Sunday, June 7, 2009


Living in Mussar Mode

The work in the vaads this week caused us to realize (once again) just how beneficial learning and living Mussar. We have traveled far and learned many lessons. We have built a library filled with mussar knowledge within ourselves. When we are in a situation, we have the opportunity to open up our heart and touch the open heart of whomever we speak to. We have a tremendous opportunity to uplift the spirit of another human being or just say something kind that may touch someone’s soul. We now know, we can think opposite (blog 5/24) and that we can have x-ray mussar vision (blog 5/31). We are thinking mussar in all our situations and using it in all our inter-personal relationships. However, we acknowledge how challenging it can be. When a situation comes before us that might cause a stir, if we are not on “mussar guard,” we can jump right in. We get triggered or hooked. Before you know it, BAM! You are right in the middle of a conflict or a high volume discussion. It happens so fast. Our instinctual reaction is a negative one. Our ego (or evil inclination) is always out to get us. It shows up quickly, unless we are equipped to not react to it. Through our work in the vaad, we have learned to accept that and be ready for it. Mussar is the diffuser. It completely interrupts the situation and turns it around. We “PAUSE,” go through our attributes of pure goodness, tzelem Elokim (we are created in the image of Hashem), we move our heart in the direction of pure goodness and love. We realize we have holiness within us, a potential for greatness. It works! Thanks to the vaad, this week we discovered a new element. Something that helps us to diffuse the trigger, the hook or the instinctual negative reaction. SLOW MOTION! Once we notice how fast the reactions happen, we jump in the ring, put on our gloves and are ready for a fight. What’s the result of that? Everyone is injured and walks away bruised. The one who delivers the punch and the one who receives it. Everyone is damaged. No one walks away from a fight unharmed. The damage is done and now we have wounds that need to heal. No one is happy and no one feels good. Now, we have discovered a way to combat the triggers and the hooks. All we have to do is SLOW DOWN! We live in fast motion. We multi-task constantly, we have so much going on inside us. When was the last time you did just one thing at a time? We have on a head-set, music is playing, we’re rushing, we’re speeding, we’re moving so fast. Our heads are filled with worry, anxiety and struggles. We travel through our day living on the edge. We live intensely. Certainly, when someone says something that touches a soft spot, our immediate reaction happens so fast. Unless... we learn to live a little slower. If we live in Mussar Mode, we can slow it all down. We feel a calm inside. We don’t react to everything that is said. We have a new vision. We can see beyond the surface. We see past the words. They don’t enter into us or harm us. Transformation has occurred! Our reactions are now different in most situations. We don’t jump in the ring. We don’t want to fight. We are learning to slow down, we practice this by using a gentle tone of voice. When our words come from our heart, they are soft and gentle. That’s how the words come out of our mouth. Our hearts aren’t screaming. They are rooted in love. Listen to your tone of voice. Watch how it affects the people you are speaking to. If you want to open someone’s heart to let a message of love in, speak in a gentle, loving tone. If you want to convey a message to your children, husband, wife, boss, friend or in any of your inter-personal relationships, you must create a situation in which your message will be well-received. Loud voices close ears. People shut down when voices go up. Nothing positive or beneficial results from it. If you really want to deliver a message… deliver it from your heart, in a gentle, soft tone. Deliver it from love. You will most likely, receive a better result. Everyone feels good. Spirits are lifted. No one is injured. There are no wounds to heal. And your message will be heard… soft and clear. A gentle, soft voice accompanied by a gentle, soft touch packs a double punch of love. Notice your movements. How fast are they? When you slow down your movements, soften your tone of voice and keep your heart open moving in the direction towards goodness, you will see amazing results. Not only do you see amazing results, you will feel amazing results. You look at a situation and are surprised to see it resulted in peace. You delivered a message of love to an open heart. You may not receive an immediate response, exactly as you like. But, you certainly created an opportunity to open the door and keep it open. We plant seeds of love. People feel safe and loved by us, instead of feeling judged and criticized. Only producing many, more opportunities for future nurturing and growth based in goodness, peace and love. Everyone comes out of each situation in a state of peace and joy. No wounds, no damage, nothing to heal. There’s just peace, harmony, contentment and love. What a beautiful result for everyone!

