Saturday, January 30, 2010


A story from Rabbi Miller
During the Holocaust, there was a Rabbi who was in a DP (displaced persons) camp. When he was liberated, it was near Pesach time and his first thought was devoted to how he could make matzo for Pesach. Everyone thought this was absurd. "How can you think about that at a time like this," they asked him. "How is that possible, we have nothing?" He answered, "We must show HaShem that we are still committed to the mitzvot." Sure enough, the Rabbi managed to find an oven, ingredients and the supplies he needed to make the matzos. He gathered the names of the Rabbis nearby and gave them each, two matzos for Pesach. One of the Rabbis sent his son to pick up his two matzos. The Rabbi's son said, "My father said he needs four matzos." "That's not possible," answered the matzo Rabbi. "I told all the other Rabbis they could only receive two matzos." The son said, "My father said he needs four." The matzo Rabbi thought for a moment and answered the Rabbi's son, "You're father is such a tzadik, if he asked for four, he must have a good reason" and he handed him four matzos. After all the matzos were given out, the Rabbi's son returned and said to the matzo Rabbi, "My father sent me here to ask you a question. My father wants to know how many matzos you saved for yourself." Stunned, the matzo Rabbi realized that he gave away all his matzos and forgot to save some for himself. "That is why my father asked for four. He knew you would give them all away and forget about saving some for yourself." And he handed him back the two extra matzos.

This is such a beautiful and moving story. It touches us deeply to think of the compassion and kindness of one human being for another at that level. The story brings alive the fundamental principle of the Torah, "Love your friend, as you love yourself." It is also the fundamental theme throughout all of Mussar learning. We are learning to love ourselves which will then enable us to love others more. Each one of us has a tremendous capacity for love. Our heart can be completely expansive and absorbed with love if we learn how to let it. How strange that seems, we have to learn how to love? At this level... the answer is yes. Of course, we know how to love. There are many people with whom we have loving relationships. The question is... are we loving to our capacity? This lesson will teach us how to love completely, way beyond what we thought we were capable of. Just remember the Matzo Rabbi.

"Love your friend as you love yourself"
This is certainly not a new concept that we have never heard before. Yet, it is one we all struggle with. For most of us, it seems unimaginable. How could I possibly love a stranger as I love a family member? How can I love someone who isn't kind? There are so many questions related to this ever-present lesson throughout the Torah. Mussar provides the insight into understanding and applying this wisdom towards a meaningful and enriched life.

When you decide to become a mussar student, you begin the amazing journey of seeing yourself and others in a kinder, more loving light. Slowly, you can feel your heart start to open. The previously sealed chambers of your heart begin to expand and you become aware that you feel more compassionate, generous and kind. Soon, you realize that- to "Love your friend, as you love yourself" may actually become a principle you can live by.

Could it be that the reason so many of us may have struggled with this fundamental principle of loving another person as much as we love ourselves, is that maybe we don't love ourselves as much as we are capable of. If we were asked right now, we could probably answer most of us like our characteristics and we probably feel pretty good about ourselves, either through our career accomplishments or personal achievements but.... are we loving ourselves to the tremendous capacity that we are capable of ? Do we really know our own "goodness?"

One of the first mussar lessons is becoming aware of and realizing that within each one of us is a "goodness" we haven't yet tapped into. Many events may have occurred in one's life that caused the heart to become closed and "our goodness" to become distant. One of the most comforting aspects of learning mussar is that whatever happened before- just doesn't matter now. All that matters is that we continue to journey towards the goodness of our neshama (soul) and connect to the Tzelem Elokim (being created in the Image of HaShem) within us. Each lesson and daily practical application through the avoda, brings us closer to our "goodness." Our essence is pure and good. We know that and must not forget it. Our mussar goal is strive towards it and live connected to it. We must also remember that each one of us has a tremendous capacity for love.

While we discover our own "goodness," we realize that we also have a greater capacity to discover the "goodness" in others. As we grow through this process, we realize how naturally it happens, the more we connect to the essence of our neshama and discover our "goodness," the more we are able to slowly open the sealed chambers of our own heart. Naturally and gradually, we become more compassionate towards the hearts of others. It is then, at that moment, that we can love ourselves and love others.... equally. It is possible.

