Tuesday, January 12, 2010


When we look at our loved ones what do we see? Do we see their beauty or do we see the list of all that is wrong? Too often, we are filled with hidden agendas of hurt, harbored resentments, historical baggage, judgments, criticism or sometimes... just plain old disappointment that situations aren't traveling on the path we had planned for them. The beauty of Mussar is that there is no analysis, searching for answers, digging up the past or asking why. All that matters is that we are training ourselves to improve what we see (what we process in our thoughts), which will improve how we feel.

The text from last week taught us the most profound lesson... "our life experience is dependent upon the way we see others." Our joy in life comes from how we view other people and situations. It seems so simple yet, (as we all know) it's so difficult to achieve. If we just start seeing good, everything will change for the better. Our lives will be filled with joy, we'll smile all the time, and we'll feel so good. If we just do it. However, we're stuck and we can't get out. We're stuck in negativity. We can't move away from our negative comments, judgments and thoughts. Maybe, we are just stuck in ourselves. Maybe, we just don't want to give up wanting- wanting everything to go the way we want. Hidden deep inside us, we carry our personal scripts, agendas and dreams. When we're all about us, there's no room for anything else. Most importantly, there is no room for Hashem. (EGO= Easing G-d Out). When we move away from our desires (our scripts, agendas and dreams) and start to connect to what Hashem desires for us, we will then.. become free.

Mussar is the process of improving our lesser character traits according to Tzelem Elokim, being Created in the Image of Hashem. It is a process of moving away from the negative side of our deepest selves and moving to the positive side that Hashem has for us. The negative side blocks our vision so that we can't see the beauty and we only see the flaws. As we journey through the Mussar process, slowly we start to feel the veil lift, revealing the beauty, right before our very eyes. Open your eyes and enjoy the view!

(Pirkei Avos/The Ethics of our Fathers/4:3)
The text tells us "Ben Azai said: Do not disgrace another person and do not denounce any statement. For there is no person that doesn't have his hour, nor there is no statement that doesn't have its' place." At first, this may sound a bit harsh. Of course, we don't think this is something we are guilty of. We don't disgrace people or denounce their statements. As we move in a little closer and take an honest look, we can admit maybe, it is true. Too often in our inter-personal relationships, the first thought or comment that comes out of us is an "anti-comment." We say something that is against what is being said. We usually indicate in some way; through facial expression, body language or sadly, through our words- that we disagree with what this person is saying.

Rabbi Miller tells us a most thought-provoking statement....
"disagreement is a form of disrespect." Most of the vaad members immediately disagreed. In fact, it set off a bit of a panic. "What are we going to do without disagreeing? How will we be able to say what's on our mind? We need to have the right to disagree. We can't agree with everything, how can we agree if we disagree? Are we supposed to be silent, are we supposed to be dishonest?"

As we delve a little deeper, we can see the truth in this statement, disagreeing is definitely a form of disrespect. Someone is relaying something that is important to them. It's their thought, desire or opinion. It's theirs. They own it. Usually, we come along and give our "anti-comment." It's as if our job is to immediately point out to them what is wrong with whatever they are saying. We are the flaw-finders. We disagree on technicalities, just to prove our point. Isn't it just a hidden way of arguing? Sometimes, we're arguing just for the sake of arguing. Do you really want someone disagreeing with you? Either we discuss opposing points which results in distress and distance for both parties. Or we find a way out by admitting that "we agree to disagree." Usually, this leaves us with a deep sense of sadness, distance and discomfort.

Once we are able to move away from ourselves, we can move closer to Hashem, His Attributes and His Ways. We can look for the good. We need to take off our flaw-finder glasses and put on Mussar magnifying glasses, the ones that give us the vision to look for that tiny little spark of goodness in what's being said. Sometimes, it's hard to find. It may be the tiniest little point, but if we really look hard... we will see it! We can train ourselves to see it often. If we practice this often, we will be able to experience it more often. We will find a way to create new sentences that will build others up and make them feel good. We will form a new style to our patterns of speech. Probably, we will realize that "comment we had to say," wasn't so important to say, after all. Then, we will realize that the building up of another human spirit, and by acting according to the Attributes of Hashem, was much more important... than that comment we felt we had to make. Is it really so important to say?

