Sunday, January 27, 2013




Note: Thanks to one of my reader’s comments, an important point was brought to my attention. Since a blog is a small summary of a very detailed profound lesson, it is difficult to cover all aspects of Rabbi Miller’s teachings onto one page. (That’s why I wrote a book). The comment was related to “boundaries” with difficult people. As with all mussar lessons, it is of the utmost importance to understand that while developing the trait of compassion, especially when dealing with difficult people, a person must always maintain healthy personal boundaries. These can sometimes be difficult to define. However, abuse of any kind, is never acceptable. One must seek professional help in situations of abuse, verbal or physical.

This lesson is entitled “ Beyond the Self.” How is it possible to go beyond our selves? Should we? And when? The message of self-preservation has been ingrained into us. Take care of yourself first, speak up, let it out! If not, we will be harming ourselves. Ironically, this has proven to be ineffective and counter-productive. In our efforts to take care of ourselves, we often harm others, mostly the ones we love. 

If we are not beyond our selves, we are in our selves- we are all EGO. 

The mystical magical wisdom of Mussar brings forth a secret, one that is opposite to what we previously believed.  The secret to happiness and peace is in learning to develop the trait of ‘COMPASSION, “ thinking of others before we think of ourselves.

Psychological barriers have trapped us into believing otherwise.

Personally, I have had many opportunities to put this lesson to use. Someone I was involved with had an extremely challenging time dealing with frustration. When attempting to tackle a new task that required repetitive efforts to achieve results, he/she was triggered into juvenile behavior, similar to the temper tantrum of a child. Of course, my instant response was to get hooked into it. I became angry, judgmental, and negative. My heart was pounding. I could feel myself boiling inside.

When I put this lesson to use; I was able to PAUSE, to take a break, to walk away, move my body and my mind away from getting trapped into more negativity and anger. And… I also give the angry person a chance to do the same. When I pause, I have a chance to think, to steer my thoughts into a healthier direction- to a compassionate place, instead of a judgmental one.

Two options are in front of me:
1    1)  Fight back! This appears in my words or my thoughts. My out-loud responses to someone else’s anger only causes more anger, in both of us… OR I take the silent path. My silent “fight back” thoughts are also harmful to me, and my relationships. I start the “negative label” process that sounds something like… “You are so ____ , you do ____ every time, when are you going to stop that??!!”  By that time, my anger is out of control. Misery enters my body and my mind.

2   2)  PAUSE… Remain silent… at least, temporarily. Trying to hold back my initial “fight back” comment is a major challenge, (even though I know I am better off when I do, and so is the other person).  Learning to not respond is extremely difficult. BUT… because I am student of Mussar, I have the knowledge of the wisdom within me. When I PAUSE, I have a chance to let that wisdom rise up from my subconscious mind and enter my conscious mind. Suddenly, it all makes sense. Instead of negative labels- the “YOU” messages that I think related to the other person’s lesser traits- Mussar wisdom allows me to turn my focus around, by accessing the trait of COMPASSION within me.

When I mastered this trait, this is what my COMPASSION sounded like:
“He just can’t do any better at this time. This is harder for him than it is for me. When he acts like that, I know he is hurting. He is suffering. I pray that Hashem blesses him with the ability to overcome this challenge and grow from it so that he can be happy and successful in life.”

It is a constant effort for me. My initial negative response is a powerful one. It is the work of the yetzer hara, but my compassion is stronger, overpowering it.

Our sages teach us that when you and your friend both are in need of the same blessing -- such as health or livelihood -- if you pray for your friend before you pray for yourself, your prayer will be answered first. Why is that? Most people begin their prayers thinking, "I’m going to pray for myself.’ This is because we not have yet attained the awareness that we are one- a whole family. If we approach prayer with the awareness that we are one super-soul-- we understand that my pain and my friend’s pain are exactly the same. 

When I pray for my friend first, Hashem says, “Ah! This person has broken the psychological barrier. He’s burst out. He’s not a person who’s looking at his own perspective, looking just for his own self, but he can go beyond and love other people because he understands the reality that we are one family. Hashem says, “That’s what I’ve been waiting for.”

This is the secret that’s going to rebuild the Beis HaMikdosh. All teshuvas, all redemptions are rooted in this idea. And the Tomer Devorah is telling us, there in black and white: When Hashem sees us loving other people and not just acting from the vantage point of self, but opening up the love for everybody... “Ve’ahavta le’ ray-eyacha kamocha,” we’re able to push back the curtain and see every Jew with an open heart and love all of them, that’s the window to redemption because we begin to recognize the eternal value and worth that’s in every Jewish person. Each one of us is a luminary, a sun that can light up the entire universe, that is our real essence. This will be revealed by Moshiach when he comes. 

Of course, this is obvious in our close relationships, families and friends but my greatest pleasure in feeling "the oneness of connected souls" is when I travel on airplanes, restaurants, or go to public places where strangers come together. When meeting another Jewish person (someone I do not know), the connection of our souls always brings me great joy. As one of our vaad members stated that as a Spanish Sephardic Jewish woman she could sit next to a stranger on a plane, maybe a Russian Ashkenazi woman and take comfort in feeling the connection of their souls. Once when I was getting off from a domestic flight on the way to a connecting flight to Israel, a woman approached me and asked me in Hebrew, if I was also going to Israel (I guess she could tell by the way I was dressed). She asked if I could help her get to the connecting flight because she did not speak English and did not know where to go. Answering her in my broken Hebrew, I said "Bevidei, of course." We stayed together like old friends until we arrived at the connecting flight where there were real Hebrew speakers who greeted her as if it was a pre-planned family reunion. It is amazing to see it when it happens!

Daily we struggle with feeling the "oneness" that surrounds us, if we open our eyes and hearts to see it. The Jewish family is one great super-soul, all inclusive. It is natural to love ourselves (the Alter of Kelm), it is intuitive. We have to learn to love others the same. It is our greatest emulation of Hashem, when we do, we fulfill the mitzvah of loving others the same as we love ourselves.

P'ula (homework to integrate the lesson into our lives):
1) Reflect on other people; their needs, pain and hardship.
2) Envision yourself connecting to the great super-soul of Klal Yisrael. Experience the achdus, the unity, love, holiness and closeness to Hashem.
3) Pray for someone else before you pray  for yourself.

When we do, we emulate Hashem, as well as open up to the trait of COMPASSION within ourselves. This allows us to achieve greater levels of inner peace in our own lives and in our relationships.

To be discussed in future lessons: Accountability, amends, and helping others to learn.

May Your compassion be awakened for Your holy people. May our compassion be awakened for our holy people.

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