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Displaying items by tag: shema 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 Sat, 20 Jan 2018 03:17:44 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb with all your resources http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/624-with-all-your-resources http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/624-with-all-your-resources

art-shemaTravel always provides lots of opportunities for practicing the middot—standing in a TSA security line is ideal for developing patience; staying strapped into a narrow seat on a crowded plane is perfect for equanimity; and there are boundless opportunities for humility. On my latest trip I had a chance to learn about the middah of generosity.

Now this year, I’m tying my Mussar practice into the Shema, and I remember that the Sages interpret, “You shall love the Lord with all your might” as “with all your money” (Berakhot 9:5). The word in Hebrew is me’odekha, an unusual form of the common word me’od, which means “very” or “exceedingly.” But in this context the term means resources, strength, or substance, suggesting that if we love Hashem wholeheartedly, we’ll express that love with all we’ve got, including our finances. But what exactly does this look like?

Well, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about an early morning mussar experience with a cab driver, and last week I had another one.

I took a taxi to the airport for a 6:00am flight. The cabbie was an intelligent guy who knew how to engage in a conversation. As we were talking, I mentioned that I’d lived in New Mexico since 1970, and when he asked what brought me here, I decided to include the Yeshua part of my story. A couple of weeks ago we were learning about zerizut or enthusiasm, and I wrote about speaking of the Kingdom of God with a cab driver and the enthusiasm that stirred up. Now I had another chance to practice mussar at 4:30 in the morning. So I told the cabbie about our life-changing encounter with Messiah Yeshua, and finished my story just we pulled up to the curbside check-in. The fare was $18.00 plus change. I pulled a twenty out of my wallet, and looked for some singles to add to the tip and only found one. So I gave the driver $21.00, but while he was filling out the receipt, I was wondering if that was enough, especially because I’d just put in a good word for Yeshua. When the guy handed me the receipt, he’d written down $25.00 as the total—which I took as Hashem’s answer to my question, “Is this a big enough tip?” So I had him make change for a $10 bill and I gave him five more dollars—an opportunity to put some money where my mouth had just been. That’s one way to express love for Hashem through my resources.

torah Sun, 25 Mar 2012 04:11:43 +0000
inscribed instructions http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/588-inscribed-instructions http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/588-inscribed-instructions

art-handtefillinAn older man is driving down the freeway and his car phone rings. When he answers, he hears his wife's voice urgently warning him, "Herman, I just heard on the news that there's a car going the wrong way on route 290. Please be careful!" "Tell me about it!" says Herman. "It's not just one car. It's hundreds of them!!!"

Herman is pretty good at focus and perseverance but not so great at adaptability. He could just turn around and go with the flow, but he’s holding steady through it all—and bound to run into trouble before long. On the other hand, going with the flow too readily isn’t good either, as we see in the friend whose style or interests change every week or two, or the politician who constantly switches his positions to match the polls.

True adaptability requires balance, and the Shema provides us with a key:

    Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Dt. 6:6–9 NJPS)

      The phrases “at home” and “away” and “lie down” and “get up” are what the scholars call a “merism”—contrasting terms that are meant to include everything in between, so that Moses is instructing us to speak these words in all places and at all times. The circumstances of our lives will vary greatly: we’ll be close to home and in the most alien surroundings; we’ll have our bright early mornings and our long dark nights. How are we to adapt to these different circumstances? Not by surrendering totally to them nor by stubbornly resisting them to the utmost. Instead, we can adapt to all of life’s variations if we hang on tenaciously to the one thing that remains the same, the word “with which I [Hashem] charge you this day.”

      Holding on to the word of God provides for balanced adaptability, but what exactly does it look like? The Shema provides a few phrases that might help us put this into practice:

      • Take to heart these instructions” points to the practice of meditating on Scripture, so that we don’t just hear or read God’s words, but we take time to absorb them inwardly.
      • Speak of them to your children . . . recite them” means that we cultivate a practice of speaking of Scripture or the God of Scripture in our daily surroundings, finding opportunities to bring God into the conversation in authentic and natural ways.
      • Bind them on your hand . . . inscribe them on your gates” can be practiced literally, and is also a metaphor for memorizing the words of Scripture and reminding ourselves of them in all circumstances. “Your gates” refers to the central public place in the ancient city, the heart of the political and economic world. Even here, or perhaps especially here, we are to remember the word of Hashem always. 