BEYOND SENSITIVITY (text Mishlei 11:12)

He who belittles his friend is lacking a heart, whereas a man of understandings will be silent. It is human nature to react emotionally, when it comes to the sensitive realm of human relations. King Solomon reveals to us, that instinctual negative reactions are counterproductive. 

Of course, not one of us wants to belittle our friend. A friend is someone dear to us, there for us and always near to us. Close to our heart, someone we choose to share our life with. Our friend is a relationship we choose. We do not ever want to harm our friends….intentionally, that is. A comment slips out and before long, we don’t even realize it, we have caused harm to a loved one or friend. A wounded soul stands before us. Their tone of voice changes as they turn away or fight back. A conflict begins. Our ego tells us, it’s their problem, they must have perceived it wrong or maybe they feel guilty. The Mussar lesson is in the text. It teaches us that we may be harming our friend…. unintentionally. It teaches us to live with a higher level of awareness towards others. Sometimes, we just don’t mean to, but we can hurt people with our unintentionally, harmful words. Therefore, we need to practice Mussar, inculcate it into our lives and stay connected to it always, so that we become men and women of “understandings.” When we do this, we can see beyond what is directly in front of us. We see the souls of our friends, loved ones and all those we come in contact with. We hold them dear to us. We treat them with honor, value, respect and dignity. We think of them on another level. We acquire a keen sense of discernment. We maintain an awareness of the ramifications of reacting emotionally. If I let those words out that are in my head, how will this person feel? Instead, we can act with good judgment of those we hold near and dear to us (and even those whom we hardly know).  For these strangers are opportunities for us to practice the lessons. It is a behavior that becomes inculcated into your being. So much so, that it becomes who you are, not how you act. Then, when we are in the situation with someone we love so dearly, we can maintain an even higher level of sensitivity. We would never want to cause hurt, insult or harm, especially to the ones we love. If we acquire the understandings and constantly move our heart towards goodness, we will hold our peace, our friendships will be preserved, we show proper respect and we maintain our own dignity, as well. For when we release those unintentionally harmful words, they are impossible to take back. We see we have caused unintentional harm. We have lost some of our own dignity. Words can cause a person to feel loved and they can also cause a person to feel unloved. Our words can break a heart and damage a soul. We never feel good after they have been released from our lips. This is the method of Rabbi Salanter’s mussar, as taught to us by Rabbi Miller. IT IS A PROCESS OF INCULCATING THE LESSONS INTO YOUR LIFE. It is not our natural reaction, it is opposite to how we were living and it produces counterproductive results. Negative results are certainly not what we had hoped to achieve. We may think we are acting kind and saying loving words, yet, they are received by others, as judgments, insults and criticisms. Those of us, who have chosen to learn Mussar have committed to work hard to elevate ourselves. We are working to gain a higher level of awareness and sensitivity towards others, which ironically, results in benefiting us.…. we are discovering the holiness within ourselves.

A Rabbi was giving a class and instructed the class to go to page 57. A student corrected the Rabbi on the page number, “isn’t it page 58,” he said. “Oh, thank you,” the Rabbi replied. The class proceeded on page 58. However, the Rabbi was on the right page. He would never want to cause embarrassment to the student, therefore, he agreed and carried on from there.

 It was Pesach time and a Rabbi invited a poor man to his house for the Seder. Sitting at the table, the guest was awestruck of having the honor to sit at the Rabbi’s Seder table. As the Rabbi was pouring him wine, in his excitement, the poor man spilled it all over the beautiful tablecloth. Shortly, after that, so as to not embarrass his guest, the Rabbi intentionally spilled his glass of wine. 

This is our goal. We are striving to live at such a high level of sensitivity towards others that we are willing to embarrass ourselves, so that we can touch their heart with goodness and love. Once we remove ourselves from our ego, it is incredibly easy to make someone feel good. One way is to infuse situations with positive comments to combat ridicule. Remember, negative comments are always counter-productive. Our task is to elevate ourselves to such a high level of compassion that we resolve to never ridicule another human being, even if it means putting our ego aside and taking the embarrassment upon ourselves so that we never cause pain or harm to another precious human soul.

