Sunday, November 8, 2009


Dear Readers,

Before I begin the mussar lesson, I just want to let you know the good news from this past week. Amazing as it is, 3 new vaads began this week. One in Spanish, one for beginners and one in another community. I look at how the mussar vaads are multiplying at such an unbelievably rapid pace and am filled with joy. Those who join the vaads and start learning the process of how to apply mussar wisdom to their lives are benefitting greatly. We are all striving to improve our character traits. Sometimes, we don't succeed, but we realize how beneficial it is just to enter into the process of striving for improvement. We are able to look at situations from a completely different perspective, as we journey through the spiritual growth process of improving our character traits, according to the mussar wisdom of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, as taught to us by Rabbi Zvi Miller. It is proof that this age-old method taught by Rabbi Salanter in the 1800's is still applicable today. With most sincere gratitude to Rabbi Miller for all his efforts, we are able to do so. Rabbi Miller brings out the beauty of mussar wisdom and helps us to apply these meaningful lessons throughout the day. We have truly transformed. Thank you, Rabbi Miller!
May Hashem bless us all that we continue to grow close to Him through mussar wisdom for many years, together.

Through the process of learning mussar, we become aware that we can live at a higher spiritual level. We strive to behave differently towards others and to treat others with kindness. As lovely and desirable as this sounds, we all know how difficult a task it really is.

The first and most important point to notice is that- it is something that is desirable to us. We do want to behave kinder towards others. If we honestly focus on this, we know it is true. There is something about each one of us, that desires goodness. For some strange reason, we act the opposite. Our initial reaction is not usually one of kindness, goodness and love but one that stems from judgment, criticism, negative comments and lashon hara (gossip). The evil inclination is apparent. How strange it is, we want others to treat us with kindness, love and compassion. Yet, we are not so quick to treat others this way. Sometimes, we feel "stuck." We really do want to do good, be good and feel good. We just can't seem to get "unstuck." One way to begin is just by knowing that we can be better.

The second point to notice and believe is that we can become kinder, nicer, sweeter, less judgmental and definitely, more positive. We are not talking about being submissive, introverted or holding everything inside until you burst, (we learn how to deal with that by communicating from goodness). It's just about knowing that it is possible and true, that everyone desires goodness and can achieve it.
Great happiness, joy and calm come from knowing one's direction. Even if you don't know how to get there, knowing which road to take is comforting. Mussar is that road.

The text for the week brought forth a most enlightening lesson for us to apply.
On our mussar journey, we have often spoken of our spiritual self.
This spiritual self has 3 components: nefesh, ruach and neshama.
1) nefesh- is the life force that interacts with the body. Namely, our actions.
2) ruach- is what comes through our words- our speech.
3) neshama- this is the decision making and thinking part- our thoughts.
These are the 3 components of our self that we are working hard to improve. Certainly not an easy task! To change the way we have been acting most of our lives is a great challenge to us all.

The one thing that matters most... is to stay attached to our deep yearning for character and spiritual improvement. This is our guide and if we stay on the mussar path, it will lead us to our destination.

In the vaads, we use table cards with different statements from Rabbi Salanter, (as stated in Ohr Yisrael), that instruct us how to conduct ourselves in the vaad. Here's what they say:
1) Speak in a pleasant and relaxed manner.
2) Do not decide the matter too hastily.
3) Proceed with peace of mind, calmness, understanding and sincerity.
4) Strengthen your friend.
5) Act with courtesy and pleasantness.
6) Take care to respect the honor of one another.
7) Conduct yourselves with pleasantness and patience.

It is clear to see they are all related to speech. The vaad is a practice environment of spiritual encouragement. It is where we practice proper speech. The whole climate of the group is based on encouraging speech. Since it is so difficult to learn how to speak carefully and with sensitivity, it is most helpful to have an environment in which to practice this new behavior. When you realize the power of your words and how much value they carry with them, as they come from our lips, it can become startling to realize the huge responsibility that we have. Our words can give so much encouragement and love... or cause so much damage to another human spirit.

As we learned from a previous lesson, (based on Chavos HaLevavos/Duties of the Heart) "The tongue is the heart's pen and the messenger of the mind. Through speech we can express what is in our soul and innermost self. The way one speaks is the best proof of his/her worthiness. Speech is the defining element of a human being." If we can remember this and keep it with us when we speak to others, we can realize the value and the power of our words. It is a behavior that can become your first reaction. When we utilize this gift and speak to others with support and encouragement, it will become clear by watching their reactions, that it is certainly, the holier path to take.

Lesson from the text: Avraham and the 3 guests
As 3 desert travelers neared the camp of Avraham, he ran across the blazing sand to invite them in for a sumptuous feast. In his effort to welcome them, with the loving-kindness that he always displayed, Avraham requested that just a "little" water be brought for them to wash their feet. This certainly doesn't seem like the typical generosity and kindness of Avraham. However, it does. Avraham's choice of words reflect great sensitivity. Requesting a large amount of water for the guests to wash their feet might be taken as an insult and cause them embarrassment by implying that his guests' feet were very dirty. Whereas, a little bit of water suggests that they were basically clean and just needed to remove bits of dust. In the typical manner of Avraham and his constant loving-kindness, he chose his words so carefully, just to be sure that he would avoid even the slightest possibility of insult or embarrassment to his guests. His kind words gladdened the hearts of the travelers. Avraham's words implied that his guests were neat, clean and well-mannered.

AVODA (homework):
When we realize the impact and power of those precious words that come from our mouths- it may be easier to chose our words more carefully. After we speak, take a moment to see the effect those words have on the person we are speaking to. Often we don't realize how much harm we can do. When we recognize the evil inclination as our first reaction, take a moment to PAUSE, just be silent for a short while and during that quiet time, think of how what we are going to say, will effect the person we are speaking to. Is it the way you want someone to speak to you? Use the PAUSE as a time to filter our speech and remove all the hurtful words. Look at the person you are speaking to (or think of the person if by phone, email or sms) and realize their value to your life, then choose those precious words that are pleasant, sensitive and encouraging. Lift their spirit and touch their heart with the love that comes from yours.

May Hashem bless us with the ability to choose words of loving-kindness.
Blessings for a peaceful week.

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