AS: Your Hebrew sefer, Olam HaMiddos, is being studied enthusiastically by so many in the Torah world. Can you tell us how you came to write it, and why you think it’s been so successful?
RMDK: What perhaps makes this sefer special is that it contains thoughts and observations that were helpful for my own personal development, and were not created with the intention of committing them to writing. When I was in beis medrash in Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, my rebbi, Rav Yechiel Perr shlita, infused in us a love for mussar and I began to pay closer attention to my thoughts and feelings. I shared some of these ideas over the years, when I was teaching Orchos Tzadikim to the bochurim in the Yeshiva of Waterbury, but I never considered writing a sefer until Rav Sheya Lazenga asked me to give a weekly vaad to the yungerleit on middos. In writing notes in preparation for those vaadim, I realized, “Wow, I think I have a sefer!”
AS: Why is tikkun hamiddos so important – and why is it so hard, especially today?
RMDK: Tikkun hamiddos is so important, simply, as the Vilna Gaon and others write, because that is why we are here — to perfect our character! I don’t know if it’s harder today than before, but perhaps in these times where we are used to having everything come easy to us, we are less prepared to put in the effort to fight and overcome our natural tendencies.
AS: In the sefer you discuss becoming a “ba’al middos” – someone who “owns” his middos. In these days of selfies and “fake news,” how can we learn to do that?
RMDK: Probably by taking fewer selfies! As the Mesillas Yesharim writes, the yeitzer hara’s trick is to distract us. It is easier today more than ever to become distracted by everyone and everything else, rather than looking inside ourselves. My hope be”H is that this sefer brings people to discover themselves, seeing their unique greatness and their flaws. When we understand ourselves and work to better ourselves, life becomes all that much more enjoyable and meaningful.