Sunday, July 26, 2009


Two weeks have gone by since I have been in a Mussar vaaad or written the blog. This was an opportunity to put my mussar to the test and see how I think, feel and speak without my weekly vaad. Will I be able to maintain my mussar mode? I am happy to report back with a great, big “YES!” It was a huge success.

Maybe it’s because I was vacationing in Israel, the Holy Land (where it’s easy to feel the holiness) that I managed to maintain my Mussar Mode. Or, maybe it’s because that after nine months of learning mussar, practicing it daily and participating in 5 vaads a week, there is proof that cannot be denied. This really works!

Since beginning Mussar in November 2008, I have previously taken vacations to Israel. This time was different. Before I left, I felt deeply connected to ‘tzelem Elokim.” Daily practice and intense application of the lessons have become natural. As my days are now spent trying to turn my heart towards my inner goodness in all situations, I use my mussar knowledge to work through any challenging situation that could cause me to behave otherwise. There is now a diffused space between the emotions that used to get triggered by others’ comments. I can move away from the negative comments, judgments and criticism that are my first reaction. They are still there, I am aware of them, but I don’t react from them. My goal is to maintain a positive vision in all situations and judge others, as they are also tzelem Elokim (created in the image of Hashem). It is not as hard as it used to be. In fact, it’s not hard at all. Just a few months ago, it was so difficult. How did this transformation occur? It must be that after just 9 months, the process of mussar learning has been deeply inculcated into my subconscious, as Rabbi Salanter (and Rabbi Miller) said it would. The experience is a beautiful symphony. It is a composition made up of several different components blending together harmoniously to create a beautiful melody. The effects on my relationships and situations are smooth, calm and peaceful. The results are magnificent. My relationships are harmonious, melodic and flowing together as I go through my day. No more conflict, no more resentment, no more arguments. How is this possible? It is possible most importantly and only because of, a tremendous blessing from Hashem that has been showered upon us. Rabbi Miller has been put into our lives to give us these precious teachings. The weekly lessons have given me wisdom far beyond what I ever imagined possible. The process of sharing these valuable lessons with others in a mussar vaad and hearing their experiences, perspective and insight into them, brings the lessons to new heights. We then, know how to bring it all together into our lives, on a daily basis. This is the beauty of this method. In the book Ohr Yisrael (the teachings of Rabbi Salanter as translated by Rabbi Miller), it states that this is a hands-on, how-to method of character development leading to personal excellence. It is a claim that’s hard to be believe, one we’ve heard many times before. Yet, we are proving it to be true. All of us, who have been blessed with the opportunity to learn mussar in a vaad, are experiencing the benefits in all our relationships. This age-old method (from 1840) really works!! It is not a new fad or craze. We are blessed that we are part of this process and proving it to be true. We are blessed that it has come into our community so that it can enter into our lives and benefit us, and all our relationships. Keep your eyes and heart open so that when the blessing comes into your life, you too, will be open to receive this precious gift that is being handed upon you. May you all benefit from its’ wisdom.

This week in our vaad, we took a break from our regular text lesson to review what we have been learning. The learning and practical application of this timeless wisdom is awesome. Awesome- meaning it is amazingly powerful in its’ application, brilliant in its’ wisdom, logical beyond understanding and its’ results are exquisite and joyful.

Since we only began learning mussar 9 months ago and that each individual lesson is so deeply profound, it would impossible to bring them all together in a few paragraphs. In order to pull it all together, we shared our appreciation towards how much we’ve all changed. We have overcome tremendous obstacles and now, we have an insight of Torah wisdom that is practical and relevant to our daily lives and in all our inter-personal relationships. We have developed an awareness of our lesser character traits and are able to view them in a new light, as we connect to our inner goodness. We are now aware and feel a connection to tzelem Elokim. Our spiritual awareness and relationships have improved, as well as our behavior towards others and towards ourselves. We have the wisdom and know how to enrich our lives through the practical application of these teachings. We attempt in all our situations to apply all of our mussar lessons. Of course, we don’t always succeed. But, our success is measured by our attempts to achieve. We are all striving to reach higher spiritual heights through holy Mussar behavior. That, in itself, is a huge success. All of us are receiving tremendous benefits from our efforts and our commitment to learning mussar with Rabbi Miller. Our souls are touched, we are inspired to continue and we thirst for new wisdom constantly. May we all continue to grow in Mussar teachings, together.

