Sunday, November 22, 2009


Last week, we learned from Rabbi Miller, one of the most intriguing stories of the Torah that relates so much to what mussar is all about. The text was from the Torah portion (Toldos) that tells the story of the twins, Eisav and Yaakov, sons of Rivkah and Yitzchak. The most fascinating aspect of the story tells us that even in the womb, their personalities were already formed. Rivkahcould feel Yaakov pull towards the yeshivos and Eisav towards the temple of idolatry. However, our Sages tell us (Yalkut Yehohua 14) that when Eisav was a child he attained the spiritual equivalency of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. However, in his youth he committed improper deeds and denounced his first-born status. From that point on, his level of greatness diminished and "he became small." His downfall was not caused by his sin but rather by his identifying himself as a "sinner." He became small because he saw himself "as small" after he sinned.

What are we to learn from this? Basically, how a person sees himself is how he becomes. Eisav sank low and he wasn't able to connect to his true essence. Even if a person starts out with tendencies towards bad (as Eisav did in the womb), he was able to grow towards the spiritual equivalency of our Forefathers. Then, he repeatedly chose bad, moving farther and farther away from his true essence, the one in which he was created as a Tzelem Elokim, "an Image of Hashem." Our true essence is kind, merciful and holy. Eisav had that in him. Eisav's greatest downfall wasn't that he sinned, but that he wasn't able to pull himself up after sinning, by connecting to his Tzelem Elokim.

We all sin. We all have our moments when we aren't so proud of, or pleased with our own behavior. However, we also have the opportunity of teshuva (repentance). We have the chance to let the goodness of the soul shine through. As we go through the day, we realize how many times we have the opportunity to do teshuva in our inter-personal relationships. How often did we say something that caused harm to someone we love? Or even to that innocent stranger in the street? We all make mistakes.

The hallmark of the Jewish people is that even if we make mistakes or sink to the lowest depths, we always have the ability to instantly transform ourselves. This is the true essence of a Jewish soul. The strength of the Jewish people is that when we take on a mission or purpose, even if we made a mistake before, we are able to set our goals high and nothing can deter us. Our mission and our purpose is to connect to our inner goodness. We can dedicated to that one goal.

The Gemarra teaches us a powerful lesson. It says "where a baal-teshuva stands, not even the most perfect tzadik can stand." Someone who returns from their mistakes and works to correct them is even greater then a righteous person who lives without mistakes!!! Even if someone falls, he can pick himself up by connecting to his goodness. The process of recognizing one's sins and of picking one's self up after sinning is of much greater value than any righteous behavior. This is what mussar is all about!

In our vaads, week after week and practicing our avoda, day after day- we are truly striving to behave and stay connected to our goodness- by knowing we can always do teshuva. It doesn't give us the right to treat someone cruel or speak harsh words, but if in the growth process, we happen to slip and hurt someone we love, we can connect to our Tzelem Elokim, to know that we were created in the Image of HaShem and to do sincere teshuva, from a pure heart and from the goodness of our soul.

The beauty of this lesson is in knowing that no matter how often we might slip and say those hurtful words, there is an opportunity to repent. We can pick ourself up by connecting to the goodness that lies within us, to realize our Tzelem Elokim and to feel the essence of our Jewish soul. The greater sin lies not in making a mistake, but in not recognizing our mistakes and not repairing them or repeating them. The humility that it takes to recognizing our flaws is a tremendous spiritual step on the path to holiness, joy and inner peace.

Teshuva is the process of returning to the pure goodness of our true self.

As we go through the day, in all our inter-personal relationships, all we have to do is remember to strive to be our best. Yet, if we fall and those hurtful words do accidentally jump out, we can bounce back and try to improve ourself by knowing we can do better. It may be with a sincere apology that comes from a pure heart. Or it may be through a small gift to show your heart-felt regret for behaving the way you did.

Eisav didn't look at his mistakes and transform himself towards goodness. He chose to "be small" and consequently, saw himself "as small." He remained "small." He didn't live realizing the opportunity he constantly had before him... the opportunity to connect to his goodness. He didn't have to stay "small," he could have bounced back. His greatest sin was in not doing teshuva and by giving in to the yetzer hara (evil inclination). Some of us may have greater challenges to face in doing so. It doesn't mean that you can't come back and make it better. We don't have to get "stuck" in our yetzer hara and think of ourselves as "stuck", as Eisav did. The path to change is always available to us. All we have to do is connect to our goodness, know that we are Tzelem Elokim, act accordingly.... and Hashem is always there to receive us.

We don't have to stay with our mistakes and judge ourselves according to our misdeeds.
Our goodness is permanent. Our misdeeds don't have to be.

Goodness is in all of us. One may be born with tendencies away from goodness, yet their task is to still go towards the good. The door to teshuva is always open to us.
All we have to do is take the action.... and open it!

Repeat throughout the day..... I am a holy person. That is how I can react in situations.

When you realize this and connect your reactions to it, you experience that it can become your reality. Previously, it may have been a distant thought or desired behavior. Now, it can be part of your daily activity. Mussar works when it is studied and practiced daily. It is a process of inculcating the lessons into our subconscious so that when we are in a situation, coming from goodness of your neshama becomes your first reaction. That is the foundation of the avoda. Daily practical application makes it a reality in your life.

Blessings for a week of holy reactions!

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