Monday, December 27, 2010

BABY STEPS

Mystical events occur when one studies kabbalah. If you are spiritually aware, the moment the lesson for the week is finished, the opportunity to put it into action appears. Maybe it means that we are ready to receive the test and pass it, even if we don't know that we can. Life is full of tests. Those are the times that challenge us to behave in a way we can't possibly imagine. However, it seems that we can achieve more than we think we can.
Kabbalah tells us we are ready, mussar tells us how.

Spiritual performance tests should not come as a surprise. We are deeply involved in the study of Tomer Devorah, a Kabbalistic text. We should expect nothing less than a mystical spiritual experience to follow. All that is required... is spiritual vision to see Hashem's presence in all that occurs.

When a father stands in front of his one year old baby, he coaxes her with confidence to reassure her that she is capable of taking the next step. The father knows what the baby does not know. He is certain that she is physically developed and ready to start taking steps towards walking independently. Her mind isn't filled with history and doubt telling her she can't move forward. She struggles with each step, unsure of her abilities. Seeing her strong father reaching out his hands to her- is all she needs to know that the time is right- and that she is ready to make the next move.

So too, Hashem stands in front of us. He reaches out his hand to persuade us to take the next step. We stand still, unable to move, looking and waiting for encouragement. We need to believe that the next step is possible. He must know we are ready, even though we do not. Our minds may be filled with history and doubt, giving us reasons to hesitate. But as long as we know... Hashem is there to catch us if we fall, we can feel confident in knowing that we do have the strength to take the next step. If He believes we are ready..... than we are.

Tomer Devorah has been the Hand of Hashem, standing in front of us, coaxing us with certainty- telling us to believe what we previously imagined, as impossible- is actually within our reach. The text is teaching us to believe that we are ready... to take the next step. We are spiritually developed enough and He knows we can make the next move. Each lesson seems an impossible task. With the wobbling instability of a year old child, feeling the weight of our feet holding us back, we attempt to lift our heavy feet. We may wobble, we may fall, but once we decide to make the move-the next step comes- as long as we are remember to look for His hands.

(An explanation of Tomer Devorah and the first five Attributes were in the previous blog)
Tomer Devorah teaches the Attributes of Hashem's Mercy and how to emulate His ways in our interpersonal relationships. Rabbi Miller teaches us (through the p'ula/exercise) how to actually make it happen in our lives.

Attribute 6: For He delights in kindness. Hashem delights in the kindness that one Jew shows another, even though, from another point of view, that person may seem unworthy.
Emulation: A person should emulate this attribute in his own conduct. Even if one is aware that another person is doing him evil, and this angers him, if that person has some redeeming quality, this should be enough reason to let go of his anger and find the other person pleasing. Hashem delights in our kindness.
P'ula: To take this step, we must learn to "pause" by taking a moment to think of some redeeming quality in the other person. Instead of giving in to the desire to take revenge, PAUSE... find a redeeming quality, desire kindness and recognize the goodness in others. Then, the giant step comes from delighting in this kindness.

Attribute 7: He will again show us compassion (through teshuva). If a person sins and afterwards repents, his stature before Hashem is even greater than it was before. He will show greater compassion because teshuva brings a person closer to Hashem. Teshuva is the vehicle of attachment and closeness to the Shechinah. Performing teshuva after committing a sin is the highest level of connecting to Hashem.
Emulation: This is how a person should behave towards others. He should not fester in the hatred of anger. Rather, when he sees that others desire friendship and forgiveness, he should show even greater compassion and love than before.
P'ula: Do not hold onto negative feelings and animosity of the conflict. When a person wants to work out a problem, pull him close with love. Have mercy, compassion and care even more than what previously existed before. Immediately act with forgiveness and know that your actions awaken rachamim in Shemayim.

Attribute 8: He will vanquish our iniquities. Transgressions do not prevail before Hashem as the commandments do. Our sins do not have access to enter before Hashem. There is no evil in His presence. Good deeds (mitzvot) come before Him and for those He gives rewards.
Emulation: Vanquish the evil of others, erase it from your memory and abandon it so that only his good qualities will be visible to you. Remember the good and intensify it over all evil actions of others. Turn a blind eye to his faults as much as possible, just as Hashem does, in vanquishing our iniquities.
P'ula: Just as He does not see our misdeeds, so too should we, dismiss the misdeeds of others and only look for the good. Dismiss them and take the negativity out of your heart towards another person. Do not allow a single negative thought to enter. WIPE AWAY ALL NEGATIVE THOUGHTS FROM YOUR HEART. The negative voice is loud. Develop the spiritual muscle to turn down the volume of the negative voice. Overpower, conquer and defeat the negativity. Magnify the good and focus on it, have mercy for what they have done. Positive vision awakens positive vision in others.

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Here are two aspects in the transformation process of character trait improvement.

1)Thoughts: How you view others determines the quality of your life. What goes on in your mind (when deciding how to behave in your interpersonal relationships) is the very beginning of the process. Often you have to be the initiator of compassion, loving kindness and merciful ways. Your thoughts must be rooted in compassion, mercy and love. Being able to even think with kindness, compassion and love towards someone who has not been kind to you, can be an awesome and challenging task. However, this is when the actual birth of character trait improvement takes place. Give birth to thoughts of love. Steer all your thoughts onto the path of kindness, compassion, and love. Do not allow a single negative thought to enter.

2) Actions: Emulate His ways. Follow through with your actions. This is the time to make it happen. As the opportunities come at you- which allow you to spiritually grow, closer to yourself (your essence) and to Hashem- emulating His ways is the action to take. If there is no action, there will be no change. Everything will be the same. Character trait improvement is a process of action.

Look at these three attributes and take them as a baby takes her first steps. Wobbly and stumbling through the unknown, be confident in knowing that Hashem is there in front of you, believing in you and knowing that you are ready... and if you fall...
He's there to catch you and lift you up.

Mussar is the daily study of character trait improvement. It is a practice that must never be forgotten. If it is neglected, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) suddenly appears and immediately enters. Daily mussar study wards off the attack of the yetzer hara.

"Our world is a world of transformation. When we are improving and refining ourselves, we are in concert with the Divine plan- fulfilling our purpose for existing in this world." (Ohr Yisrael p.38)

May the emulation of Hashem's attributes, awaken His rachamim in Shemayim.








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