      In sum, we’re talking about inscribing these words “with which I charge you this day” on our hearts, our words, and our actions. With this foundation we can adapt to anything that life might throw our way—its best and its worst—and remain true to Adonai Elohenu, the Lord our God.

      torah Sun, 01 Jan 2012 19:56:20 +0000
      generous speech http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/581-generous-speech http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/581-generous-speech

      art-luminariaAs it is said, And you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. . . .

      And with all your might means with all your wealth. Another interpretation: With all your might means with every measure that he measures out for you, thank him much. —m.Berakhot 9:5

      The Sages interpret the unusual Hebrew word me’odecha in the Shema (Deut. 6:5), translated "might" above, to mean “substance,” “resources,” or even “wealth”—which gives us a perfect text for the middah of generosity. We express our whole-hearted love for Hashem by practicing generosity toward others. This generosity can take various forms, as Alan Morinis describes:

      You have money in your pocket, so you give money. You have no money but there’s food in your home, so you give food. There’s no food in your home but there are ideas in your mind, so you give helping words. There are no words in your mouth but there is love in your heart, so you offer your heart itself.

      I’m not quite out of money or food, but generous speech is the option that grabs my attention this week. Perhaps it’s because we’ve just completed the middah of silence. I’m not too bad when it comes to refraining from damaging or frivolous speech, and I’m learning to practice contemplative silence as part of my morning prayers. Like every middah, however, silence of the right kind requires balance. We need to avoid the extreme of keeping silence when it’s time to speak, time to break the silence with “helping words” that affirm and build up others. The right balance to silence is generosity of speech.

      The other night (it was Christmas Eve, actually, I must admit) we were walking some out-of-town guests through a local neighborhood that was all lit up with luminarias along its walkways and roof tops. Luminarias are little paper bags with candles inside to give a soft glowing light—a beautiful old New Mexico tradition. It was freezing and I was leading the group back toward home base when we started to suspect that we were headed in the wrong direction. Our friends’ daughter pulled out her smart phone, checked the GPS, and said we needed to do a 180. Embarrassed I said, “Well, I guess I got us lost for the past three blocks,” and she replied, “We weren’t lost; we were just exploring”—a rather generous way to put it, I thought, and felt encouraged instead of embarrassed. 

      So, this week, coming out of a week emphasizing silence, I’m looking for chances to practice its opposite by speaking words of encouragement. I have a feeling that opportunities to give helping words will be abundant.

      daily living Sun, 25 Dec 2011 19:51:25 +0000
      laid back enthusiasm http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/572-laid-back-enthusiasm http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/572-laid-back-enthusiasm

      art-easychairI’m laid back, or so I’ve been told. Years ago I gave a message that seemed particularly compelling to me and I thought I delivered with unusual excitement and passion. Afterwards someone came up to me and said, “I really like your teaching; your style is so laid back!” So, the middah of zerizut presents a particular challenge: not just doing the right thing but doing it with zeal.

      As I’ve been focusing on the Shema in my spiritual practice this year, I’ve been good about reciting the Shema twice each day—“when you lie down and when you rise up”—but not so great about doing it with zeal. Sometimes, particularly with the evening Shema, I’m pretty close to just going through the motions. Now, when it comes to fulfilling a mitzvah, you sometimes hear people say, “If you can’t do something from the heart, if you’re just going through the motions, you might as well not do it at all.” But that’s not quite right. It’s better to go through the motions than to do nothing, because going through the motions makes the real fulfillment of the mitzvah possible. But we shouldn’t think that we’ve really fulfilled a mitzvah until we do it with zeal.

      In Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis notes that prayer and observance—like reciting the Shema twice each day—can become “dead acts” precisely because of their regularity and repetition.

      And what is true in your service to God is also true in your life in other ways. To live with spiritual integrity and authenticity requires that you break through the smothering curtain of routine. You’ll do that by consciously ticking up your enthusiasm a notch.

      OK, so how to tick up my enthusiasm a notch? The exhortation, “Be more enthusiastic!” doesn’t work for me. It actually tends to produce the opposite effect, and I imagine most of us are like that. Like the exhortation to be more spontaneous or more expressive, it casts a chill. Morinis, however, provides some helpful steps to stir up enthusiasm, including learning “to be richly present in this moment with gratitude.”

