusing on healing, spiritual guidance and personalized life cycle events. If you, a family member or friend are in need of my services, please contact me at 954-755-3764 to get the help you deserve.