THE MUSSAR TRIANGLE
Mussar is a process of improving our lesser character traits based on the teachings of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, as taught to us by Rabbi Zvi Miller. We are learning a specific methodology that guides us through the lessons of the Torah with a Mussar perspective. We are then given an Avodah (homework assignment). This is the key to making Mussar come alive in all our inter-personal relationships on a daily basis. Most importantly, it improves the one and only relationship that matters most… the one we have with Hashem. You may ask what about my family, my spouse and my children. As we all know, none of that is possible…without Hashem. As the journey towards the goodness of our souls takes us deeper into ourselves, we are developing a higher awareness of our actions, thoughts and speech. As we move through this process, we are connecting all of it- to the image of Hashem that we were created in. We are learning to live with triangular perspective. We no longer exist, seeing only ourselves, as we did before. Now, we have a new perspective of our actions, thoughts and speech (in all our inter-personal relationships). As we previously saw the world through our eyes only, we are now seeing into the souls of others. As well as, how Hashem sees us. This introduces us to the Mussar Triangle. Since our spiritual outlook has improved so intensely, we can actually see (our awareness), feel (our reactions) and experience (the results of our actions) that we exist in triangular relationships - the one we have with our self, with others and with Hashem. As we previously saw our lives, we were involved with only our perspective. We are now experiencing a greater awareness of others. We have a higher level of sensitivity and greater compassion towards others. We have expanded our horizons and now know, that there is more than what we previously thought… much more, than we could have ever imagined.
(This is not to say that we were totally selfish and self-absorbed, it is just that we have become educated in Mussar teachings and are evolving because of them, with an enriched perspective).
Explanation of the Mussar Triangle-
Part 1-Ourselves: we were living with the perspective of only our wants, needs and desires. Our ego was the basis for all our actions, thoughts and speech. We were “self”-oriented. Our worlds revolved mostly around ourselves. We were ego-based. Others were merely an extension of and means to fulfillment of our wants, needs and desires. Now, all that has changed. We no longer exist alone in any situation.
Part 2- Others: We saw others as they fit into our plans and our desires. USUALLY, as fulfillment of our wants, needs and desires. We were filled with judgment and criticism as we tried to live unsuccessfully, controlling others to fulfill our desires, (or what we thought was best for them). Our wants, needs and desires no longer exist alone. They are now related to others with sensitivity and compassion based on how what we say will affect another human being. We have a greater compassion and sensitivity to others and their wants, needs and desires. In addition, we can see their “invisible baggage.” (The historical load they may be carrying that is not visible to us).
Part 3- Hashem: through Mussar learning, we are clearly aware of and live daily striving to connect to ‘TZELEM ELOKIM” (the Image of Hashem). The most magnificent gift to receive from Mussar learning! As we were all aware of Hashem in our lives before, we have become so elevated spiritually, that we are aware of and living with the knowledge of being created in the image of Hashem. This affects our lives in every area. It is the foundation of our Mussar journey towards the Holiness of our souls.
Since beginning our Mussar journey in November 2008, we have developed the ability to see “beyond the surface” (blog 6/21). Situations and relationships are no longer as they previously seemed. There is so much more to each one of them. This has elevated us to new spiritual heights. As we have gained a new awareness our own behaviors, we have also developed a new insight into the behaviors of others. We have an enriched perspective. Most of all, the greatest gift of the Mussar process that comes into our lives daily… is the Presence of Hashem, as He sees us- by living aware of the image in which He created us. As we learn to live connected in this triangle, we feel a great joy in living spiritually elevated. There is a feeling of inner peace, calm and joy from feeling connected to Hashem and knowing that we are striving to act in the pure holy way, in which we were created. We have gained wisdom, insight and depth into all our relationships and ourselves. As a reward for all our hard work (and it most definitely is difficult), we receive this beautiful gift….closeness to Hashem.
Turning it around: Detecting the Secret Messages
Situations that are in front of us have secret messages within them if we live with a keen sense of discernment. If we stay finely tuned to our Mussar lessons and practice them in all our relationships, we will be amazed to see these clues and be able to turn situations around into something completely different. This “turn-around” produces a much more effective, productive and peaceful result for all those involved. For example, (remembering the story of Rabbi Yochanan from last week’s blog), in this week’s vaad we were presented with a situation in which someone felt impatient with her un-Mussar behavior. She was complaining and feeling annoyed at herself for not “getting it” yet. She described how she finds the concepts so difficult. She is trying so hard but doesn’t feel the lessons are working for her in her life the way she would like it. Here’s the “turn-around”….Impatience appears as a negative trait. Most of the comments of encouragement were, “ hang in there, you’ll get it soon/keep trying/don’t give up/you’re doing your best/don’t be so hard on yourself,” etc. These cheerleader comments are nice. But, if we put on our Mussar glasses, look a little closer and search for the clues, we can see that impatience has a positive quality to it. Impatience is a strong desire. It’s the energy of passionate desire to accomplish something. The person feeling impatient wants something so much that they want it immediately. When that is brought to their attention, they feel enlightened. A person goes from feeling annoyed and unsatisfied to feeling, energized and passionate with a desire to work even harder to accomplish their goals. They feel joyful instead of defeated. It’s a much more beautiful way to see others, which in return, brings a joy and peace into you... the one who delivers this magnificent message.
Forgiveness: Pirkei Avos 2:10 (text)
The text teaches us of Hashem’s desire for us to repent. No matter how we lived or what we did that opposed Torah values, Hashem is waiting for us our entire lifetime to repent. He will show us mercy, forgiveness and acceptance- regardless of our past misdeeds. He accepts us and loves us as if we never strayed. If we put the Mussar Triangle to work in this situation, we can use this text to learn that as Hashem forgives us and is waiting for us with open arms (no matter what we did wrong), we too, should forgive others in the same manner. We should also forgive ourselves. Then, we can receive the reward of feeling the joy of knowing we will be surrounded with compassion and kindness from Hashem, as we forgive others and as we forgive ourselves. If we struggle to hold onto anger and disappointments from past hurtful events, we are the ones who suffer the most. In order to achieve peace in our lives, we must bring forgiveness into it. We have to remember “anger is punishing ourselves for other peoples faults.” We are on a spiritual journey towards peace and joy. The only way to achieve this is to act as we are “created in the image of Hashem.”
Focus at least once a day on Hashem’s Infinite mercy for us. He forgives our past completely and to feel His kindness. This will help us to forgive others and forgive ourselves, as we act in accordance with “tzelem Elokim.”
Wisdom from the Vaads:
When dealing with difficult people look at them as an egg and see the crack that goes right through the middle of it, from top to bottom. Each one of us is a fragile soul.
When needing to “pause” imagine a stop sign in front of your face.
As a result of learning Mussar: people become what your eyes see.
Blessings for a week of peace and joy as a result of practicing forgiveness!