Wednesday, February 24, 2010


In the first Mussar lesson, we were introduced to the holiness of the nishama. Through this insight, we developed an awareness and came to truly believe that we are created in the Image of Hashem (Tzelem Elokim). As we continue learning, we strive to internalize the meaning of this and the effect it has on our daily activities and situations. Often, the lessons are related to how we interact with others, our inter-personal relationships. It is always personally challenging to stretch one's self beyond our previous limits to achieve higher levels of spiritual behavior. Usually, it calls for us to step out of our comfort zone. Even though our comfort zones aren't always so comfortable, we still don't like to leave what's familiar to us. Mussar takes our hand and gently guides us into unknown territory. What was previously threatening or frightening is no longer something we hesitate to confront. We are now able to look at our flaws head-on and see how they are harming us and our interpersonal relationships.

Mussar has presented us with a holier path on travel on. Most of the serious mussar students have experienced remarkable transformations in their lives.
We have learned to PAUSE -for if we don't, we know that our initial impulsive reaction is a negative one and if we speak, we will cause more damage.
We have learned to communicate with respect for another human being, even if we disagree or have been harmed by them.
We have learned to lift a human spirit instead of speaking out with judgment and criticism, which we previously thought of as loving.
We have learned to SMILE and brought a smile to the faces of others, to strangers as well as to loved ones.
We have learned how to turn our hearts towards our inner goodness and the inner goodness of another.
We have learned to "make peace" (ose shalom) and "be peace" (ani shalom) by apologizing, instead of defending.
We have learned to become other-oriented instead of me-oriented.
We have learned to "forgive our antagonizer and antagonize none."
We are on the path to mastering our emotions. It's all for our spiritual benefit.
And, as always, it is an exhilarating and enlightening adventure.

And now, Rabbi Miller takes us on another path... the inner journey into the depths of the soul. This one is strictly for us ... a further exploration of discovering the endless dimensions of holiness and goodness that HaShem has conferred upon humans.

When HaShem created man...
"He blew a living soul (nishama) into his nostrils and man became a living being (nefesh)."
The Hebrew word nefesh refers to the faculties associated with the earthly body. The nefesh of man is similar to the nefesh or physical life force that stirs within animals.

Despite sharing the same quality of nefesh, man's holy essence is the complete opposite of the animal and it's physical nature! Hashem did not give man a nefesh until "He first blew a living soul within him." This living soul (nishama) established man as an intelligent and holy being. Only afterwards, did HaShem give man a nefesh.

Conversely, the animals were given a nefesh but not a nishama. Therefore, their essence is the natural animal characteristics of the nefesh. What's more, since the nefesh of man is attached to the nishama, the nefesh of man is far more spiritually inclined than the nefesh of the animals. Although, we are formed of two opposing elements- body and soul- even our body is a spiritual entity.

In this light, the human being is not defined as just another one of the material creatures that HaShem created; i.e, cattle, birds, fish. Rather, we are different and unique in both, body and soul. Our holy and exquisite nishama emanates from HaShem and sanctifies our body, elevating our entire being to status of the Likeness of HaShem.

The Nefesh (Forces Associated with the Body) and the Nishama (Soul)
When we look at ourselves, what do we see? Of course, we see our physical form. But, is that who we really are? Obviously, we are unable to see our soul. All that's visible to us is our body. This lesson (as well as all the others) makes our invisible soul become visible. Maybe we can't actually see it, but we can definitely, experience it.

The text tells us that Hashem created the soul first, a living soul that established man as an intelligent and holy being. That is our essence, our spiritual holy part. Even though, we can't see our soul, we know it's there. It's there through our spiritual yearnings and expressions that arise from the depths of our souls. It's in the tears we cry, when we hear music that "touches our soul." It appears when we pray, when we're scared or alone. Or when we walk through the streets of Jerusalem and feel our "holy essence" brilliantly shining through. We know our soul... it's where truth lives within us.

How well do we know our nefesh (forces associated with the body)? Obviously, we are vividly aware of our emotions, desires and the lesser character traits. But what actually, is the purpose of the body and it's powers? Let's go beyond the surface to discover the answer.

