Thursday, April 15, 2010

THIRST FOR WISDOM

Pesach has passed and hopefully it was a meaningful time for you. We are back on our regular weekly schedule after not meeting for three weeks. Taking time off from the vaads always gives us the opportunity to appreciate the value of Mussar wisdom in our lives. Without consistent learning, we experience a difference. Our balance is off. We feel a little shaky.We feel a yearning and we thirst for more.

If you are someone who travels to or lives in Israel, you are fully aware of the need to stay hydrated and how quickly one can become dehydrated. We are told by our friends, relatives, tour guides and taxi drivers, "Drink, drink, drink lots of water." It always fascinates me that we have to be told to drink. The body doesn't inform us that it needs water until we begin to dehydrate. At that point, it's usually too late.

Our body constantly sends us messages. We feel hungry, tired, hot or cold. We respond appropriately in order to maintain good health. From this, we feel stable and in balance. Not so with water. We have to be reminded to drink. We receive no message from the body until the process of dehydration has begun. At that point, it's hard to catch up. We immediately try to fill ourselves up with enough water to satisfy the physical need so we don't become ill. In order to maintain proper balance and good health, we have to keep ourselves filled with enough fluid, before we know we need it because we want to feel balanced and stable. We know how good it feels to feel good.

What about our soul? Is it like the need for water, a hidden thirst we don't know we have until we feel out of balance? Like water nourishes the body, Mussar nourishes the soul. It is a hidden thirst but, once you satisfy it, you never neglect it. You always thirst for more. Your constant thirst reminds you. Mussar is a never-ending fountain of wisdom that keeps nourishing our souls. It sustains us. It keeps us balanced. Once you begin, you thirst for it constantly. You can't live without it. No one has to remind you to drink from the fountain. Your soul reminds you.
It's time to drink ....

From PIRKEI AVOS/THE ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS 2:1, we learn,
Rebbi said: What is the upright path that a person should choose? Whatever brings dignity to himself and earns him the esteem of his fellow men."
How does one bring dignity to himself and at the same time earn the esteem of his fellow men? Someone may think their accomplishments or achievements bring them dignity. Or maybe the way a person lives his life brings him to self-respect, honor and worth. But, we don't always behave the same way in every situation and in all our relationships. If you know what brings you dignity does that mean that you live by it? Does it mean you live on an upright path? These different aspects don't seem in sync.

Mussar learning gives us the upright path. It is clear, defined and totally in sync. It is a path that guides us. There is no longer doubt. It is obvious. Even though, our attempts to conduct ourselves on the path are not always successful; there is great comfort in knowing the path to strive for. That is definitely, crystal clear.

If we are able to inculcate the lessons, internalize them and live by them our life becomes focused. We try not to deviate from the path, always striving to focus on our goal. It has to become who we are, not what we do. This is what brings us dignity. When we act in a dignified manner, we earn the esteem of others.

Become who we are, not what we do.
There are actions that are sincere and actions that are not sincere. Insincere actions do serve a purpose. There are many times we have to do something we don't really want to do, yet we know it's the right thing to do and it must be done. We do the right thing insincerely. And then, there are times we start out feeling insincere and suddenly begin to feel a turning of the heart. Sincerity starts to replace insincerity.

This lesson teaches us that when we can penetrate this wisdom into our being, it becomes who you are, not just how you act. Our essence is kindness, compassion and love. When the foundation of all our actions are rooted in our essence- we act according to our Tzelem Elokim (being created in the Image of HaShem). It is no longer just an act, it is tapping into and connecting to the core of our being, our Tzelem Elokim. This is our purpose and it is where we find our spiritual potential. Our spiritual role is to live in this constant flowing river of kindness, compassion and love for all of HaShem's creations. It is the foundation for all our actions. Then we fulfill our spiritual purpose, our actions elevate us spiritually. This is the place of joy, dignity and love that lies within us. It is also the place for Hashem within us.

Living on a mussar path means living connected to the essence of human excellence hidden within you. The wisdom of the lessons and practical application of the lessons, design a focused path for us that is rooted in excellence. When we live true to this path, it serves as the foundation for all our deeds. It affects our actions, thoughts and speech. From this, we become dignified.

We dignify ourselves through our behavior towards others. Instead of judging, criticizing and attacking with harsh words- which certainly does not dignify us- let the source of all your thoughts, words and deeds- be from kindness, compassion and love. And sometimes, we must even stretch ourselves farther by maintaining our dignity when someone else loses theirs. This is the foundation of human excellence. It is our essence. This is the primary principle we should live by. It is an upright path on which to live. It is a defined path that clearly steers us towards our destination so that we can understand our role in life in order to fulfill our purpose in every situation. It becomes who we are, not how we act.

This also connects us to the ever-present principle of the Torah...
"V'ahavta l'reacha kamocha" Love your neighbor, as you love yourself.
When we live on the upright path through the foundation of kindness, compassion and love towards others in all our situations- we are sincerely loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. When all of our conduct comes from our own goodness, we are acting with kindness, compassion and love towards others. We love ourselves as we experience the joy of living harmoniously aligned with our essence. We experience the calm from uniting our essence with our actions. We are loving ourselves. We then bestow this love on our neighbors, friends and relatives. The results is a peaceful lyrical flow of giving and receiving... all based in kindness, compassion and love.

AVODAH(TIKKUN)/Practical Application:
Now the mussar challenge is to figure out how to get on this upright path and how to stay there. Our task is to inculcate this lesson in order to bring dignity to ourselves through the kindness, compassion and love we bestow upon others. How do we begin?

1) Find your heart. It is filled with kindness, compassion and love. It is a direct link to your Tzelem Elokim.
Move away from negative thoughts; such as judgments, criticism or harsh words towards others. Instead of coming up with a long list of everything that is wrong with a person or situation, find the tender spot in your heart that wants to express your love. When you speak to someone, especially when trying to resolve a difficult situation, speak from your heart. It's where the truth lies. It touches someone else's heart.
2) Practice turning your thoughts around. All day, everyday. With everyone.
This is not just something that is occasional. This has to become you. It is already inside you. Now, you have to practice bringing it out in all your situations.
3) Realize this brings dignity to you.
If it appears that you are making another sacrifice for someone else to benefit from, realize you are the one that benefits most. When you act with kindness, compassion and love at all times, remember it's for your benefit.
4) Be aware that when you bring dignity to yourself- through kindness, compassion and love- others look at you with respect, value, honor and love. And you earn the esteem of others.
Often, we become so over-involved with our own feelings that we forget others are watching us; our children, our spouses, family members and associates. Take time to realize how you sound to others when you speak from your heart with kindness, compassion and love.
5) .....As well as in the eyes of HaShem.
If we act from our goodness- the foundation of kindness, compassion and love- we spiritually elevate ourselves. HaShem is present in our lives. As He is present in our thoughts (our holy intellect), our speech (our holy tongue/no lashon hara) and our actions (holy deeds/mitzvot living). We are able to fulfill our spiritual purpose and live to our potential. From this, we become a spiritual vessel ready to receive multiple blessings from Shemayim (Heaven).

May Hashem bless us to always walk on the upright path.
Blessings for a peaceful week based on kindness, compassion and love.




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