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Displaying items by tag: mourning 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 Mon, 19 Feb 2018 21:42:07 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb honoring Hashem's image http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/decisiveness/item/567-honoring-hashems-image http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/decisiveness/item/567-honoring-hashems-image

art-ivThe middah of honor is an essential part of “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which in turn is essential to the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and substance. If we don’t honor the people around us, can we really claim to honor the God who made them?


Honor looks beyond the outward circumstances and behavior of our fellow human beings to see the divine image in each one: “Every one a holy being.”  This understanding of human nature doesn’t seem to come to us easily. We’re ready to ignore, discredit, mock, and malign people around us, according to our own needs and prejudices.

Rachel, an elderly friend of ours, recently went into a serious decline, one that looked like it might be her last. She said she wasn’t afraid of dying, but made it very clear that she didn’t want to be left alone during the process. Since Rachel doesn’t have any family in town, my wife Jane spent the night and several hours the next day with her, until her niece arrived. After Rachel’s niece had been there for the afternoon, she needed to be spelled for a couple of hours to get something to eat, so I covered for her. When she came back to the hospital, she thanked me for taking the time to be with Rachel. I said, “It’s a mitzvah; it’s a privilege to sit with your aunt during this time.”

It really is a privilege to be with someone as they approach death, or to attend or conduct a funeral afterwards. In the presence of death, as all the outward trappings fall away—the small talk, the preoccupation with this or that problem, and even good things like energy and exuberance—we can often sense more clearly the holiness of the soul that had been obscured by all these things.

In a setting like this, we’d never think of dishonoring the other person. The point, however, is to recognize the holiness of the other person, regardless of appearances or circumstances to the contrary, before he or she reaches the final stages of life.

A Hasidic story tells of a prominent rabbi who was once riding into a shtetl when a notably ugly and misshapen Jewish man greeted him along the roadside. The rabbi, who must have been in an unusually bad mood, greeted the poor Jew with the words, “And are all the men of this village as ugly as you?” “I don’t know,” said the man. “You’ll have to take that up with the One who made me in his image.” The rabbi was immediately shamed and asked the man’s forgiveness.  (Paraphrased from Tales of the Hasidim, by Martin Buber.)

Honor—deference, respect, simple kindness—toward all whom we meet goes a long way toward fulfilling “love your neighbor as yourself,” which is an essential part of “love Hashem your God with all your heart.” Honor recognizes what we are often quick to ignore, the holiness of all who are created in God’s image.

daily living Sun, 04 Dec 2011 05:41:28 +0000
a time to keep silence http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/decisiveness/item/432-a-time-to-keep-silence http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/decisiveness/item/432-a-time-to-keep-silence

art-listenLet your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. --Colossians 4:6


“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Pr. 18:21); we can abuse it both by speaking and by withholding. Indeed, I have had more regret in my life over things I should have said and didn’t—positive, affirming, healing things—than over things I did say and shouldn’t have. The tongue has great power, life-giving power, when our speech is gracious and seasoned with salt.

The proverb, however, lists death before life, perhaps because there is also a time not to speak, but to practice the spiritual discipline of silence. Like every middah, silence benefits us and also benefits those around us. Too often, we speak out of the drive for constant self-expression, which has gone viral in the current digital culture, rather than in response to the need or opportunity at hand. Or we speak out of discomfort with silence, a discomfort that has also gone viral. The practice of silence helps free us from these compulsions.

Here are four good times for silence that we’re all likely to encounter this week:

  1. When you’re tempted to say something negative. Death is in the power of the tongue. We can all remember from childhood how damaging words can be— “You’re fat; you’re dumb; you’re ugly.” Such words, or their grown-up equivalents, carelessly thrown out in a moment, can damage a self-image or a reputation for a lifetime. The practice of silence is a bulwark against evil speech.

  2. When you don’t know what to say. I once asked a friend who was terminally ill what was most helpful to him when people came to visit. The first thing he said was, “Don’t say anything stupid.” When we visit the sick or bereaved we often say the wrong thing because we don’t know what to say. My friend said that phrases like, “How are you doing?” “Are you OK?” and the like were not helpful at all. Instead of searching for what to say, realize that your simple presence is the most important thing. Simplicity and silence can be most powerful in the presence of suffering.

  3. When it’s just time to listen. Silence, of course, is essential to good listening. (And the second thing my ill friend wanted was “Listen deeply.”) Listening involves occasional questions or rephrasing of what the other is saying, but it requires a high level of comfort with silence, too. As long as it doesn’t make the speaker feel like he or she just said something weird, silence often invites the other to speak more deeply.

  4. When you’re surrounded by God’s presence. Silence is not just avoiding speech, but is a positive virtue. Jewish tradition provides our worship with a wealth of expression, and we can embellish out of an overflowing heart. But silence often says more in the presence of God than anything else.