In Perfect Harmony
In Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Devorah by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero) it states that "It is appropriate for a person to emulate his Creator, for then he will attain the secret of the Supernal Form (Heavenly) in image (tzelem) and in likeness (demut). If a person is only likened through the body, he falsifies his form. The primary likeness of man to Hashem is in his actions or functions. What good is it for a person to reflect on the Supernal Form in physical if his deeds do not imitate the attributes of his Creator? (Chapter 1)

Therefore, if we only reflect Hashem through our body but not through our deeds, we are not being true to the purpose for which we were created. If we are only living physically, our purpose is incomplete. If we only act physically and our actions do not emulate the Attributes of Hashem, we cannot experience our pure and complete spiritual purpose. We must also emulate Hashem in image (tzelem) by performing good deeds. The nefesh and nishama join together as one, in perfect harmony in order to completely and appropriately, emulate Hashem.

Kabbalistically, this is saying that the body is a replica of the Higher World. When working together with the soul, it has tremendous holy potential to deliver us to our highest spiritual goals.

Elevating the Physical (Nefesh) Body
If one doesn't realize the spiritual purpose for which the body was created, one may stray towards deriving pleasure, from only physical pleasures and desires. Since individual pleasurable events or material purchases are only temporarily satisfying, one may feel him/herself continuously searching to satisfy an insatiable desire. Yet, when the body is used for spiritual purposes; whole, holy and complete satisfaction occurs and remains. It is not a fleeting moment, but one that stays and grows. As if the seeds were planted, eventually the roots extend out and become intertwined with the earth. So too, as we sprinkle the seeds of our physical world into the soul, eventually they also, will extend out and intertwine with the perfect and pure Spiritual World.

King David said, "My feet will take me to Torah." He was so deeply connected to his spirituality, he recognized that every organ and part of his body was for the purpose of attaining greater spiritual heights, even his feet. King David knew his heart was for prayer, his hands to hold the Siddur (prayer book), his eyes for reading the words. His ears to hear the sounds. His whole being was sanctified and filled with desire for performing mitzvot. He knew that his holy nishama sanctified his body. And that his body was holy and could sanctify his nishama. Instead of falling into the trap of chasing after physical desires, he followed the path of spirituality... through the use of his physical form. He used his body as a means to elevate his nishama through good character traits and performing mitzvot.

Performance of our physical tasks are merely the means for us to realize that we are spiritual beings, even in our physical form. Our body parts are an appendage of the spiritual core within us. The purpose of the physical is to elevate the soul. The body and soul are partners in holiness. A dual force that creates a perfect harmony. It is a double force, a buddy system of the soul, the spiritual dynamic duo working together harmoniously, in sync. Our task is not to be misled and see only the physical. We are holy in both body and soul. It is no longer invisible.

So, how do we use our nefesh to elevate our nishama as we go through the day, in our physical world? Mainly, our task is to tap into the powers of the soul, through the physical deeds, in order to bring ourselves to the highest level of spiritual perfection.

Rabbi Salanter said, .... "It is impossible for a human being to sufficiently thank HaShem for just one glass of water." We can't even imagine the great kindness of HaShem in one glass of water. It is so vast, it is beyond our ability to express enough gratitude that would match up to it's greatness. In the same light, the more we consider the unbounded powers of holiness that Hashem endowed us with, the more we will realize that it is impossible to thank Hashem for the gift of our holy and eternal soul.

As we become aware of the numerous blessings in our everyday physical world, that are constantly being showered upon us from HaShem, we are able to call out the angels to unite with the soul.... in perfect harmony.

How can we use the physical world to bring us closer to Hashem? By realizing that everything is from Him, as He is the Source of All. Every morsel of food, every drink, every action, even every breath... is from Hashem. When we use the nefesh for mitzvot, we are becoming aware and connecting to the Source. We blend the nefesh and nishama and bring them together, so they can join as one, at their highest spiritual level and for their ultimate Heavenly purpose.

Feel the holiness of the body become awakened. Become conscious and aware that the body is an appendage of the soul. Get in touch with the holiness of the body through mitzvot, as you walk to Shul, before a Torah class or doing a good deed. Be cognizant that it is all for the purpose of elevating the soul to greater spiritual heights.
1) Elevate all your actions, speech (and even) your thoughts to be holy.
2) Blessings. Even be aware of hidden blessings.
Saying "happy birthday" or "have a safe trip" is also a blessing.
3) PAUSE and become aware of the many opportunities in your day to elevate the basic routine physical tasks. Eating, drinking, walking, breathing, they are all L'Shem Shemayim (in the name of Heaven).
4) Remember Hashem is the Source of All. It is all from Hashem.
5) Realize that when you are performing any physical task you are joining your body and soul....
in perfect harmony.

May your body and soul intertwine to compose a magnificent symphony in Shemayim!

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.

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