There is now an increasing body of secular literature on how changing habits can help change character (e.g., The Power of Habit, Atomic Habits) but this is not new to us (see Rambam's Hilchot Deot 1:2 and 1:7). Is there a Jewish codified version of such an approach?

I am specifically asking for books (ideally in English) focused on middot (character traits) improvements, e.g., recording of lectures or some form of handbook? I'm thinking of a system to perfect oneself, one habit or midda at a time.

I know that R Avigdor Miller was running musar vaadim in that direction and at least one book on him describes some of its basic ideas.

Orchot Tzadikim would be an example of a very early book of that type but I am looking for something more contemporary. I know of a number of similar works on prayer and am asking more broadly.


6 Answers 6


I think Sefer cheshbon hanefesh is what you looking for.

Here is a Wikipedia link.


You may also like the Sefer Orchos Yosher by Rav Chaim Kanievsky it was translated by Artscroll.


More non-contemporary works include Messilat Yesharim (I think it's called The Path of the Just in English), Chovot HaLevavot (Duties of the Heart), Sha'arei Teshuvah (Gates of Repentance) and Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler's books, among others.

These classic works are great character builders and I would highly recommend learning them. There may be contemporary works based on these works, too, and classes to study them well. I believe there's a book of Rabbi Avigdor Miller's lessons on Duties of the Heart.

I think there's a contemporary book called נתיבות המשפט or something like that which I have heard is good.

I think Rabbi Pincus of blessed memory also wrote good books (or they were written from recordings of his lectures following his tragic death).

There are plenty of (Jewish) contemporary books in English, some on specific topics. These include books such as Guard Your Tongue, Love Thy Neighbour, The Gift of Speech and others. There's a big book on anger, but I don't remember what it is called.

There's a series of small square books, whose names and author I do not remember, on various issues.

A secular book I highly recommend is The Feeling Good Handbook (and various associated books).


You may also want to see:


R Moshe Don Kestenbaum has come up with a very relevant book called Olam HaMiddos: A guide to understanding ourselves and refining our character which artscroll describes as

Sefer Olam HaMiddos has become a popular and much-read book through the Torah world - and for good reason. The author, an acclaimed educator, writer, and speaker, combines Torah sources, real-life stories, and deep insight into human nature, to show us the nature of each midah (character trait) and how improving our middos enables us to live full and happy lives.

What is the first step in tikkun hamiddos, refining and perfecting our character traits? How do we build our self-worth without becoming haughty? Why is being happy such an important part of improving our middos? Here are the answers to these and so many more vital questions.

See also here for a brief interview with the author.


Rabbi Avraham Twerski zt"l has a book that deals exactly with what your looking for, entitled The Enemy Within and published by Artscroll.

Each chapter deal with a different aspect of self-improvement including titles such as, 'Anger', 'Diligence', 'Vanity', 'Belief', 'Pursuit of Truth' etc.

The blurb reads as follows:

Though we are usually unaware of it, the lines of spiritual battle are drawn early in life and persist till our last day. In this intriguing book, the renowned Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. delineates how the tactics of the yetzer hara are carefully tailored to each individual and how tenaciously it attempts to hold us in its grip.

And yet, Rabbi Twerski assures us, we each have the ability to triumph over temptation and live upright Jewish lives. Utilizing Torah wisdom and his deep insight into human psychology, he teaches us to galvanize our spiritual and emotional resources to battle the specific challenges inherent in today's lifestyle.

From common anxiety to oppressive depression, from the rush of daily obligations to the unique family tensions of the "sandwich generation," Rabbi Twerski discusses a broad range of modern ills and helps us feel confident that we can, in fact, strengthen our will and overcome them.

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