Rivka Olenick
Chazal say: "A person who is imprisoned cannot obtain his own release." Chazal could have simply said: "One imprisoned cannot escape." "A person who is imprisoned" is someone who cannot escape his/her own character faults. Like a person who cannot escape his/her own self. Although a person may be well aware of his/her character faults, it's easier to ignore them and "just keep going." This way of thinking is silly. Denial doesn't work, and ignoring our faults will not make them go away. And since these faults do not go away, a person becomes imprisoned by them. A person can recognize his/her faults but tries to correct these faults without asking for guidance. Chazal say that this course of action is doomed to failure. A person often makes the mistake of thinking that they "know better" when it concerns their own personality. So, one instantly rationalizes his/her faults and immediately legitimizes them. After all, "This is who I am. This is part of my personality!" And because of this faulty thinking he/she cannot be objective. So a trap is set for him/herself by him/herself. Yet even at this point a person will not seek an outside authority.
The Rambam says: "A person who purposely does not seek a wise and trustworthy authority is itself a moral fault." In this context "purposely" means free choice. "Cannot obtain his own release" is one who does not seek. He/she cannot obtain release due to his/her choice not to. Judaism says that one does have free choice and can utilize it. However, if one chooses not to, one cannot possibly obtain one's own release. Therefore, the person remains imprisoned. In Proverbs 1:7, King Solomon said: "Fools scorn (despise) wisdom and correction." Rashi adds that before one acquires wisdom, one must have the fear of God. Otherwise one will have no desire to acquire wisdom, for fools who do not fear God despise wisdom. So, if a person were to have fear of God they would want to be free to serve God, not entrapped by denial.
In the Shemoneh Perakim, Chapter 8 the Rambam says: "A man should not say that his faults and shortcomings are already ingrained in his character and cannot be removed. For in every situation a person has the choice of changing from good to bad, and from bad to good. The choice is in his hands. This is the basis of all our statements with regard to the fulfillment of God's will or the rebellion against it. It is proper that one eagerly seek to acquire virtues, for there is no external force that will arouse one to them." In this context "eagerly seek" means using free choice. "Cannot obtain his own release" is one who does not eagerly seek. The lesson communicated by the teaching of Hillel states: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" Hillel also says that a person should say: "If I will not be the one who rouses me to virtue, who else will arouse me?" As the Rambam said before: "one should eagerly" seek to acquire virtues as there are no outside motivators - only the person him/herself.
People find it very easy to judge other people's character flaws. However, we are all obligated to first look into ourselves and work on ourselves. Every person must look carefully at their own character, see what is faulty and ask for help to change these faults. By doing this we are involved in our own perfection, which begins when a person recognizes their flaws and starts to make small changes in their personality. Wouldn't a person want to break free from being imprisoned by his/her character faults? "Oh, I can't change - I've been this way all my life." Not according to the Rambam. "A man should not say his shortcomings and flaws are already ingrained in his personality." Wouldn't a person want to use the greatest asset given to a human being - free choice - to make the right changes in their personality, and be truly involved in perfection and service of God?

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