Leah and Daniel, the parents of a small child went on vacation and left the child in the care of Leah’s parents. Leah’s brother and his family live nearby and were available to assist his parents, when necessary in helping care for Leah’s child. A week after returning from their trip, Leah received a call from her brother. As he began the conversation, he asked her not to be angry with him, as he explained how her child had not behaved in a pleasant way. He said that she (Leah) was giving the child whatever the child wants and that the child’s behavior was difficult and demanding. And that Leah was not handling her child properly. He continued on about how Leah should change the way she manages her child. Since Leah is a serious Mussar student, she immediately tried to ‘PAUSE” in her attempt to not react to the harsh words that were hurting her. But, the hurt was too deep and soon she realized her attempt to “pause” was not helping her to calm down and she answered back with a hurtful comment. Unfortunately, the conversation continued in an unpleasant manner; one of “attack and defend.”
After bringing the situation to a vaad, Leah wanted to work through it in mussar mode and attempt to reach a calmer, more peaceful resolution for all those involved. This presented us with a real-life situation with an opportunity to practically apply everything we are learning.
There are 3 components here:
1) How to react when someone wants to discuss something they are concerned about yet, they do so in a harmful manner (Leah’s response).
2) How to present a situation when you have a concern to someone you love (if you were her brother, how could you present it?)
3) How to react so that the situation doesn’t even get to the level of becoming one of “attack and defend.”

#1- Leah immediately recognized that the situation was becoming hurtful to her. As she attempted to “pause” while still listening to comments that were hurtful and upsetting her further, she could have interrupted the conversation and possibly said, “ this is not a good time right now. Can we make a time to discuss this later? I’m not able to give you my complete attention right now. I’m in the middle of something. I’m busy right now.
This interruption would have given her a chance to “pause” completely and not be a recipient of more hurtful comments. It would have given her a chance to turn her heart towards goodness and see the situation from a completely different perspective.

2- When entering into a situation that has potential for harming anyone involved, these are the main points (from past lessons) to remember:
* make sure the time is right (to discuss) for all those involved
* is it a set-up for a positive outcome? Can it be well-received, well-nurtured and have a peaceful resolution? If not, wait until it has potential for a positive outcome.
* be EXTRA-sensitive to the person you’re speaking to.
*LOVINGLY convince them that what you want to say is for their benefit, coming from LOVE, not from your ego or desires for them. Is it truly for their benefit or for yours?
* use a gentle tone of voice.
* go into slow motion.
* Talk heart to heart and soul-to-soul. Words that come from the heart enter the heart. When you speak from your heart, usually the person you are speaking to will be touched by your words. They will not feel attacked. They will feel loved. Their soul will be touched by your love for them. What a beautiful resolution for all those involved!
Sadly, most of the time, we think we are coming from love yet, our words hurt those we are speaking to and we don’t effectively communicate what’s in our heart.

3- When you achieve a high level of sensitivity and strong connection to tzelem Elokin , it gives you the chance to see all situations from a different perspective. When this becomes natural, then you will have the ability to hear the person’s concern and not react to it. You can express your appreciation to them and their concern for you. You now have a diffused space between the trigger and the reaction. Everything is different. We have a completely different vision and can see beyond the surface. We have learned to be quiet, gentle, go slow and pause. We no longer have to jump into to every situation and defend ourselves. We can see the whole picture, not just the comments that are coming at us. This has given us a newfound strength. As we pause, we have so much mussar wisdom to pull from and to turn our hearts to the holiness and goodness within us. We are forgiving, merciful, compassionate and can act with kindness.
We are all tzelem Elokim, created in the image of Hashem, as is everyone else that we are involved with. If we practice this daily in all our interactions, we will most probably receive peaceful resolutions in all our situations. Souls touching souls is a very powerful and rewarding experience.

This week is Tisha B’Av. Those of us learning Mussar with Rabbi Miller, feel a tremendous sense of honor and pride that we are involved in this most important and timely action to counteract the negative and harmful behavior that caused the destruction of the Temple (on Tisha B’Av), baseless hatred which sadly, continues to this day. Through Mussar, we are learning to think, speak and act towards others with honor and respect. We are working to create loving, caring relationships based on acts of kindness and compassion.
May we all be blessed because of our efforts and may it bring a tikkun for the baseless hatred that exists today.
Have a meaningful fast.

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