Something to think about....
It is important to remember- that we are the "friend" the Torah is talking about when others are learning to love your "friend" as they love themselves. We become the recipient. Think of how often we are on the receiving side of being the "friend." Not only do we have to love others as ourself, but others are loving us as they love themselves. Don't we always want others to treat us with loving kindness and compassion? Have you ever had a situation when you said, "no thanks, you don't have to be kind or loving to me today? I'm okay, I don't need to be loved today." Of course not, we want others to be considerate of us at all times, sensitive to our needs and always loving towards us. If we can move away from thinking how difficult it is to give love to others, we will realize that we certainly want others to give love to us. Just imagine how our lives could be, if everyone learns this lesson. Imagine the peace we will have in our relationships, the love in our lives and the joy we can experience as we journey through our day. Just imagine, the tremendous potential for love, within each and everyone of us.

Because of the mussar lessons, we don't have to "just imagine" anymore. Loving others can actually become a reality.... a part of your reality! It doesn't seem impossible anymore. Surprisingly, when we learn to love others as we love ourself, the heart opens up to a joyful experience. Suddenly, we become enlightened and realize..... the true and ultimate pleasure is in loving others.

TEXT: The Agadah of the Talmud
The text teaches us the axiomatic principle of the Torah, "Love your friend, as you love yourself." The mussar lesson of the text points out that there is an equivalency between us and others. At first glance, it seems unfair or impossible to achieve yet, as we delve a little deeper, we can see something obvious that was previously hidden. What is the great equalizer....
We all want to be loved! There is not a person that doesn't want to be loved. We are equal in this emotion. We share in this tremendous capacity, that each one of us possesses. In order to touch this capacity and release the bars that are on our heart, we must love others.... completely. Therefore, we should not hold back any benefit that is within our power to give; be it wisdom, finance resources, time, respect, honor and so much more. Mussar teaches us to give from a pure heart. Our mussar task is to understand this trait, go after it and follow the example of Avraham. When we practice this lesson daily, we are developing this character trait to it's highest level. It is an opportunity for us to spiritually elevate ourselves, as we elevate our behavior... according to the Torah.

Lessons from Avraham Avinu:
Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato, author of Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Just), teaches that one of the greatest methods to strengthen one's self - is to think of the Avos (our Fathers). Since Avraham Avinu was a master of loving others, we should look to his conduct and imagine how we can behave in that same exact way! If we think we are not on that level and incapable of such loving kindness, we should visualize the details of his life, as if they were our own. Imagine what it would be like to welcome guests with such complete loving kindness. Imagine how it would feel to greet everyone with love from a pure heart. Imagine the pleasure you can receive from loving others... it is a true and lasting joy.

You will become aware of a love beyond what you ever imagined before. You are working to improve your character trait of "loving kindness." The only way to achieve that.... is by loving others.

Giving is no longer seen as a sacrifice, giving up something. Unfortunately, there are times we feel obligated to give. As a result, we do not feel the pleasure in giving. Giving is one of the loftiest traits. It is one of the objectives of the Torah. The essence of HaShem is giving. We are striving to emulate the kindness, compassion and generosity of HaShem. Generosity is the bestowal of good upon one who has no claim or entitlement to it. To give someone what they are due is not generous, but fair. However, giving charity, inviting guests to your home and giving gifts are all acts of generosity. *(Of course, we are not saying to give away everything you own. There is proper generosity and improper generosity. As with all mussar lessons, you must use common sense and discern what is best in each situation).

Giving generously also shows faith in HaShem. If one is generous with money, one is living with faith, showing that HaShem will reimburse the money spent. It is faith and trust at the highest level. When you do, you will receive the joy of knowing that you are acting Tzelem Elokim, in the Image of HaShem.

The Avoda is to learn from the conduct of Avraham. Imagine how it felt to be Avraham. Imagine yourself welcoming guests. Call someone and invite them to your home. Imagine treating them to the finest foods. Then provide for them a meal, a room and a bed. Imagine where Avraham was seated as you sit at your table. Imagine the knowledge he shared, as you share yours with others. Imagine giving of yourself with a pure heart. It may be something that you have, that will benefit another human being. Give of yourself.... completely. It is not a sacrifice, it is a true and lasting joy!! Experience a taste of Gan Eden.

Blessings for a week of loving completely from a pure heart.
May you bask in the joy of the benefits!

Note: It is important to keep in mind when learning mussar, that one specific lesson is not the answer to one specific problem you may be experiencing. When in a situation that needs resolution, customize it according to all the mussar knowledge and wisdom you have been learning. ***In certain circumstances, related to serious situations, please consult a professional, doctor, counselor, therapist, or Rabbi.***

A mussar vaad is an environment of spiritual positive encouragement while improving one's character traits through the mussar wisdom of the Torah.

* Based on HaMaspik Le'Ovdei Hashem (The Guide to Serving G-d)

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