Tuesday, August 25, 2009


We are now in the month of Elul. The letters of Elul (aleph, lamed,
vav, lamed) represent the time at a wedding when a bride says to
her groom, “ani dodi, v’dodi li.” I am for my beloved and my
beloved is for me. This is the time of year (in preparation for Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur) that each one of us is the bride and
Hashem is the groom. We are ready to enter into a deeper
relationship with Him. It is said that the King is in the fields
waiting for us. He has come out of His Palace, the Gates are
opening for us and He is ready to love us. Now is the time to make
the connection.

Mussar is the path that leads to that connection. We discussed last
week that Rabbi Salanter says, “being alive is recognizing one’s
flaws.” Being aware is a wonderful experience that enables us to
grow higher spiritually (closer to Hashem) and physically
(practically in our inter-personal relationships with others and our
self). When we face our flaws and realize it isn’t as scary as we
thought it would be, we are able to enhance all our relationships.

The first relationship that becomes enriched is the one we
have with Hashem. We can feel a deeper, more sincere and
soulful connection with Hashem. As a result and benefit of
facing our flaws, we experience humility. When we
experience humility, we are moving closer to experiencing
ourselves as tzelem Elokim, created in the image of Hashem.
When we feel ourselves as tzelem Elokim, we feel Hashem in
our lives more often. The more we have the courage to
honestly look at ourselves, be brave enough to face our flaws
and have the strength to work on improving our character
traits, the more we can see, feel and enjoy the Presence of
Hashem in our lives.
We are able to enhance the relationship we have with
ourselves. As we face our flaws and start acting, thinking and
speaking tzelem Elokim, we realize that we feel much better
about ourselves than we did before. Ironically and
unexpectedly, the more we are kind, compassionate and
merciful towards others…. the more we enjoy ourselves. WE
feel better when we take the time to be sensitive,
compassionate and to PAUSE. When we take a moment to
master our emotions and have the strength to not speak
impulsively and negatively, we usually think we are doing it
for the other person, when in actuality, we are always the one
who benefits most.
We become so much closer to others. We are no longer as
self-oriented as we were. When we live with tzelem Elokim,
we behave constantly sanctifying Hashem (Kiddush
Hashem). When we move away from our “old” ways and into
our new, we immediately become other-oriented. When we
do so, we feel holy. Our relationships improve. We enjoy
peace in all our inter-personal relationships.

Once we practice recognizing our flaws, we begin our journey on
the path towards contentment, inner peace and joy. We are able to
venture onto this spiritual journey because we are supported by the
proper tools…. mussar wisdom. Most of us, may have tried other
means to improve ourselves (probably, we just wanted to improve
others) but never felt as safe as we do with the teachings and
wisdom of Rabbi Salanter. Rabbi Miller guides us through the
depths of the Torah wisdom of Rabbi Salanter. It is solid and
grounded in Torah text. Therefore, it is not as scary as we had
imagined. In fact, it’s not scary at all. It is definitely challenging,
opposite our nature and unusual at first. However, as we slowly
venture deeper into ourselves, farther from our flaws and closer to
our inner goodness we begin to realize and experience something
truly amazing…. this feels fantastic!! The feeling is joyful,
peaceful, loving and soulful. The result of our hard work is
obvious in all our relationships. We feel enriched, closer to our
true selves, closer to those whom we love (as well as to strangers)
and most beneficially, closer to our Creator. This is a pure
experience that feels deeply soulful, honest and safe.

The impossible is possible. The unreachable is attainable.
All that is required is that you open your heart so that your soul can
fulfill the commandment…
the commandment of loving Hashem.

As the bride and groom stand under the chupah, the groom
patiently waits for her (as she circles around him seven times)
to love her, care for her, support her, encourage her and comfort
her… so too, is Hashem... waiting for us…
to love us, care for us, support us, encourage us and comfort us.
I am my Beloved and my Beloved is mine.
Ani dodi v’dodi li

The Importance of Speech (based on text from Duties of the Heart)
Last week, we worked on anger, jealousy, greed and conceit
realizing these are interferences, as we journey towards self-
improvement and closeness to Hashem. We are continuing the
process of our facing our flaws. All of our work in the vaads is
chesbon ha’nefesh, an accounting of the soul. We realize the
damage that can be done to relationships and people we love, as
well as to strangers, if we don’t use our mussar lessons daily in all
our situations. As we learned last week, happiness is dependent on
the purity of character, nothing else. How we treat others determines
how we feel about ourselves. This in turn, determines how happy we are.

As we continue on our path to improving our character traits, the
first and most harmful result of the above-mentioned negative
traits (anger, jealousy, greed and conceit) is realizing the damage
that can occur to people we love (in addition, to friends, associates
and strangers) through not being able to control our speech. One
stray comment can cause so much harm.

As each of man’s faculties was created with a purpose and benefit
to the utmost perfection, we must reflect that the gift of speech that
Hashem has granted us must certainly be used with great caution.
Most of our faculties of the face are for our benefit alone, (i.e.; our
eyes, ears, nose) the mouth is our gateway to communicate what is
in our thoughts and our hearts to others. It is the way we connect to
people. It is our body’s equipment that lets us reach out to another
human being so that we can experience a relationship together. Our
speech is the most powerful of all our faculties, yet we are so
careless with our speech and how quickly we let harmful words
come from it. Our speech gives us the opportunity to express what
is in our soul and our innermost self and to communicate that to
others. The way a person speaks is proof of his worthiness. How
can we be so careless with something so valuable and so
potentially harmful?

The tongue is the heart’s pen and the messenger of the mind.
Our tongue expresses what’s in our mind and writes those words
into another person’s soul.
Our words can cause so much damage and yet, do so much good.

Next time you speak, take a moment to connect it to your heart and
make sure it is the message of your mind that you want to be
conveying. You have the ability to touch a soul and lift someone’s
spirits. You have the ability to encourage, support, comfort and
love another person through the precious gift of speech.
When your mind is filled with positive thoughts (without anger,
judgment or criticism) and those messages enter your heart… your
tongue delivers the message to another person’s heart, which then,
touches their soul. You have created a loving connection. Your
message can be heard, hearts are open and so much good can be
accomplished. Our speech is the most holy of all our faculties, it is
the only one that we control that gives us the ability to reach out
and touch the heart and soul of another human being. Our words
and our tone of voice represent who we are. It’s something
powerful to think about. When we realize the power of speech,
maybe we’ll take a moment to turn our thoughts towards
“goodness” before we release those next few words and realize we
are writing in their soul.

May be blessed with minds filled with positive messages to be
delivered to our hearts- for our tongues to write only good in
another person’s soul.

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