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Displaying items by tag: self evaluation Riverton Mussar - a wellspring for ethical change. Our vision is to build a physical and virtual community devoted to good character in relationships through the integration of Torah, Besorah(Gospels), and Jewish Tradition. http://rivertonmussar.org Sun, 18 Mar 2018 22:59:02 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb humility: what it isn't http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/calmness/item/470-humility-what-it-isnt http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/calmness/item/470-humility-what-it-isnt

art-goldaGolda Meir once said, "Don’t be so humble; you’re not that great." Humility is a quality we love to see in others, and we try to feign in ourselves, but I'm not sure what passes as humility is actually humility.

I've seen too many people act humble, but it's not much more than an act. This is particularly true among religious people. If you compliment someone, they vehemently refuse to accept the compliment, instead telling you, it's not them, its God. After a while, I get tired of hearing someone say, "no... it's not me, it's the Lord." I wish people would just learn how to accept a compliment and say, "thank you." There is nothing wrong with people appreciating you or something you have done. It doesn't rob God of His Glory to have people be appreciative of you or some skill you have. Not accepting a compliment is not humility, its more of social awkwardness.

The opposite is also true. I don't like being around people who are so full of themselves that any compliment given is absorbed by their tremendous ego. What people call humility is no more than the other side of the spectrum: They either have a big ego, or a damaged ego. Both problems come from the same wrong behavior. They compare themselves with other people.

When I was a much younger person, I used to compare myself with others, and it had devastating effects on my ego. I saw people who were taller than me, smarter than me, better looking than me, and/or richer than me. Whenever I compared myself with others, I felt inferior, and I acted that way. People mistook it for humility, but it was a bad self-image.

As I got older, I began to realize my poor self-image was based on wrong things. When I was in High School, I asked my guidance counselor about the results of my IQ test and was told that it was 95, a bit below normal. I labored for the next fifteen years under the assumption that I had below normal intelligence. I did well in college and grad school without over exerting myself with study, but figured I was pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. When I was working on my doctoral degree, I had a friend who kept calling me a genius. I angrily told him to stop calling me that because I only had a 95 IQ. He burst out laughing and said there had to be a mistake, because he thought I was brilliant. When I accused him of mocking me, he proceeded to point out that I had the highest grades in our class and I was studying the least. I began to see that I was laboring under a wrong understanding, and that I was not less intelligent than others. Maybe I had a bad day when I took that test. Maybe the guidance counselor was an anti-Semite. In any case, I was not pulling the wool over everyone's eyes, just my own.

Real humility does not come from comparing ourselves with other people. There will always be people with more or less than us. People are what they are, and they should be appreciated for what they are. Real humility comes from comparing ourselves with the standards God set forth in his Torah. God does not ask us to compare ourselves with others, only with our own potential. Are we the best version of ourselves we can be?

A truly humble person is someone who knows they are created and loved by God. They understand that the world does not revolve around them, and they are to live their lives in submission to Him.   It was with this understanding that we should understand Moses saying he was the most humble man on the face of the earth. He wasn't bragging about it, but saying he understood quite well who he was in relation to God.  In other words, when someone is genuinely humble, they are submitted to a life of Torah, and people can see the love of God in them. It's not about refusing compliments, but about treating people with kindness and love. It's about letting people see the life of Yeshua in our lives. This is true humility.

daily living Mon, 09 May 2011 08:00:00 +0000
self-triage first http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/calmness/item/405-self-triage-first http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/calmness/item/405-self-triage-first

art-firstaidWhy is it that you see the speck in the eye of your brother, but the log that is in your eye, you do not notice? How can you tell your brother, “Permit me, and I will remove the speck from your eye,” and hinneh, the log is in your eye? Hypocrite, remove first the log from your eye, and afterward, you will surely see to remove the speck from the eye of your brother. --Matthew 7:3-5, DHE

When I read a passage like this, I regret with all my heart that I did not live during the time that Mashiach walked the earth and taught this. This is chutzpah.

But the challenge is relevant to all of us today. Imagine an emergency situation, where chaos is everywhere and help is desperately needed. Can you imagine someone who is in dire straits helping someone whose life is hanging by a thread? Performing surgery? Giving medical advice with a clear head? No way. But yet, we have people in similar social situations who do this all the time. People who are almost as incapable feel it's their divine calling to help others and give poor advice or criticism.