SITUATIONS of the week:

#1- A mother is trying to wake up her 17 year old son. His friends are in their car, honking and waiting for him. The mom goes to her son and tries to get him up. The negative comments in her head, instinctively, come flying out of her mouth. “Hurry up, you’re so late, why are you always late, your friends have been honking, can’t you ever be on time, you always keep them waiting.” She leaves the room, her son insulted and hurt. She was unsuccessful in her attempts to teach a lesson. Later, that day, his Dad needed his help in moving furniture. When asked to help, he responded in an unwilling manner. He was moving around with an attitude and unhappy face. The mom was triggered by her son’s unwillingness to help. She didn’t PAUSE and in, she jumped. Once again, the words came flying out, reprimanding him for his nasty ways. The Dad found a neighbor to help him move the furniture. A few minutes later, the mom found the son in his room crying, an unusual sight for a 17 year old. “What’s the matter, she said.” “Mom, your words are like daggers. You are telling me I am not a good son.” Shortly after, she realized how much harm her words had caused. Unable to take them back, her comfort came in knowing next time she can do better or apologize for causing harm to her son.

#2- A daughter (43 yr old) trying to convince her father (62) not to smoke cigars. With concern and passion she tries to point out how harmful this is to him. His grandchildren comment that he smells funny and they don’t want to go close to him. She feels that is she coming from love. But, then realizes that she is lecturing her father. Is she ridiculing him and getting her message across? Is the situation producing a positive outcome? Compassion, honor and respect towards her father might produce a more positive outcome.

#3- A woman’s elderly mother (who lives alone) calls her daughter and tells her of a medical situation of hers that she was concerned about. Her doctor recently called her with a concern about one of her test results and he wanted her to have more tests done. The mother started ridiculing the daughter for not being more caring and she became harsher with her. The daughter was hurt and reacted negatively. She then explained that she was trying to help her mother but, her tone voice did not sound very helpful. The conversation did not continue on a good path. The mother and the daughter were both upset. The daughter did not feel dignified and the mother did not feel comforted. The daughter was upset at how she behaved. Before bringing the situation to a vaad, the daughter realized there was a better way to handle the situation but didn’t know exactly what to say. After the vaad discussion, she realized that her “concern” through her harsh words, turned into unintentional harm to someone she would never want to hurt, her own mother. She realized she wants to treat her mother with more compassion. She worked on connecting to and coming from her “pure” inner goodness constantly, so that when she is in a situation that needs immediate attention, her first reaction will be from compassion, kindness, "pure" goodness and love.

AVODAH (homework for the week)

Now, we have to bring the lesson into our lives, daily. We have acknowledged that our instinctual reaction is a negative one, which will always be counter-productive if we react to it. We can achieve this by slowing down. We are trying to help others and end up hurting them. We don’t usually intend to harm others yet, we usually do. Therefore, we need to practice all day in order to inculcate it into our being, to be extra-sensitive in all our inter-personal relationships. Our avodah is to practice having such a keen sense of discernment with others, that we are conscious to never ridicule another human being. We are all fragile souls, each one of us. Stray comments can cause so much harm. We are all broken souls. Our job is to heal the breaks. Once we practice this and inculcate it into our lives, transformation takes place! This is a challenging task. It it is filled with numerous rewards and benefits. We are proof, this truly works. It is happening in our lives. We are already experiencing the transformation.

May we all be blessed with numerous rewards and benefits from learning Mussar. May the transformations continue to blossom and grow!

We are also very pleased to announce the start of our first men’s vaad. It was a great success! After a brief introduction to Rabbi Salanter’s mussar method, as taught to us by Rabbi Miller, the group worked on Mishlei 2:20 which teaches walking in the constant way of goodness. Forgive your antagonist and antagonize none!

If anyone would like further information on how to start a vaad in your community, contact Rabbi Miller at

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