Sunday, December 6, 2009


Moving through the process of mussar learning, it is obvious to see how the lessons build upon one another. In the last blog, we learned the importance of maintaining composure under pressure. Striving to master that character trait is probably one of the most difficult mussar challenges of all. The following lesson now teaches us, not only is it important to learn how to maintain composure under pressure but, it is the only path that leads to effective communication.

What exactly does that mean? Let's start with the words of Rabbi Salanter,
"The greatest distance in the universe, is the distance between the heart and the mind."
Communication is when we transfer the message from our thoughts into words, attempting to convey what we are thinking to another person. Often, this doesn't produce positive results. Meaning... what we want to say doesn't always get delivered the way we expected it to. In fact, this usually produces the opposite result than what we had originally hoped for. Why? Because the piece that's missing that causes effective communication- is the heart. This is one of the most important mussar lessons! When our heart is rooted in loving kindness, our thoughts become pure and our words become sweet.
Our words are the locksmith of the heart.
Every word can open the sealed chambers of someone else's heart.
The heart has tremendous potential to become touched. Each heart can be melted with the right words. What are those words? The ones that come from your heart. As Chazal say,
"Words that come from the heart, enter the heart."
Our mussar task is to learn to come from our heart and find the opening to someone else's heart.

As I've mentioned many times before, the beauty of Rabbi Miller's mussar teachings is that we learn exactly how to bring the lesson into our lives. This is proof that positive transformation occurs when we apply the lesson daily, by doing our avoda/homework.

How to become a locksmith of the heart:
1) It all begins with the first words of the day (after Mode Ani we thank Hashem for another day). Whatever your situation, whomever that first person is that you greet- watch those first words. They have the power to set your whole day off on the right path.

2) Share something personal about yourself. This is the most heartfelt action to initiate the opening to someone's heart. Sharing something personal is a great equalizer. There is no power struggle. No role playing. Everyone is on equal ground. Tension dissolves, the melting begins and slowly the sealed chambers open.

3) Be a good listener. Listening can be the greatest giving. When we listen to another person, we move away from "me," only then can we begin to put ourselves in the place of the other person. Instead of judgment and criticism, we can replace it with compassion.

4) Begin a conversation in a proper atmosphere. Sometimes you may need to PAUSE and think how to create a positive and intimate connection.

5) Watch out for the juncture points! Be aware that you maintain composure (as we learned last week). If you do, you can take the right turn and steer the conversation on the right path. The path that leads to the opening of the heart.

6) Face to face isn't the only way. Be thoughtful of the other person. Take time to decide what would be the best method of communicating in certain situations so as not to offend the other person but to ease the tension. This will lead to the person accepting what you want to say.
Rabbi Miller's tells the story of Rabbi Salanter writing letters to relate certain thoughts. He had the genius to know how to deal with specific situations and determine when letter writing was more effective to open a heart, than speaking face to face.
(Nowadays, we probably write more in emails and texting than, face to face).

7) Watch the reactions of others as we speak. Too often, if we watch closely and pay attention to the other person, we can see that what we want to say is not being received as we had hoped it would be. This is one of the topics that always leads to the most interesting discussions in the vaads. It is one that could lead to hours of discussion.... the perception of others. Briefly, a true mussar student (soon to be mussar master) must look at the other person and see how they are perceiving what you are saying. One of our most serious mussar students always says, "if you want to see the truth in what you are saying, look at the person you are speaking to and watch their reaction. That is the truth." We often deceive ourselves as we try to manipulate situation and control others. Yet, the truth always appears to the other person. Strange, but true. Check it out for yourself and see what they see.

8) Greet everyone with simcha! A smile is a powerful expression. It is an expression of the heart. It immediately touches another heart. Even if you like someone, if you don't show them a smile, or a sign of cheerfulness or happiness, they may think that you don't like them or that you are unhappy with them.

9) Maybe the hardest task of all.... if you want to have peace and you want to open a heart....
"Desire what you don't desire."
Sounds confusing? When working through conflict, we usually only desire what we desire. We often, don't think of what someone else desires. To become a mussar master, we must train ourselves to desire what our friend, spouse, sister, brother, desires. This opens up doors and creates peace in relationships.

10) Remember to always .... PAUSE. When you PAUSE, you move away from negative thoughts. You create a space and an opportunity to turn your thoughts towards the goodness of your neshama (soul) and act as a Tzelem Elokim (Image of Hashem). You move away from judgment and criticism and you move towards compassion and loving kindness. If you want your message to be well-received, speak to an open heart.

Text: Vayeishlach (Torah portion)
Eisav was approaching Yaacov with four hundred commandos ready to attack, seething with anger. It seemed like a situation impossible to diffuse. Yet, Yaacov sent messengers to his brother Eisav to convey his powerful words. What did he say? He simply spoke from his heart. He spoke of his years with Lavan. He told of his suffering through the difficult times. Yaacov knew the language of the heart. He understood the very essence of successful interpersonal relationships is sharing your personal thoughts with another person. This approach found the soft spot and melted Eisav's heart. Subsequently, Eisav's hardened heart became softened. He responded positively to Yaacov's gifts and offerings.

We all have the ability to act like Yaacov. To know when and how to speak from our heart. By following Yaacov's lead, we can gain lots of closeness in our relationships, simply....
by cleansing our thoughts and speaking from a pure and loving heart.

The mussar vaad is our training ground. It is the environment in which we develop sensitivity, encouragement and compassion. We learn the wisdom of having good middos (character traits). We see the beauty of the guidelines that teach us gentleness and pleasantness. We practice strengthening others, in the absence of conflict. As we experience this in the vaad, we are eager to venture out into our daily lives and continue to apply it in all of our inter-personal relationships. What makes us so anxious to do so?? As simple as it is... it just feels so good, deep down in our soul, to touch another's heart with words of love, that come from ours.

The only way to inculcate this beautiful lesson into the core of your being, is to practice doing it in your daily life, in all your inter-personal relationships. To become the "master of your emotions" is a joyful, spiritually uplifting process. The lessons must be constantly present in all your situations. We are building a library of mussar wisdom within us. The benefits only come when we practice the lessons through the avoda, in all our situations. Living mussar does not have an on/off switch.
The avoda is to:
Take a moment to PAUSE..... then...... start each conversation on a positive tone. Be it, a smile or a kind word either. It may be face to face or it may be through all the other means we now have technologically available to us.
Yes!! You can surely open a heart through email and texting!!
Hopefully, I'm doing my avoda and opening yours, right now.

May HaShem shower blessings upon us, as we strive to improve our character traits.

Rabbi Miller will be in the Greater Miami area this week, if anyone is interested in a private consultation, organizing a speaking engagement or information on starting a vaad, please email me at...

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