Thursday, February 18, 2010


As each week of mussar learning approaches, we anticipate getting together in our vaads to receive the next lesson. There is always a sense of excitement, suspense and mystery. When we begin, we know we will be challenged to think deeper to uncover the hidden messages that are presented to us, by Rabbi Miller. At first glance, when the new text is presented, we see a lovely commentary based on various Torah sources. On the surface, the message is beautiful. And then... it happens. The hidden messages begin to unravel and reveal themselves. It is the back side of a tapestry that first appears as a confused mixture of cut threads and jumbled colors. Once it is revealed that the beauty actually lies on the other side, you turn it over only to discover a magnificent landscape, a view with intense dimension. So intense, that you feel as if you can enter it, walk along it's floral path and actually smell the flowers along the way.

So, it is with mussar learning. What seemed to be a simple lesson of the Torah is brought to life, in order for us to learn from and live with. The mysteries of mussar wisdom are revealed. The suspense disappears but the excitement continues. For now, we are presented with the challenge of bringing the lesson into our lives, daily and in all our inter-personal relationships.

So much is hidden. The only way it can be revealed is through the mussar wisdom of the Torah, directly from Hashem. Before Mussar, we were listening and learning but now, we are taking it to another level. The hidden is becoming revealed. Was it actually hidden or were we just unaware? With each new lesson, we become more aware of what was previously hidden. The wisdom is being revealed so that we can achieve a life of higher spiritual elevation, in all our interactions, and most especially, our interaction with Hashem.
As stated by Rabbi Yisrael Salanter,
"Without Mussar- Torah and Divine Service cannot be established."

One of the most rewarding aspects of Mussar learning is that we are presented with wisdom that tells us just how much "greatness," we are all capable of. Maybe something we were previously unaware of. We all admit we try our hardest and do our best. But, to have it revealed to us that we are truly Tzelem Elokim (created in the Image of Hashem) and because of this we can emulate Hashem's Ways.... this is truly a magnificent secret that has been disclosed. We all have a tremendous capacity to live to greater spiritual heights. And, we all have the potential to live closer to Hashem, just by knowing we are Created in His Image. First, we have to learn what that actually means and how to achieve it.

In the first lesson, The Temple Story, we realized self-awareness was what we lost. Since beginning the process, we have been journeying towards enlightened self-awareness. The discovery process has been exciting and enlightening. And.... surprisingly, unexpected.
This week, Rabbi Miller's unveils the most magnificent mussar secret of all...
how to create your own happiness.

Shammai said: "Greet every person with a cheerful countenance."
The greatest gift one person can give another is a cheerful countenance. A pleasant expression is a healing balm. Like the diverse benefits of the brilliant sun that shines forth with splendorous light and comforting heat, so too, a cheerful countenance is a radiant luminary that conveys a glowing light of love and warm rays of friendship.

In Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Devorah/Rabbi Moshe Cordovero) it says: "A person's face should always shine and he should receive everyone with a cheerful countenance. " As it is written, "In the light of the King's countenance is life..." (Mishlei 16:15).
In His radiant light, is the source of life.

In Hashem's radiant light is the source of life... that means that if we are created in His Image, we also have that light within us! When we smile- it's the light of our Tzelem Elokim. It is truly a life-giving force. Since we are created Tzelem Elokim, we too can inject life into others. Hashem's light is always constant, ours should be the same. Hashem's light is without judgment or criticism and whenever one looks upon His countenance, we will find only happiness, pleasantness and light. Our countenance should be the same. Since we are created in His Image, we also have His light within us that gives us the potential to give forth life to others.

So, how can we actually let our countenance radiate with this light? Here's the how-to! Get ready..... it's a physical to spiritual, complete- body to soul work-out.

1) HEAD: Practice humility. Lower your head and minimize your worth. Do not put yourself above others. Nothing should stop you from bestowing good upon those in need. Even though Hashem sustains His creations, from highest to lowest, he watches over them and shows compassion to all. Do good to all who require your goodness.
2) MIND: Never stop thinking good thoughts. Do not allow evil, severity or harshness to enter. No strange or irrelevant thoughts should enter one's mind. Let your mind contain nothing other than ... Torah, meditations on the greatness of Hashem and His acts of kindness and love.
3) EXPRESSION: One's expression should display no harshness. Emulate Divine Willingness, accepting everything. Even though certain people become angry, one should placate them with good will. Direct them with good will and wash over them with wisdom. This will cause the anger to subside. Gentle, loving words diffuse anger.
Based on the Mishneh: "Extend constant pleasantness to all of Hashem's creatures- for if a person is harsh towards others, he will not find favor from Above." Whoever is pleasing to all of Hashem's creations, that is a sign he is pleasing to Hashem. Who is pleasing to Hashem? The one who pleases others.
4) EARS: A person should not let listen to anything but good and positive things. Do not let a despicable word enter your ears.
5) EYES: A person's eye should be distant from noticing evil. Rather, be compassionate and always look at the good.
6) BREATH: Never breathe a single breath of anger. Each breath should only contain life, good will and patience. Even to those who are unworthy. Seek to please others and revive the broken-spirited. Do not be angry with those who offend you. Exhale forgiveness. Constantly be willing to be appeased. Desire pleasing others and kindness.
7) FACE: Smile! It's the light of Hashem within you. It's a life-giving force! Never let anger or severity enter. Let your face consistently and constantly show only joy and cheerfulness. Let nothing deter you from this.* (see true story below)
8) MOUTH: Let your words speak only good. No ugly words, anger or curses should ever escape. Speak well of everything. Constantly expressing benevolence and blessings.

* During one of the vaads, a woman questioned, "how is it possible to always be happy and smile?" Another woman (a breast cancer survivor) answered, "It is possible. Everyday when I woke up (during her illness), no matter how terrible, exhausted or nauseous I felt, all I asked Hashem for... was to never take away my smile. For my husband, my children and for me."

Sounds impossible, doesn't it? But, when you realize the tremendous responsibility we have to everyone we come in contact with, we become aware that each one of us has unlimited potential to give forth life, through the light of Hashem. It's something we all possess. We each have a potential for greatness. We have the blessing and the capacity to do so because we are Tzelem Elokim. We are constantly striving to strengthen ourselves to shine our radiant light towards others, as Hashem is constantly and consistently shining His radiant light upon us.
(Based on Tomer Devorah)

Notice how the text starts out, "Shammai said..." How interesting that it was said by Shammai. Even though he was considered the strict and stern one when it came to disrespect of Torah, he knew the importance of a smile and cheerful countenance.

Our mussar task is to greet everyone with happiness. Before we do, we must first learn how to be happy with ourselves. Let's pull it all together with these 3 powerful points.

They are the basis for how to create one's own happiness:
1) Know that Hashem loves you with Infinite Love, goodness and kindness.
2) Remember always and know that you are Tzelem Elokim (Created in His Image). With the light of Hashem within us, each one of us has a great capacity to light up the world.
3) As Hashem loves all His creations, so too, should you also love all His creations.
We are all Tzelem Elokim.

Write Tzelem Elokim (as well as these 3 points) on an index card.
Keep it in front of you and look at it often.

There is nothing more vital to the well-being of others than our sincere effort to greet them with a cheerful countenance- regardless of our mood, even if you are not particularly fond of the person. If we do, we will strengthen them in heart, spirit and soul. Like a person giving blood to another person in need, infusing one's body with a life-giving force, we all have the power. It's no longer hidden. The secrets have been revealed.

May Hashem bless you with His Radiant Light as you shine your radiant light upon others.

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.

photo: Birkat HaChama/Jerusalem/April 2009
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