This week we’ll probably have all four of these opportunities for silence. Let’s take advantage of them. Speech is gracious when it is driven by the need to bring comfort, encouragement, vision (or just plain, useful information) to another, rather than by our need to express ourselves or just break up the silence. The middah of silence reminds us,

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven . . .
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak. -- Qohelet 3:1, 7

daily living Fri, 04 Mar 2011 23:56:17 +0000
the healing of silence http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/decisiveness/item/431-the-healing-of-silence http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/decisiveness/item/431-the-healing-of-silence

art-sinkshipsSilence is something we try to avoid. If there is silence in a conversation, we feel awkward, and say something just to fill the void in the conversation. The problem is, when people say something just to fill the silence, often the quality of what is said lacks substance. A good example of this is at funerals. Most people, with the exception of undertakers, feel awkward at funerals. We just don’t know what to say. I have heard some of the most thoughtless comments come out of people’s mouths while trying to be comforting.


Thoughtless comments are nothing new. They are a dime a dozen. What bothers me is that when they are blurted out to grieving people; they only add to their pain, and that’s something I find grossly obscene. When my grandmother passed away, we were sitting “Shiva” (traditional mourning period in Judaism) at my parent’s house. One of my grandparent’s neighbors came to “cheer up” my grandfather. She sat with him and told him he was very lucky to have had my grandmother for so long and that she was not in pain anymore and in a better place. My dad and I were in the kitchen listening in, and I was relating to my dad what our “visitor” was saying. I told him she was making my grandfather cry. My father asked what we should do. I suggested throwing her off the balcony, but my dad shook his head. I went in and said we had to get ready for something and told our visitor she needed to go. She left feeling like she did a mitzvah, and my grandfather pulled me aside and thanked me. It wasn’t that she said anything bad. They were things we all thought ourselves. The problem was that she was having the effect of pouring salt into an open wound. It would have been better if she came and just said she was sorry and that she loved us. It would have been comforting without being painful.

When Job lost all he had, all his children died, and he was afflicted with open sores all over his body, his friends came and sat with him a full week and said nothing. The rest of the time they were there, they offered their personal wisdom and insights, and made Job even more miserable. In the end, they were rebuked by God Himself. The best thing they did was to sit with him saying nothing. When we visit grieving people in pain, it ministers and comforts just to be there. They don’t need our words of wisdom. They need to know we cared enough to come. It’s a ministry of presence.

a balm like no other

A number of years ago, I had an emotional breakdown after the most traumatic event of my life. I sat for several months in self isolation, talking to no one but my shrink and a few others who knew what was going on; but I spent many hours not talking to anyone, and in the silence, I healed. Some might say I still have a way to go, but don’t we all?

In the story, “The Chosen,” by Chaim Potok, the Hasidic young man, Danny Saunders, is a mental prodigy, who has been raised by his father, the Rebbe, in silence. It seemed harsh and cruel, but at the end of the story, Reb Saunders explains,

“”My father … taught me with silence. . . . One learns of the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul. And it is important to know of pain. It destroys our self-pride, our arrogance, our indifference toward others. It makes us aware of how frail and tiny we are and of how much we must depend upon the Master of the Universe. . . .  I did not want my Daniel to become like my brother, may he rest in peace. Better I should have had no son at all than to have a brilliant son who had no soul. . . .  And I had to make certain his soul would be the soul of a tzaddik no matter what he did with his life.”

Silence can be healing, but it also can be painful. My father had spinal meningitis when he was 16, and lost his hearing. I always thought of him as normal, because that is how I always knew him. He has never heard my voice or my mother’s, but he is a lip reader, so we have had normal conversations. When the cochlear implant procedure was perfected, everyone urged him to have the surgery. He was sitting out by the pool at his condo and Sam, one of the men, kept nudgering him to have the implant. Finally, my dad asked Sam if he knew how much the surgery would cost. Sam said about $25,000.00. He asked Sam if he thought my dad had the money. Sam said yes. My dad commented that Sam sits around the pool every day. Sam nodded his head. My dad asked Sam if he would pay $25,000.00 to listen to the crap everyone says around the pool. Later, my dad explained that he gets by without hearing to talk with people just fine. He wanted to be able to hear music. For him, the trauma of his deafness gave way to a peaceful, quiet world. He had become accustomed to it. Years later, he had the surgery, but it failed. All he heard was noise.

We are exhorted to let our deeds be many and our words few. Words can comfort and heal, but words can also be no more than noise. We need to be intentional about how we use words, and make sure we aren’t just creating noise. We are intended to have a healing effect on the world. Much of that healing is done in silence.

daily living Fri, 04 Mar 2011 23:47:34 +0000