Mashiach Yeshua gives a clear exhortation to first fix ourselves. We need to find the obvious things that are blinding us, impairing us, and remove them. We have no jurisdiction in other people's lives if we first don't get our act together and perform some very serious triage on the things that are glaring in our own lives, whether they be social or soul-oriented. You can't see clearly when you have something in your eye, so how can you help someone else?

order as rescue

There is a profundity in what Yeshua is speaking to us about having clear vision. It has as much to do with order as it does with safety. Anyone who has had an eyelash or something else lodged in one's eye knows how difficult it is to function normally. It takes only a small particle to impair our vision. While in this state, any driving, walking, or activity goes right out the window. Not only are we unable to function with that eye, but we feel unable to compensate even with our other eye. Sometimes it can be quite dramatic and we are incapacitated until we remove the object. Imagine, while going through that temporary timeout if we had to help someone in a significant way. Simply put, it would be ineffective. We might be smashing into walls, other cars, or fumbling all the way.

Not only is taking the particle out of our eye good for others, it benefits us as well. Yeshua is speaking of the middah of order. First things first, already! In his day, there were no doubt people like we see in our own day — people who want to help others but need to remove the obstacles in their own lives first in order to be truly effective. By removing our own obstacles, we keep ourselves first from peril, so then we can prevent or help others who might be in peril.

thinking of self as a means to helping other

Out here in the Northwest, we have a daunting mountain range called the Cascades. It is glorious, breathtaking, and also dangerous. We have many who dare to climb the various mountain peaks and take in the sights and the heights. But every now and then, unfortunate souls are victims of circumstance. It is then that the rescue crews are brought in with the hope of saving those souls in need. However, from time to time, the weather is uncooperative and threatens the very life of the rescuer. What to do? The rescuer must wait. If the rescuer goes in with little regard for the danger at hand, then not only is the life of the rescuer in danger, but the very mission itself. Someone who is in the best possible state can only be a help; if there is any form of blindness, danger or impediment in the way, anyone trying to help will be hindered and most likely fail. This is tragedy not only for one person, but for all those involved.

This order of thinking of one's self first is not a form of selfishness. In fact, it is dealt out by Yeshua as being wisdom. By forcing ourselves to function in order, in the best possible spiritual/mental/physical health, we can help others around us in the proper way. And not only that, we can help others continously. By understanding our limitations and taking heed, we can be sure we have a life that is capable of helping others and that is grounded in health.

get in shape

As you contemplate order this week and wonder how you can better yourself, start by honestly looking at what could be the "logs" in your eye. What are the elements that keep you from seeing clearly, that impede your ability to be useful? Identify this week the clutter in your eye, your life, and your spirit. When you can find what keeps you from having clarity, agility and proper perspective, then you can truly help yourself first and then those around you. Look inside....what are you waiting for? Bring order and clarity to your life....others depend on it.


Gospel references taken from Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels (DHE)®, © Copyright Vine of David 2010. Used by permission.

besorah Sun, 16 Jan 2011 04:09:18 +0000
fix yourself and save the world http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/calmness/item/333-fix-yourself-and-save-the-world http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/calmness/item/333-fix-yourself-and-save-the-world

art-maskFor thus we find in the case of Cain, who killed his brother, that it is written:  the bloods of your brother cry unto me: not the blood of your brother, but the bloods of your brother, is said i.e., his blood and the blood of his [potential] descendants.  (Alternatively, the blood of your brother, teaches that his blood was splashed over trees and stones.) For this reason was man created alone, to teach you that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world. --Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a

We all know the drill every time we fly:  we have to listen to the common shpiel from the stewards.  Yes, you must place the oxygen mask on yoursef before you assist others.  Ever wonder why?  Well, I am sure you have figured it out:  you can't save others if you first don't save yourself.  This is a principle which is found throughout Judaism and the world as well. So why do we try to help others when we aren't well or truly able? 

What we are confronted with is making sure that we are operating at maximum capacity.  If we are not able to service ourselves, what good are we to those around us?  If we aren't functioning to the best of our ability, then we are shirking righteousness.  Our brothers' blood is spilling around us and we don't even have the means to help because we are stuck.  Whether we like it or not, we are accomplices to failure and tragedy around us.  When we turn the other way on our own inadequacies, we are turning away from our brothers' as well.

Hillel says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" --Talmud, Avot 1:14

So how concerned are we to help those around us?  How concerned are we with the love of our neighbor and righteousness?  If we don't help ourselves, how can we help others? Not only must we help our neighbor, but it is also incumbent upon us to help ourselves.  And now - not when (later).

In the Mussar classic, The Path of the Just, Rabbi Luzzatto addresses the responsibility we have to be of assistance to our fellow.

