Thursday, April 23, 2009

It is with great joy and excitement that we are returning back to our mussar vaads after the Passover break. I am so happy to announce that there are now 4 mussar vaads in our area. The desire to learn mussar is spreading rapidly. May it continue at this pace. It is a life-enriching experience to be sharing mussar with all of those involved. May it continue to be a tremendous source of  joy in our lives. 
The separation from learning mussar weekly in our vaads and practicing it daily in our lives became quite challenging for most of the vaad members. What a beautiful insight this is, as to the success, effectiveness and beauty of a mussar vaad!  We recognize and appreciate that we need each other and the support of the group as a whole to work together through the mussar lessons. When we were without that connection for just 2 weeks, we all felt the desire to reunite as a group. We needed each other to bring the lessons into our lives and continue to practice mussar daily. Without it, we felt a void, an empty space yearning for the wisdom of mussar teachings. Rabbi Miller told the vaads that there is a method being used in neo-natal intensive care units. It's called Kangaroo Care. As a mother kangaroo nurtures her infant in her pouch, the units copy this behavior with premature infants by placing them on the chest of either the mother or the father. This has an amazing effect and the babies are thriving at an extremely rapid pace. The method cannot be medically explained. A mussar vaad works exactly the same way. We nurture each other by offering support and encouragement. We are souls nurturing each other - becoming whole through each other and bonding together. We strengthen each other, as we strengthen ourselves. We nurture ourselves, as we nurture our souls. As we do so for each other, Hashem does for us. As the babies are put on the chest of their parents, we can know and feel the comfort, support and encouragement of resting safely on "Hashem's chest." Then, we can also thrive and heal at an extremely rapid pace.
It is no wonder or surprise that the group missed being together. There is a magic that occurs as we receive mussar wisdom in our vaad. It also cannot be explained. Only experienced!
We're back and ready.... please join us as we continue on our mussar journey.... together.

We begin this lesson with the story of the Temple, which was lost some 2000 years ago. It is hard for us to grasp exactly what we lost. How can we possibly connect to something so far away? The Temple was a microcosm of the universe. It was the Holiest of Holies- the Holy inner sanctum. This too, is man. We are, each and every one of us, unique and holy. We each possess a Holy inner sanctum within us. The very essence of who we are. However, the light of our soul, our essence, is covered up and buried deep within us, by the physical and the material. When one entered the Temple, they became immediately aware of his or her own soul. Can you imagine that? To have an immediate awareness and recognition of your soul? There may be some time in your life when you have experienced such an enlightenment.  A special moment or event when you could feel the radiance of  your soul. Try and meditate on that for a moment. It is a deeply, spiritual and joyous experience. We have lost it. We are far away and removed from the awareness and ability to recognize the very essence of who we truly are. We have lost our true sense of self. Yet, once we find it, it will be the foundation of our life, the source of our joy, wisdom and strength. Mussar gives us the tools, wisdom and ability to bring out the soul's wholesome radiance. It helps us to discover ourselves. We are all diamonds somewhere in the distant recesses of our psyche, twinkling like a distant star, light years away. Mussar is the polish that brings forth the splendor and radiance of our souls. We become happier each day as we journey on the illuminated path to discover our inner goodness. 

As I was walking through the streets of Israel last week, I came upon a young man looking at a map. Not an uncommon sight there, at all. As he stood there turning the map sideways, then up and down to find what he was looking for, another young man walked by him and said to him in his broken English, "have you found yourself yet?" How appropriate that was. When we start to look for the direction in which we want to go, we look around, twisting and turning and feeling lost until we find our way. We have lost our way and we are looking to find a better place. A place of inner peace and harmony. Mussar is the guide to show us the way. It is a hands-on, how-to approach to understanding and overcoming our lesser traits. It is the system which challenges us to always think deeper to fathom our secrets and strive harder to master ourselves. 

Rabbi Salanter had a student named Rabbi Naftali, who said to Rabbi Salanter, "If I possesed the genius of an intellectual, the heart of a saint and the character traits of an angel -- then I could become a great person.  However, with what I have there is no way I can reach great spiritual heights." Rabbi Salanter said to him, "Naftali, with your mind, your heart, and your character traits, you can reach great spiritual heights." Everyone has the potential within themselves for greatness. Believe you are good and you can become better.  Through mussar, we are always working to help a person discover their "real" inner self, the one rooted in kindness, beauty and goodness. So, what actually is this holiness within us? Since we are so far removed from the essence of ourselves, here are some clues that may help you find your way on the path to your soul. 
1) inner goodness - how do we know that we are good? Because we were created in the Image of Hashem. We are all born with this pure innocence. It is who we are.
2) spiritual light- we all possess a potential for greatness.
3) gentle, loving kindness- we are all touched by this which means we possess it. 
4) joy of life- we experience many little sparks in our lives (even though they sometimes go unnoticed) that light up this trait which shows us we also possess this trait.
5) purity- we are all born pure.
6) radiance- we all possess the ability to touch others' souls. There is an illumination deep within us waiting to shine through.
We experience many challenges which put our personality to the test. Just as a ballerina moves through the challenges and difficult positions that put their body, mind and spirit to a test, they do so with strength, grace, precision and balance. We too, can transform hurtful, painful situations and handle them with strength, grace, precision and balance. 

AVODAH (homework)
Connect to your inner goodness. Meditate on the clues above. Remind yourself of a ballerina.

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