After many comments and questions from my blog readers, I felt I wanted to share with you what others were saying and asking. I appreciate all comments and questions because that is what we do in the vaads. There is much discussion about the lesson and the text. Learning Mussar can be a very challenging process. We are being taught that the most beneficial behavior to us is totally opposite everything that we thought was right. However, it is a flawless method. It is completely effective when applied. Learning Mussar benefits everyone that follows the lessons. The benefits are noticeable instantly. Therefore, your comments and questions only help us to learn more together. So, don’t hold back. The more comments we have, the more we can delve deeper in clearing the blocks that may be interfering with your reasons to learn. Rabbi Miller takes Rabbi Salanter’s wisdom and
teachings and makes it practical to our lives. That is one of the many reasons this is so effective. We bring it into our lives. We live the mussar lessons. The discussion in the vaads and the situations that are brought up for discussion, only help us to bring the lessons into our lives even more. They give us opportunities to not only learn Torah, but to actually see how it is applicable to our personal situations and all our inter-personal relationships.
Questions and Comments from Readers and Vaad Members:
1) It seems like there is so much repetition. What is the purpose of that?
That is exactly the purpose- to repeat the lessons over and over. That is Rabbi Salanter’s method of communication with the subconscious. There is a goal we are striving for – to reach our inner goodness, the holiness of our soul that we are so far removed from. We need to repeat the lessons over and over constantly to make impressions in our subconscious. Just like learning a language in a foreign country. (It seems that we are the foreign country to ourselves. We live there but we don’t know all the beautiful places within us). It is not something that is read and passed over, like reading a novel. It is a method of inculcating the lessons into us (because they are so challenging and opposite to what we thought before) so that we can make them applicable into our lives 24/7. Then, we will receive tremendous benefits. This actually works!!
2) It’s a process. Keep in mind, that this is a learning process. If you haven’t been with us since the beginning, it is more difficult to jump in the middle. The lessons proceed in sequence and each one builds on the one before it. If there is something that doesn’t make sense, go back a few lessons or ask a question.
3) Do working people have a harder time with applying the process than those who don’t work? That has been an interesting process to observe and the research is still ongoing. Surprisingly, it hasn’t proven to be true. It seems to be about each individual person and their own character traits. If they work full-time, they may have more opportunities to be tested with different types of people that they have to maintain relationships with, but don’t always get along well with. This makes the working people seem to have more challenging situations to deal with, more often. However, there are many teachers in our vaads and they are perfect examples of how to live mussar, as they are looking to bring out the best in each student. Depending on what type of work one does, what level their position, etc- all these are factors that can bring out positive or negative character traits. Everyone struggles through the process, some take to the lessons quicker than others. Some family members get it through mussar osmosis without ever attending a vaad. There are many different types of situations and levels of learning and understanding and inculcating the lessons.
4) It’s easy for me to “pause.” I’m the type of person who doesn’t like conflict and wants to be quiet. Sometimes, I feel that I am over the conflict and don’t need to re-visit but sometimes, something needs to be said. Or does it? That is up to you to decide what needs to be re-visited and what doesn’t. When you become a mussar student, one of the benefits that you immediately receive, is that you don’t take things so personally. When you come from your own inner goodness (and it is pure, not deceptive/more on this later) you know you did the right thing for the situation. When your words come from your heart, purely and truly, then you know it’s not about you at all. We cannot control other people -we can only speak to them from our heart.
5) How do you re-visit a situation to resolve a conflict? There is a simple formula that was based on many lessons in order to be fully understood. Basically, the first thing to do in every situation of conflict, you must PAUSE. The first reaction is always a negative one and only causes more damage, if you do react at that time. During the pause (which is an active state) we work our mussar wisdom. Pulling from all the lessons and avodah, we turn our heart to goodness by trying to connect to our tzelem Elokim, to actually feel being created in the Image of Hashem. We think of the attributes of Hashem and try to experience them (and bring them) into our situation. Loving kindness, forgiveness, compassion, mercy. Whatever your own personal list is, that’s fine. Then, we feel calm. We can now resolve the conflict without anger or fear of losing control or harmful words. We make sure the time is right for the other person, as well. We move away from it being about “me.” Then, we speak from our heart. Once you do, magic happens. It is soul-to-soul, heart-to-heart and only good comes from it.
6) How do you respect someone who doesn’t act deserving of respect? This one is huge. It took us many hours of learning mussar to be able to understand this. And for most, it is still a tremendous struggle. However, when you achieve it- you feel incredibly wonderful and amazing. You are not to accept or condone negative, abusive or evil behavior. As Rabbi Salanter even said, the first commandment of mussar, is to use common sense. There are situations and people that do require detaching from. Certainly, anyone abusive in anyway, is harmful to you. (A Rabbi or professional help should be sought out in those situations). Some people can be turned around by loving gentle kindness and others have serious psychological problems that may not be able to be reasoned with. As we must keep focused on and remember with all our mussar lessons, this is about our inter-personal relationships. We can make up many situations that may show that respect is not applicable. In the vaads, we work on situations in which respecting another human being is applicable. Our loved ones, co-workers or just people we come in contact with throughout our day. This in itself is a very challenging task. When we have mastered it (G-d Willing), we will then learn more. The more we practice respecting others, even if we disagree with their opinion, the better we feel about ourselves. The more we touch our goodness.
7) How do I know if I am coming from “pure” inner goodness? When you are a serious mussar student and are practicing speaking, thinking and acting from your goodness, purely from your heart, there sometimes comes a little gray area in which we are not always sure we are speaking pure heart-felt goodness. We are thinking about it and may be trying to, but our tone of voice or words are not purely heart-felt. They may be trying to prove a point, teach a lesson to someone who hurt us or may have some old leftover resentment attached to them. Or sometimes, we may be trying to get what we want, according to our scripts, agendas and dreams. When you speak from your pure inner goodness, it is soulful. You can feel it in your soul. All you need to do is look at the other person when you speak to them and watch them as they receive what you feel in your heart and soul. It is truly, a very rewarding experience in a relationship. And… the results are immediate.
Bring us your situations. If you are having trouble in a situation that you are trying to turn around and come from goodness and can't seem to find the right words to come from your heart... bring it to the mussar vaads. Keep it confidential, no names, no details. Email us your situation, we will work it through in a vaad and get back to you with the results.
Pirkei Avos 3:19
Everything is foreseen, yet the freedom of choice is given. The world is judged with goodness and everything depends on the abundance of good deeds.
It is coming close to Rosh Hashanah. The world is judged with goodness. It is time for us to take our own personal inventory and to evaluate our deeds. Some may have been misdeeds, yet we still want to be judged with compassion and kindness, as Hashem does. Contemplation of one’s misdeeds can cause a sense of hopelessness. Regardless of one’s past misconduct, Hashem listens to our prayers and looks upon us with compassion because Hashem is “good to all of His creations.”
May we forgive ourselves for our past misdeeds and look at other’s misdeeds and past conduct, and forgive them. As we judge others, Hashem judges us. We can sometimes judge others so harshly, yet we want to be judged with kindness and compassion.May we come from our goodness and strive to judge others (and ourselves) with kindness and compassion.
King David says in Tehillim 25:7, “According to your kindness remember me; may you remember me for the sake of Your goodness, Hashem.”
When in a situation, be aware of how you are judging the other person. Notice how quickly we “negative label” others, yet we don’t want to be “negative labeled.” Negative labels are destructive to relationships and the human spirit. Take the time to move away from judgments and negative labels of how you view others. Especially… the ones you love.
Blessings for a week based on positive judgments- in all your inter-personal