The second of these two [fundamentals of piety], concerning man's relationship with his fellowman, deals with the measure of benevolence that a person should always bestow upon others, while at the same time he must ensure that no harm befalls them through him.  This applies to their physical, financial, and spiritual well-being.

With reference to ther physical well-being, one must endeavor to assist all people as much as possible and to ease their plight.  This is what we have been taught (Pirkei Avot 6:6): "And to share the burden of his fellow." And if he can prevent any bodily harm that threatens another person (or eliminate it [after it has materialized]), he must exert himself to do so.

One should give financial assistance to another person as far as one's resources allow, and in whatever way possible he should prevent any harm from befalling him. --Rabbi Chaim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just, Chapter 19

It is clear from this excerpt by Rabbi Luzzatto that our fellow's plight is of prime importance to us.  But what underlies the ability for us to be able to help?  If our fellow's physical, spiritual and financial well-being are the concerns, then in order to help this passage assumes we have the ability. We can't imagine helping someone in financial need if our very own finances are a disaster or we don't even have work. If we are not spiritual beings, how can we tell someone we will pray on their behalf?  If we are not taking care of ourselves physically and are usually unavailable due to sickness or chronic ailments, then how can we help a neighbor with a home project? 

This is not only irresponsible but foolishness.  We are obligated to be fit and ready.  And not only that, levels of procrastination in the mission to be ready bring guilt upon us when situations befall our neighbor and we are not available. Our excuses are not righteousness - they are merely a mask for laziness, disregard and apathy.   As the quote above states, whoever saves a life is credited with saving a world.  How many worlds could we save on a daily basis from the acts of righteousness that we could perform if only we were able or willing?  And how many worlds will be lost because we didn't step in when necessary?

I have a sign above the last step of our stairway reaching the main floor in our home.  It says, "Seize the Day."  Simple enough.  But whoa, what a tall order.  For to truly seize the day, we must ask ourselves who will be for us, who we shall be for and when! As we contemplate righteousness, the seed to grow true righteousness in the world resides within all of us.  But we first must take the "oxygen".  We must take upon ourselves the task of setting ourselves right in every capacity.  If we make sure we are spiritually, physically and financially fit, only then can we truly empower others to be all that they can be and be there in their time of need.  We will save not only our souls, but also the world - many times over.

What are you waiting for?  Seize the day - for you, and then for others. 

mesorah Thu, 11 Nov 2010 19:21:15 +0000
humility as honesty http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/calmness/item/330-humility-as-honesty http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/calmness/item/330-humility-as-honesty

art-dalifneiThe Hebrew word for humility is anavah Anavah denotes balance; a moderate, accurate understanding of ourselves. 

When we have conceit, we fill a room with our enormous presence when we enter.  There is no room for anyone else, there is no space for anyone to flourish.

When we are self-deprecating and degrade ourselves, we lack proper humility as well.  We are a wallflower and cannot be found in a room.  Our potential almost ceases to exist as we view our gifts and abilities as useless.

In order to gain a proper perspective of who we are, we need to be honest with ourselves. We have to express through our behaviors and actions that we are not more than we are, and we are not less than we truly are.

As a means of keeping a more balanced perspective of self, practice this simple meditation in action if find your humility starting to falter:

As you are in the presence of another person, whether in conversation or activity, take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing brings oxygen to your brain and helps clear the mind. Continue breathing in a focused manner.

Focus on the verse "Know before whom you stand."

While this verse is typically used to bring us before Hashem in humility and induce proper kavanah (focus) for prayer, it can also help us to guard ourselves in front of others—for they too are made in the image of Hashem.

Concentrate on this verse as you engage in your interactions with others. As you are meditating on this verse in the recesses of your mind, gently analyze your behavior in this interaction.

How is your humility unbalanced?  Are you overbearing?  Are you listening well?  Are you gracious?  Are your ideas, feelings, etc., more important than this person's?  Or are you always fading into the background, not acting in the fullness that you are able to in the relationship?  Do you always yield?  Do you consider yourself to have nothing to add?

"Know before whom you stand."  Consider why you are acting this way before this person. Hold this awareness of imbalanced humility before you and recognize that this person is in the image of G-d. This individual deserves a more balanced, humble you.

Continue to be aware of all aspects of your humility as you are in the presence of this person.  As you depart from one another, what can you take away as "homework"?  What do you need to work on to express proper humility before this person the next time you have an encounter?