      I’m applying this advice to my twice-daily recitation of the Shema. I’m guarding against just getting through the prayers, even though I’m committed to get through them each day. Rather, I dwell on each phrase and direct it upwards toward Hashem with gratitude. I thank him that I can take on the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven by declaring my loyalty to him, even when I’m lying in bed about to drift off to sleep. I’m not worrying about the quantity of prayer surrounding the Shema, but about infusing it all with the quality of gratitude.

      Instead of seeing the prayers and the Shema itself as something I do before getting on with the day, they become the best part of my day. When you gratefully say, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe,” it’s hard not to be enthusiastic. I might still look laid back, but I feel the zeal arising within.

      daily living Sun, 11 Dec 2011 18:12:51 +0000
      waiting for words to unfold http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/548-waiting-for-words-to-unfold http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/548-waiting-for-words-to-unfold

      art-listenMost civilizations have been cultures of the eye. Judaism, with its belief in the invisible God who transcends the universe, and its prohibition against visual representations of God, is supremely a civilization of the ear. . . . Hence, the key verb in Judaism is Shema, “listen.” To give dramatic force to the idea that God is heard, not seen, we cover our eyes with our hand as we say these words. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the Koren Siddur)

      The first word of the first and greatest commandment is Shema, “Listen!” (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:28). As Rabbi Sacks notes above, we are to be so intent on listening that we cover our eyes while reciting the daily Shema. Therefore, if we pay heed to the Shema, in our practice of mussar we’ll emphasize hearing, listening, over seeing. This emphasis has several ramifications. Last week, we considered one: Listening requires humility. Now we’ll see that listening also requires patience.

      The distinctive phrase of the Torah is, “And God spoke.” When Moses reviews Israel’s encounter with Hashem at Mount Sinai, he says: “Then Hashem spoke to you out of the fire. The sound of words you heard, but a form you did not see; there was only a voice” (Deut. 4:12).

      God speaks, and our part is to listen. God speaks his word to us over time, and we absorb this word in a life-long process that contrasts with once-for-all encounters or visions. For many of us, our walk with Messiah began with a dramatic one-time encounter, and as we continue this walk we remain open to visionary experience. But spiritual growth depends less on seeing and more upon listening, which is gradual, relational, and requires patience.

      What is central to this distinction between instantaneous sight and the unfolding of sound over time is that sight is about the whole and some end that you finally see or “get,” but sound is about presence, this moment. At its very core, sound is about developing a relationship. 1

      Listening implies relationship, because we listen not just to ourselves, but to someone else, to another person. I like the way that the authors above put it; “sound is about developing a relationship,” not “about having a relationship,” because relationships take time to unfold. They require patience.

      We’ve seen that listening requires humility, simply because we must give our attention to another person, not to ourselves. Listening also implies patience. On the simplest level listening requires waiting for words to unfold, one by one. So the Shema weans us away from spectacular, one-time events, even one-time spiritual events, as great as they might be, and onto the daily, patient, loving pursuit of Hashem.

      Now, this is paradoxical, because it sounds as if we’re the ones who need to be patient with God, when in reality he’s the one who needs to be patient with us. But that’s the point—we are to be patient because God is patient. And listening for his word, waiting for his speech to unfold, moment by moment, and day after day, instills that patience into us.




      1. Ochs and Olitzky, Jewish Spiritual Guidance. [San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, ‘97]


      torah Sun, 06 Nov 2011 18:04:48 +0000
      truth muscles http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/437-truth-muscles http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/437-truth-muscles

      art-emet-truthThe Hebrew word for “true”, emet, occurs six times in the concluding portion of the Shema section of shacharit. In fact, it is the first word spoken after the third paragraph of the Shema (Numbers 15). The central placement of the word in the concluding portion of the Shema gives us a glimpse into our sages’ deepest values about our relationship with God. While there is no doubt that truth is embedded in all of the davening, the Shema itself is a very specific kind of statement about God and our relationship with him. The Truth expressed in the words of the Shema must be reiterated so as to embed its message into the mind and heart of the one davening.

