(based on a class given by Rabbi Zvi Miller in Jerusalem this week)
The Jewish calendar has taken us through the holidays and given us the opportunity to draw close to Hashem. It was a time to experience the joy of feeling the closeness. Now, our task is to maintain that connection.
When we pray, we say that "Hashem chose us." This proves to us that He has faith in us and that we are the most fit to do His work. Then, we say.... "He loved us." He chose and He loves us. From this we receive the most precious gift- the Presence of Hashem in our lives. He comes close to us, we can feel His Presence, He blesses us and we can feel as if He is in the room with us. This is what we are striving to maintain. Every day, we yearn to connect to that joyful feeling of being close to Hashem. Through mussar learning, we are striving to hold on to this connection. The process of improving one's character traits by working in a mussar vaad, helps us to do so. By improving our character traits, we are striving to emulate Hashem. All our work is based on Torah text. It's all about being on the straight path that leads us to this connection. When we learn through the text how Hashem sees us, we can attempt to emulate Him, by having the same conduct in all our inter-personal relationships. As we learn to practically apply the lessons, we can feel the connection and receive the blessings of being in His Holy Presence.
King David said Jerusalem is the greatest joy on earth. Why is that? It's because Jerusalem is where the Holy Temple was and that's where Hashem is. It is the place where His Presence still dwells and He constantly forgives us. That is why it's the greatest joy to be here. Hashem is forgiveness and once we are forgiven, we can live with happiness.
Now, that we have traveled through Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succot, we have achieved a tremendous state of joy and happiness. It was the time of forgiveness. As a result, we are liberated and free. We are completely cleansed and purified. We are in touch with our nishamas (souls). It's time to start new and fresh. By living with mussar conduct of compassion, kindness and sensitivity, we are loving Hashem and emulating His ways. The connection continues, as long as we maintain our mussar conduct.
In the kabbalistic book, Tomer Devorah (the Palm Tree of Devorah) the 13 attributes of compassion are explained. Rabbi Salanter stressed the importance of studying this book and the attributes of compassion. We know how easy it is to be compassionate when our lives are calm and smooth. We know the true challenges (of how we will behave) come from the times that are rough and choppy. This book maps out and explains Infinite Compassion and how we should behave when the challenges are presented to us and when it becomes difficult to behave with compassion and mercy.
The first of the 13 attributes states:
Who is G-d like? It goes on to explain that Hashem is King, the Insulted One. Of course, the obvious question is- what is this trying to tell us. Every second of our lives, we receive a blessing from Hashem. He renews Creation constantly. Yet, so often we tend to believe that we are king for the day. That we rule our worlds. This is the insult. And still, Hashem continues to give us His love and blessing of compassion. He waits for us to come to Him and do teshuva (repent). And when we do, He will be there to receive us with His Infinite Compassion and love.
The mussar challenge is now presented to us.
When someone does something to insult us, are we able to have compassion? This is a great challenge. Are we able to continue to have compassion?
When we get our buttons pushed and when we don't react to the insult, then we are acting like Hashem. The more we emulate Hashem, the more we awaken His Presence in our lives and draw close to Him. The blessings are showered down upon us, our the families, our lives, the world and the people of Israel. The more we study and practice it, the more we will be able to react with compassion. The joy and closeness of Hashem will be awakened and alive in our lives. The more we benefit. It is certainly not an easy task but, one that is so worth it! Right now, we cannot even calculate the gains that will come to us. Yet, there are many!
How can we accomplish this very difficult task and learn to react with continuous compassion when insulted? To not react when we are have our buttons pushed? As we must continue to remember from our early lessons, all negative emotions and reactions are self-detrimental. If we were to react, we know that only more damage will occur, to ourselves and the other person involved. The conflict increases and becomes more difficult to resolve.
Step #1: PAUSE (we can never forget to pause) A break must occur between the insult and the reaction. Turn around, walk away, excuse yourself politely. During this time go to step #2.
Step #2: COMPASSION- turn it all around. Take the focus off the comment and look at the other person, as Hashem looks at us when we think we are king. Think of whatever it is (in your own creative mind) that will get you to compassion. See beyond the surface. There is a fragile soul behind that comment. Take a moment to realize that they most probably did not mean to what they said, most of us don't. When you can see really deep into another human soul, you can realize there is more to it. You won't feel the need to react to the insult. When you act tzelem Elokim and emulate Hashem, you can see that this person is also created in the image of Hashem. There is a spark of goodness deep inside their soul, too.
Step #3: TAKE ACTION- when you are ready, do something or say something compassionate. Offer assistance or a kind word. Try to help them in some way. Realize that they are the ones who must be hurting inside. There may be crack in their fragile soul.
You be the one, to make them feel good.
When we go around thinking of how we can help others, even those that insult us, we will bring the Presence of Hashem into that very moment. We have spiritually elevated ourselves and another human being. The joy and purification continues as we live with constant forgiveness, compassion and bring it into our lives daily. It may impossible, but it's not. Once you try it, you will see that it's possible and rewarding. It fills the human spirit with joy. Be patient with yourself. It's something new. Just keep practicing the 3 steps and study mussar every day, as much as possible. Bring it into your life. Think of it often. Inculcate it into your being and blessings will appear. The more we emulate Hashem, the more we feel close to Hashem. Feel the joy and comfort of that precious gift!
May we all be showered with blessings as we learn to live emulating Hashem.