Saturday, December 19, 2009


This lesson is a high level of character trait improvement and an advanced exercise in holy behavior.

Perkei Avos 2:10
“Let the honor of your friend be as dear to you as your own. And do not be easily angered...”

According to the text of Rav Chaim Voloshin, this week’s lesson is one of the most important and most interesting. The lesson seems to be asking us to do something completely unthinkable…"do not be easily angered." That means when we feel anger, an emotional reaction that is automatic and impulsive…. the lesson is telling us that we cannot react to it?? How could this possibly be? I’m sure most of you must be thinking this would cause more stress within our bodies and our minds. We will turn into volcanoes, our blood pressure will rise and we will harbor resentments that will definitely make an untimely, unwelcome appearance at a later date. This can’t be healthy or a reasonable reaction. Let’s delve a little deeper and see what mussar wisdom is telling us.

Rabbi Miller teaches us, the key to healthy relationships is respect.
According to the Mishneh, there are two rules of respect that enable relationships to operate within the boundaries of peace. This, in itself is a truly enlightening statement. Think about it… if we follow what the Mishneh is telling us, we can learn to have peace in our relationships. Here are the rules:
1) The honor of your friend is as dear to you as your own.
2) One should realize that it is human nature to assume that others do not give you the respect you deserve.

First, let's explore the rule stating "The honor of your friend is as dear to you as your own."
Basically, we all know that we want to be honored. It’s always easier to think of this in terms of receiving honor rather, than in giving honor. First and often, we must remind ourselves- that when the behavior we are trying to master towards others, seems impossible, all we have to do, is remember- that is exactly how we want to be treated, too! The honor that one bestows upon us, should be as important to us, as the honor we bestow upon others. Once this honor is present in a relationship, peace will occur. The relationship becomes elevated, so do the people involved. As much as we want to be honored and respected from our friends, loved ones, associates (and in all our inter-personal relationships)- don't they want that from us? They also want be honored and respected! Once we realize this, we can move on. We can become unstuck from ourselves. We can unglue ourselves from it being all about "me." The key to peace in relationships is being other-oriented, before we are self-oriented. To even go so far as to think of others before, we even think of ourselves. As strange as it may be, it appears that the only way to become truly joyful and peaceful within ourselves is to think of others more than we think of ourselves.

Second, "one should realize that it is human nature to assume others do not give you the respect you deserve." This is quite a shocking statement! This tells us that we naturally assume others don't treat us respectfully and that we feel we don't get what we deserve. Take a moment and think it. Don't miss the deeply encoded secret message hidden in this text. It seems to be telling us that we go through our day expecting, anticipating and waiting for others to not treat us the way we deserve. Could this be true? If we are honest and able to "recognize our own flaws".... it seems that it is true. It is our nature, human nature, to assume others don't give us what we deserve. It's always so much easier to blame others for not treating us respectfully. But, when we realize that it is our "assumption," expectation and perception- than maybe we can lessen the harsh thoughts we have of other's mistreatment of us. Maybe they are not treating us as harshly as we perceive it? Maybe, it's just a human character flaw that we all share. Actually, the lesson reveals a beautiful mussar lesson...

... we can view other's treatment of us with a gentler, kinder eye. Therefore, it is possible to "not be easily angered." The way to not be easily angered is to realize it's human nature to expect negative comments from others and that may not be reality.... it may just be our own character flaw, the way we perceive it. We can then, brighten up the whole situation. We can judge others favorably. We can see them through positive vision as we think of all their wonderful traits that we do enjoy. We can experience gratitude for their presence in our lives. We can be compassionate that they are doing the best they can at that moment. We can perceive the respect they are giving us as real, not disrespect. And if we really want to go to the "advanced mussar level," we can even imagine that the respect they give us is even more than the normal amount that we deserve! We can judge them so favorably that we can know in our hearts that they would never want to disrespect us.

The mussar lesson is, as always.... for our benefit! We are the ones working on our character traits. Too often when working on ourselves, we fall into the trap of wanting to change others. As we journey through the lessons, it is so important to constantly remind ourselves that we are mussar students. Others that we are close to, may not be on the same journey. We may be the ones that have to do all the work (without feeling angry). We have to transform our vision of all situations (and everyone involved in them) in order to achieve the holy levels that we are striving for. We want to act Tzelem Elokim (in the Image of Hashem)! We want to become holier in our actions, thoughts and speech. We are the ones on this journey striving for personal excellence according to the wisdom Rabbi Salanter (as taught to us by Rabbi Miller). We cannot expect this to be a weapon to be used to get others to perform the way we want them to. This is about us! We have made this decision to work through these very challenging personal growth lessons. Often, they can be very difficult. But, one thing we all know, it works. The benefits come flowing into our situations. Our lives are transforming. We are happier because we see more beauty than we ever saw before. Our perceptions, attitudes, thoughts, words and actions have all changed for the better. We can feel that we are created in the Image of Hashem and that it is true....
we can recognize and experience our goodness, and act according to it.
Maybe not immediately, but eventually it happens. It is a blessing. A precious gift given to those who apply it daily to their lives. It is truly transformational.

As always, the benefits come only from the daily application through the avoda (homework). Without practice, the lessons may be meaningful but they won't transform you. If you want true transformation, you must apply the lessons daily in all of your inter-personal relationships. That includes grocery clerks, people on the street, co-workers, friends, not such good friends and loved ones. Some members find it easier to apply with strangers, some find it easier to apply with loved ones. Whatever the situation, the benefits come from daily application with whomever you can.

From this week's lesson, the avoda is:
1) be aware of the human tendency to perceive situations towards the negative side.
2) brighten up your situations with a positive light (gratitude, appreciation of other's good traits, compassion, or any other positive path you can take)
3) overcompensate for someone's possibly perceived negative actions towards you to balance the human tendency towards the negative
4) to feel inner peace and joy... put others first
5) the more beauty you see, the happier you will be

May the wisdom of this lesson bring much happiness, peace and joy into your life.
Blessings for a beautiful week.

Please remember that in all our mussar lessons, we are learning about normal inter-personal relationships. The lessons are not related to serious situations or extenuating circumstances (harmful, dangerous or abusive relationships). In those situations, please consult a professional therapist, counselor, doctor or Rabbi.

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