What this exercise will have achieved for you is mental focus, awareness of your behavior, and a moment to illustrate your necessary work with regard to humility. If you are able to have a better understanding of whom you stand before on this planet, you can better know Whom you stand before in the Heavens.

meditation Sun, 07 Nov 2010 02:35:38 +0000
humility as revelation http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/calmness/item/327-humility-as-revelation http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/calmness/item/327-humility-as-revelation

art-shoulderThe Baal Shem Tov once traveled with a group of his disciples to a distant village where there lived a certain parush (ascetic) who was constantly engaged in Torah study, prayer, and other divine service, to the exclusion of everything else. He was totally indifferent to worldly affairs. Whenever he uttered any words of Torah, he added, "So I received it from Elijah the Prophet." He was also an exceptional teacher who possessed a remarkable ability to clarify a complex Torah topic for anyone to whom he spoke, even the simplest person. Who could be more exalted?

In the same village, there dwelt a simple, uneducated laborer, who skinned carcasses for a living, which is the smelliest and dirtiest occupation there is. Who could be more lowly? Yet, this man was sincerely pious and constantly recited psalms, ceasing only when he was working and his hands were unclean (it being forbidden to utter holy words amidst uncleanness).

The Baal Shem Tov took his disciples to visit the one-room home of this simple Jew. It was so small, it was really just a hut. When they entered, he told them to close their eyes and for each one to place his hand on his friend's shoulder, forming a circle. Then, the Besht began to sing a niggun. The disciples were transported into another world by the haunting melody, and a heavenly vision appeared before their eyes: The little hut was filled with divine light, and they were amazed that such a huge crowd of angels could fit into such a tiny room!

Then, the Besht took them to the home of the parush, and again asked them to shut their eyes and place a hand on a comrade's shoulder. Once again, he began to sing a niggun, but this time his disciples saw a hellish vision of countless snakes and scorpions. After they had left, the Baal Shem Tov explained to them what they had seen. "Although it’s written in the holy books that anyone-- even a servant or a maid-- who performs forty consecutive day-time fasts and totally separates himself from worldly affairs, will attain a revelation of Elijah, the sad truth is that someone can have a revelation of Elijah without having a revelation of his own soul. The snakes and scorpions you saw in the ascetic's home were the demonic forces created by his arrogance; they were sparks from the primordial Snake. Having heavenly visions, even of Elijah, is a lower spiritual level than having a revelation of your own soul, meaning that you are totally authentic and live from your deepest self, your divine soul. What could be more contrary to that, and more false, than pride?"

Later, when the Besht and his disciples returned to the home of the skinner and he served them a meal, the Besht told his disciples to listen carefully when their host made a blessing over the food, because his words, uttered with simple faith, split the firmaments and ascended straight to heaven.

After some time had passed and the simple man died, the Besht returned to that village with ten disciples to honor him by taking part in his burial.  -- exerpted from The Light and Fire of The Baal Shem Tov: The Parush and the Skinner by Yitzchak Buxbaum  

This story is quick to show the humility of the skinner and the illusion of humility of the parush. Many times we would like to think that those who are in denial of the world and constantly in prayer are the elite that Hashem regards highly.  Indeed, their prayers and deeds do bear merit.  However, there are many who reach high places and find Hashem and do not serve Hashem in this manner.  In fact, it is quite different. A person who is connected intimately through the land and its produce has a different prayer that rises up to the Creator - it is in the subsistence and abundance of the land that he finds the Divine.

The skinner was able to go about his day, giving psalms to Hashem in all moments possible.  While not formally seated at a table studying or praying, he was in the depths of holy living - infusing Hashem into every corner of his day through speech and deed.  And he did this without fasts and the revelation of Elijah.  His soul, in its glorious humility, sought to find his Creator, exalt him in his living, and passed from this world a tzaddik in his own right.

For us, this story speaks volumes.  While some of us might wish we had all day to study, speak, and rise to great heights, the truth of the matter is that we can all take the example of the skinner and run home with it.  We are sometimes given jobs which are not fantastic or include being immersed in the study of Torah on a daily basis - maybe we even struggle to get in the davenning time that we must as it is.  This story gives us hope because it is not in what we aren't but what we are that is our greatest attribute.  When we come to terms of our place in this world, relish in every moment given to us as an abundant and available moment to reach the Heavens, then we are truly fulfilling our potential  - no matter what our occupation.

Rise above what you aren't and be what you are.  Seek Hashem for the revelation of your own soul and be.

stories Thu, 04 Nov 2010 23:53:54 +0000