Sunday, October 4, 2009

A TIME OF JOY


For the last month and a half, we have been on intense mussar journey. The month of Elul gave us the opportunity to do our most serious self-accounting. As we traveled through ourselves, we learned how we are judged by Hashem and how we judge others, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. During the 10 Days of Repentance, Rabbi Miller taught us a beautiful lesson explaining how we are all connected and that we are truly One. We gained insight into how we live reciprocally, in a ripple effect. This enlightened the 10 Days allowing us to work on forgiveness. It was an opportunity to realize how we are forgiven by Hashem, how we need to ask for forgiveness from others and how to forgive ourselves, so that we can continue to journey forward. This process must flow with continuity so that our mussar journey can continue. Any breaks in the process interrupt the flow. The healing of the soul is a delicate, yet intense process. Therefore, we must be diligent to be continuous as we journey through the process, in order to achieve our goals and receive the rewards.

For those of us who were able to be continuous, work hard and be honest with ourselves- precious gifts were received. The lessons before Yom Kippur taught us that instead of it being a time of despondency and depression, as we had previously known it, we could now look at it as a time of liberation, joy and celebration. For sure, this changed everything we had ever known or heard of before. Yet.... it was true. The culmination of all our uninterrupted preparation brought us tremendous rewards. As we stood there all day, on the Day of Atonement, we pounded our chests and thought of all those whom we harmed. The list of (Viduy/Confessions)* that we had seen many times before, appeared differently now.

Instead, of looking at that list of confessions, as we previously had, it was now there for us as a time of enlightenment, to cleanse the depths of our souls. All dressed in white, like angels, it was time to become pure. Instead of running away from the thoughts of all we did wrong, it felt good to be able to face our wrong-doings and know that feeling bad about whom we harmed, was the path to liberation which leads to the joy and celebration on the Day of Atonement. Instead of running away from ourselves and acting with denial, we were able to recognize our flaws and face them. By recognizing our flaws, we can truly repent by knowing that we do not have to ever repeat that behavior again. Once this process occurs, the soul becomes free and floats like an angel. At last, the joy and most precious gift of all mussar learning.... ultimate closeness to Our Father, Our King.

And now, we enter the time of happiness (z'man simchatanu).... Sukkot.
What a beautiful path to follow! With pure souls, liberated and free, we enter our outdoor huts under the blue sky and twinkling stars, to show Hashem (and ourselves) that we really do trust in Him. We had to go through the process to get to this place, no detours, no shortcuts- just straight through, in order to free ourselves and become pure. A time of happiness and joy- once again, because we became liberated. In our outdoor huts, cleansed from Yom Kippur and now free from the physical aspects (our homes) that eclipse the purity of our soul- we receive another precious gift- trust in Hashem- the ultimate joy!

When we began our mussar journey last November, we thought we were only going to work on our character traits. Little did we know, that through the wisdom of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, as taught to us by Rabbi Zvi Miller, working on our character traits was not only giving us the ability to improve ourselves, but also the tremendous ability to transform how we act, think and speak towards others (which would then, in turn, benefit us). With it, came the most unexpected and precious gift of all- closeness to Hashem.

Rabbi Miller teaches that chanting verses of Tehillim, as mentioned in his book, Ohr Yisrael (page 263/Letter 24-Immutable Faith). Chanting means to continually recite verses of Divine providence, faith and deliverance. Specifically, Tehillim 27:14 and 25:15. As Shlomo HaMelech states in Mishlei 3:5; the essential factor is to "trust in Hashem with all your heart and do not rely on your understanding." This is the culmination of the entire year. This is what we are striving for. We just had no idea that the path of mussar learning was the way to achieve this goal. This is everything, there is nothing else. Knowing we trust in Hashem, experiencing the comfort of feeling close to Him and knowing all will be well- that is the ultimate joy of life. For all that really matters is to us to rely on our Father in Heaven. This is our source of comfort from our fears, stress, worries and concerns. There is calm in knowing- all that matters is our relationship with Hashem. It touches the core of our being and the depths of our souls. With freedom and purity we can trust in Hashem. Then, comes the celebration of inner peace and spiritual joy-Sukkot!

Our first lesson taught us, that each one of us has the ability to live at a higher, holier level. By working on our own character traits and then practically applying what we learn in all our inter-personal relationships, we came face to face with our flaws. We realized that, by looking honestly at ourselves and practicing hard, we can improve our flaws and it certainly, was not as bad as we thought it might be. In fact, it's quite exhilarating, enjoyable and liberating!! We have developed a new strength, most of us didn't know we had... the ability to pause and not jump in to anger and conflict. We have a new perspective when looking at others, knowing we can free ourselves from judgment and criticism. We can love, honor and respect even when someone has a different point of view and perspective. We have become balanced, calmer and more at peace. We are kinder, stronger and filled with a loving outlook towards everything we see. We live with positive mussar vision. Everything looks different now. As we glance back, we can see that the effort is relatively small for such a great reward. It is a blessing, beyond all blessings, to become a master of your soul!

As we enter Sukkot, our souls feel pure. We are cleansed,
we are free, we are close to Hashem.
It is truly a time of joy!
CHAG S'MEACH!


*The lesson taught us that who we are and how we feel about ourselves, comes mostly from how we treat others = self-worth comes from inter-personal relationships. It is proven in viduy. All the confessions were related to how we act towards others, only about 4 were related to ourselves. (see previous blog)

* we are pleased to announce the start of a new vaad in another community (Miami Beach) and we are soon also adding our first vaad in Spanish.
* For those of you who requested information about the upcoming book, The Enlightened Path to Positive Transformation, it is in process and hope to have it completed by December.

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