      What is so true about the message of the Shema? Here are a few answers:

      1. The absolute uniqueness and unity of God
      2. The uniqueness of God’s relationship with the Jewish people
      3. The ongoing validity of Torah for the Jewish people
      4. The covenantal terms between the Jewish people and God


      This is all very theological, and seemingly esoteric. While it is true, it may not seem to have much practical implication for building our character. The reason it may not seem practical on the surface is because most of us are not accustomed to reflecting on the ways in which speech impacts our interactions. The human brain is a storehouse of information that is significantly impacted by every single thing we come in contact with. What we read, hear, and say impacts how we relate to the world. Some of the most damaging elements of abusive relationships are the words that are spoken to hurt and manipulate while the some of the most positive relationships develop with words of kindness.  What we say has an impact.

      When we recite the Shema and follow with reciting the word emet over and over again, we are exercising our truth muscles. If we learn to recognize ultimate truth we are much more able to connect to truth in the moment. Our God is the True God. When we verbally connect to truth in our vertical relationship with God, this spills over into our horizontal relationships with others. So I encourage all us to really focus on the word emet in our davening, so that we can truly be the people of God.

      mesorah Fri, 18 Mar 2011 20:10:00 +0000
      from the rising of the sun until its setting http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/237-from-the-rising-of-the-sun-until-its-setting http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/frugality/item/237-from-the-rising-of-the-sun-until-its-setting

      art-treesunriseOn going to bed one says from ’Hear, oh Israel’ to ‘And it shall come to pass if you hearken diligently.’ Then he says: ‘’Blessed is He who causes the bands of sleep to fall upon my eyes and slumber on my eyelids, and gives light to the apple of the eye. May it be Your will, O L-rd, my G-d, to make me lie down in peace, and set my portion in Your law and accustom me to the performance of religious duties, but do not accustom me to transgression…’

      When he wakes he says: ‘'My G-d, the soul which You have placed in me is pure. You have fashioned it in me, You did breathe it into me, and You preserve it within me and You will one day take it from me and restore it to me in the time to come. So long as the soul is within me I give thanks unto You, O L-rd, my G-d, and the G-d of my fathers, Sovereign of all worlds, L-rd of all souls. Blessed are You, O L-rd, who restores souls to dead corpses.' When he hears the cock crowing he should say: ‘'Blessed is He who has given to the cock understanding to distinguish between day and night.' When he opens his eyes he should say: '‘Blessed is He who opens the eyes of the blind. When he stretches himself and sits up he should say: ‘Blessed is He who looses the bound.' When he dresses he should say: '‘Blessed is He who clothes the naked.' When he draws himself up he should say: '‘Blessed is He who raises the bowed.' When he steps on to the ground he should say: '‘Blessed is He who spread the earth on the waters.' When he commences to walk he should say: 'Blessed is He who makes firm the steps of man.' When he ties his shoes he should say: '‘Blessed is He who has supplied all my wants.' When he fastens his girdle, he should say: ‘'Blessed is He who girds Israel with might.' When he spreads a kerchief over his head he should say: ‘'Blessed is He who crowns Israel with glory.' -- Talmud, Berachot 60b


      Psalm 113:3 says, "From the rising of the sun until its setting, the name of Hashem will be praised."  Truly, as the sun goes about its rising and setting, we see from the Talmudic passage above that there is a set order given to prayer.  Our very existence is woven around these moments in time, where we honor the Creator and give thanks.

      Why such order?  Can't we just pray sporadically, whenever the urge overtakes us?  The Sages were quick to understand that if there was not a set order of prayer, our human nature would make excuses and not take the time to show gratitude.  These set times, patterns of living through blessing, challenge us to organize our daily activities, which we deem as vitally important, around something else which is even more important:  soul updates. 

      In the absence of continuous connection to Hashem, we lose our pivot point and the proper motivation for why we exist in the first place.  By stopping and infusing blessing into various points in our day, we keep ever present in our minds the greater reason for our existence and keep the pilot light of our souls lit.

      Try this week to infuse a new order into your day.  Insert a new prayer, a new blessing, or moment of davening into your daily routine.  Try and keep this order consistently for a week.  See the fruits that this newly found routine brings you, and if possible, continue to build on this order.  Chances are that over time, you will find this new connection time necessary if not indispensable.

      mesorah Mon, 13 Sep 2010 19:28:42 +0000