Monday, May 31, 2010

The Rambam's Formula for Change-Part II

Since Mussar is a personal excellence program that provides a specific method of character trait improvement based on Torah text, it's safe to assume that if you're reading this, you want to improve your character traits and that you are on a spiritual quest. Before we begin, it may be wise to take a moment and do a little soul-searching.

It may be time to ask ourselves the question... have we become complacent and learned to accept our limitations? How often do you find yourself saying, "that's just the way I am" or maybe, "I'm just too ____." You fill in the blank. Describe a character trait of yours that you have become accustomed to accepting, as part of who you are. Maybe, you are forgetful, disorganized or frequently late. Do you simply say, "That's who I am, I always forget something." Or it might be a little more serious, something that might cause discord in relationships, work situations or discontent within yourself. Arrogance, anger, critical comments, negative vision, inconsideration may be a few examples of behavior that might cause serious harm to oneself and to others. But, are we really willing to change? Do we hang on to old habits simply because "it's just who we are?" It may be easier to hang on to the past only because we're familiar with it. Often, we accept a specific trait because we just can't seem to let go of the past. We become bound, shackled and anchored down to past negative behavior. Sadly, we become comfortable with certain behaviors or situations, even if they cause us harm. And usually, change seems impossible... until now.

When we began our mussar journey, we enlisted in Basic Training, Boot Camp for the Soul.
We made a commitment to it and we were sticking with it. Even if the lessons got too tough to handle. Even if we felt we couldn't hold it together for another second when we needed to PAUSE. Even though we wanted to let loose with words we knew we'd regret. Even if we had to apologize too many times for not being compassionate or kind enough. We made a commitment to change. And we aren't going to quit.

We enlisted in Mussar Boot Camp. The Torah is our drill sergeant and Hashem is our General. We made a committment and we are going to do everything we have to do by following His orders to improve our spiritual ranking.

In Mussar Boot Camp, we have to be able to look at ourselves and admit that we will no longer be complacent and simply accept our old ways. We now know more about being the best we can be. Our goal is to give it our all, in all situations-24/7. We can no longer believe "that's just the way I am" as an acceptable answer. We are determined and certain that we can be better. Our thoughts are less judgmental, our words are kinder and our actions are more mitzvot-based. We are serious and we are committed.

As with all sincere hard work, the benefits come flowing as a result of it. One of the many benefits has been a heightened sense of awareness of ourselves. Just okay is no longer okay, or acceptable. We have a higher standard to strive for. Our perspective has changed. Our path is directed, stable and grounded. When times get tough, we have a solid foundation to hold on to. Change becomes possible. In fact, it's our constant reality. A strict daily exercise routine of mussar lessons, according to the Torah as it is coming directly from Hashem is making positive transformation a part of our reality. We are already reaching new spiritual heights.

The first step in basic training is starting over.
We have to become fresh, vibrant and new.
We have to clean the slate of the past.
Whatever used to be, whatever we thought about ourselves- no longer exists.
The exact method for doing so is revealed to us in this week's text.

The Rambam teaches us (from the Talmud) that certain changes can nullify a decree. One is a name change. There are times when a person has to change a name in order to change his mazal. Sometimes, a person changes his name to change the way he views himself. For instance, people change their name to feel more mature. Or someone may change their name to their Hebrew name to connect with their nishama. But, one doesn't always have to literally change his name so that he can make a new start. The Rambam teaches us simply by declaring yourself as new is enough to make you a new person. Ani acher=I am different. I am a different person. I am not the same person I used to be. As simple as it is, the declaration of being new, that in itself, makes us new. We can emerge as new, if we learn to look at ourselves as new.

The sincerity to change, that alone, is enough to change a judgment. Regret of the past cleans the slate and erases the past. Hashem created this pathway for us to liberate ourselves. (This is certainly evident on Yom Kippur). Our task is to stay on the path and commit to it with sincerity.

If we want to start over with basic training and continue on to higher spiritual ranks, we must first, and always start with the positive perspective. Our job is to imbue ourselves with positive actions. This diffuses the negativity of the past. If we don't start with the positive first, we become overwhelmed and we won't be able to overcome our struggles. Negativity breeds negativity and then we can't extricate ourselves from the past. Even if our efforts may seem small and we live in a world with many challenges, every little step we take is a step in the right direction.. a spiritual direction. Hashem rewards us for our efforts, even if they are small.

The exercises that train us daily are tefillah (prayer), tzedaka (charity), teshuva (repentance), Torah study and mitzvot. This daily work-out constantly trains the physical body to do spiritual acts. These acts elevate our spiritual ranking and get us closer to the Highest in Command, HaKadosh BaruchHu.

If we follow this daily regimen we can change our spiritual chemistry. When we become new, we are a different person, we separate from the past, nullify decrees and re-claim our true essence, our soul.

Mussar basic training is not for the soul. Our soul is pure and holy. It's the physical level that needs to be re-trained. Through the daily regimen, we can achieve spiritual rewards. By seeing our own spiritual potential, by not becoming complacent and submitting to negative traits as acceptable, we can enhance our spiritual quest in ways we could never have dreamed of.

May Hashem strengthen us and continue to spiritually elevate us to higher ranks.
Blessings for a beautiful week.

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