In this week's parsha (Torah portion) Shemos, we learn the importance of valuing and respecting other people. The parsha begins by speaking of the Tribes. Even after their death, they were counted by their names, since one often repeats something that is dear to them ("and these are the names, the sons of Israel"). Hashem counts them by their names. Rashi (Torah commentary) says, they were like the stars. Hashem takes them out and and brings them in. He counts them by name and by number. The 12 tribes are compared to stars because they are like the 12 constellations. They are composed of many individual units. However, they form a group and complement one another. Each star is a world unto itself. There are so many dimensions to a star, such as; what controls it and what influences it. Rashi says, "each person is a world within a world." Each one carries so much value. Each one of us is a star.

Rabbi Miller tells the story from Rav Zundel (of Salant). Rav Zundel said, if you ever feel small and disrespected, go outside and look at the stars. They look so tiny, but in actuality, they are so huge. They only look small because of the distance. If people don't respect and value us, it is because they are so distant from who we are. Each one of us is a world within worlds. Each one of us carries such tremendous value.

Our mussar task is to go out and look at the stars. Look for the value in each person. Realize that each person is multi-dimensional. Look for that little sparkling dot in the distance. Search for the tiny spark of goodness. The lesson tells us, "there is no person that doesn't have his hour or no statement that doesn't have its' place." There is always a time when someone shines. Remember that hour and remember that statement. Focus on the positive times when they did say something good. Look for the little tiny speck of goodness. Be careful to protect your friend and find validity in what they say. People often say things they don't mean to say. It's our task to be forgiving. Just as we want to forgiven, when words slip out and we say things we don't mean to say.
It is the foundation of the entire Torah...
"love your fellow man, as you love yourself."
When we conduct our inter-personal relationships with love, we uphold the essence of the entire Torah. The more we live with it, the more we bring the Torah to life.

How do we love others? We remember their good attributes. Cover up their blemishes. Never look at the low points. Focus only on the good. Completely cover up their lesser qualities.

The Alter of Kelm's (one of the great mussar masters) interpretation of "love your neighbor as you love yourself" was to reverse it. Not to think of it in terms of how you should love your neighbor, but first, to think of it, in terms of how you love yourself. Hashem planted within us a natural love for oneself. We love ourself not because it's a mitzvah or we are forced to. It's natural! The way we naturally love ourselves is what we want to inculcate within our heart towards others- love for other human beings. The way to do this- by focusing on the goodness within them.

Through this, we also strengthen ourselves. As we build others up, we are training ourselves to see good in situations. As we see the good, we are building ourselves up. As we lift others up, with thoughts of their goodness, we move away from our "anti-comment, flaw-finding patterns." When we do, we open the door and let Hashem in.

You might be asking, so how do I disagree? We can twist and turn our words so it sounds like we're not disagreeing. Or maybe, we can offer an alternative view without saying "you're wrong." Someone suggested that you can disagree but that it shouldn't be your first reaction. Maybe, we can just think it over, then say something without putting the other person down. As we worked through this lesson during the week, so many people were fighting for the right to continue to disagree. It seems that people don't want to give it up. However, if we keep it, we create distance in our relationships.
The greatest distance we create, is the one between us and Hashem.

Before you speak, take a moment and PAUSE. Don't give into that negative impulse reaction. Too often we have a hidden agenda. Can we really trust that our comments are pure and coming from goodness? We have so much historical baggage, harbored resentments, left-over anger and pain... is it really important to make that comment? Is it really necessary? Since, it's so easy to fall into the trap of negativity, we have to stay so far away from it. We are masters at dressing up and masquerading our negative comments, judgments and criticism to make them appear less harsh. Now, it's time to become master star-gazers... searching only,
for the bright light in each and every person we see.

When you do, look at them and give them a blessing. Say it to yourself or say it to someone else. "May Hashem bless you."
Especially, say it to someone you love.
It appears that it's only for the benefit of the person you are blessing,
and.. this also has a powerful effect on you. It can transform you and create within you a refreshed, new way to view others. It can create a positive transformation unlike anything you've ever felt before. It certainly will transform the way you love your neighbor, as you love yourself... naturally!

May Hashem bless all of you !!!!
Blessings for a beautiful week.

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 of your mussar knowledge and wisdom you have been learning.
In extenuating circumstances, related to serious situations, please consult a professional counselor, therapist, or Rabbi.

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