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rebbetzin malkah 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 22:54:25 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb order up http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/703-order-up http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/703-order-up

art-moms-taxi“All your actions and possessions should be orderly – each and every one in a set place and set time. Let your thoughts always be free to deal with that which lies ahead of you.” – Rabbi M.M. Lefin of Satanov,  Cheshbon Hanefesh


Sometimes our days are spoken for without our consent.  Today was one of those days.  Each teen had an agenda, and I was expected to comply.  Granted, I understand their needs and want for their time to be meaningful. But times three, it can be amazing.  I accept it, but where does my day fit it into this grand scheme?  All of us can understand this, as we either hold day jobs or other types of activities that claim our time.  How do we find order in this daily grind?  How do we find meaning and derive holiness from these tasks which are beyond our control and exceed our planning? 


Probably the hardest part for all of us is acceptance in matters of our time.  We are not always the masters of our daily time, our schedules.  We find ourselves more than not submitting to that which is beyond our control.  But is this so bad?  Sometimes we make it out to be absolutely horrible.  We struggle with someone else making out our schedule, someone else dictating our time tables.  What I find easier is realizing that sharing is a viable component in all of this.  Sharing our time, sharing our resources, sharing our life helps make experiences and life moments possible for others.  True, it takes a chunk out of our valuable time.  But in the end, we are giving to others that which they othewise could not have on their own.  We are giving selflessly and wholly of our time.  This is something we cannot get back, for sure, but which can enhance the lives of others. 

order in flux

Sometimes it is difficult for us to accept a daily plan that hasn't been ordered in advance.  As a mom of three teens, I try to encourage future planning but also accept spontaneity.  While I like to live a more organized and planned day, I also realize that there are others who are learning order and planning.  As I gracefully learn how to jump into their daily planning, it pulls me in many directions.  I fight the urge to be irked because I realize that learning how to gracefully choreograph order and planning can take many years. In time it will come, but for now I need to learn how to do an avant-garde leap and transition as I am called upon.  Not only will my children's consideration come in time, but so will their understanding of planning.  As a parent, this is ingrained in me. Give it time, it can be learned and integrated.

As you go through your own week, use your own skill of finessing order and planning in the shadow of lack of planning.  Learn to move with grace and fill in the steps to stylishly bring order to impossible moments of disorder. Pirkei Avot encourages us to be a leader in moments when there is no leader.  However, do this too with grace; for even being a leader means patience, understanding growth, and working with others.  Order doesn't always mean getting it your way.  Sometimes it means adapting your own order in a way that conforms and flows with others.  While it isn't always easy, it brings harmony and helps to fuse our lives with those around us so that we may walk together.

daily living Wed, 22 Aug 2012 05:54:08 +0000
in whom do you trust? http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/697-in-whom-do-you-trust? http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/697-in-whom-do-you-trust?

art-rubelRabbi Israel Salanter was in a hotel once, and the person in charge, a Jewish fellow, asked the rabbi, not knowing who he was, if he knew how to do shechita, (how to properly slaughter animals). Rabbi Salanter then said, "Why do you ask?" The fellow answered that he had an animal that needed to be slaughtered for dinner, and instead of taking it to the slaughterhouse, he hoped that Rabbi Salanter would be able do it right there. Rabbi Salanter answered that he was sorry, but he was not an expert in shechita.

Later that day, Rabbi Salanter went to the same fellow and asked to borrow 5 rubels. The fellow looked at the rabbi and said, "How can I lend to you 5 rubles, for I don’t know who you are? I never met you, so how can I lend to you 5 rubles? Who says you are going to pay me back?" Rabbi Salanter replied that when it came to asking about shechita, the fellow didn’t know him but trusted the rabbi anyway simply because he had a beard. But now when it came to money, he didn’t trust the rabbi at all. His money was more important to him than his religion.

Trustworthiness is something we like in other people.  When we have trust in others, our relationships flourish and we can reach higher levels of camaraderie.  The world becomes a better place when people are there for each other.

But the ability to trust someone does not come from merely having a need.  As in this story above, the man did not even know Rabbi Salanter and yet he wanted him to slaughter an animal for his dinner.  Had he known about Rabbi Salanter's credentials, he would have realized that he was the wrong person to ask.  Yet, he had no clue who he was and was trusting that he would perform something for him that truly needed an expert hand (merely by his judgement of who he looked like). This kind of misplaced trust is a questionable practice.  In matters such as these, trust can only be given when there has been a demonstration of competence and fact-checking.

In the case of money, the man was extremely skeptical and did not see a reason to lend Rabbi Salanter any money.  While it is true that he didn't know Rabbi Salanter, in this case he could have given him a chance, knowing that he would only have asked because he was in need.  At the same time, he also would not be obligated to lend to him because indeed he didn't know him and had no guarantee of repayment. 

Trusting others, especially those who we just encounter, can be tricky territory.  On one hand, how can we begin to trust someone who is new to our circle if we do not know them?  A Russian proverb says, "Trust, but verify."  Everyone needs a chance to become trusted, but that trust should never be placed blindly.  If we are able to find out whether someone has a shem tov (good name), we should by all means seek that information out.  But if we have no way of knowing, we have to begin somewhere.  Start small, be cautious, but realize that people need a chance.  In time, the measure of someone's trustworthiness will be made known. 

stories Sun, 22 Jul 2012 21:00:24 +0000
for all time http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/696-for-all-time http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/696-for-all-time

art-notzerchesedThe Hebrew word for trustworthy is ameen. It comes from the root meaning faithful. When we consider what it means to be trustworthy, it is really a component of faithfulness.  And one of the best examples of trustworthiness is Hashem Himself.

We read of this in Exodus, when Moshe declares the 13 middot of Hashem: 

"Merciful God, merciful God, powerful God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity, willful sin and error, and Who cleanses." — Exodus 34:6-7

Hashem is so trustworthy.  As it says above, He is the "Preserver of kindess for thousands of generations..."  He is faithful to forgive us, He doesn't stop in His mercy. And He keeps going on and on with this.  As we have seen from Psalm 136, "His kindness endures forever".  He can be trusted to be there and to always abound in kindness.  This kind of trustworthiness is emblematic and a beautiful example for us.  If we aspire to increase our trustworthiness and be a sign to those around us, then our focus should be to become more like our Creator (albeit in our own, small way). 

(For more information on meditative techniques, see the source Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.)

Find a comfortable seat in a safe, quiet place.  Breathing in slowly, allow your stomach to completely inflate which in turn helps your lungs to competely inflate.  As you exhale, gently pull your stomach in, squeezing all the air out of your lungs. Deep breathing brings oxygen to your brain and helps clear the mind. Continue breathing until you feel relaxed and feel little or no distractions.  Let the noises around you, no matter how small, filter out. Focus on your breath.

The focus of this meditation will be upon the psalm verse below.  Choose whether you will say the Hebrew or the English. Both are provided below:


:נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים

(Notzer Chesed l’Alaphim)

Preserver of kindness for two thousand generations... 

--One of the 13 Middot of Hashem, Exodus 34:7


Meditate on this phrase for at least 10 minutes without interruption.  Consider how Hashem has been trustworthy to past generations.  Consider how He has been trustworthy and faithful in your life.  As you continue to meditate, breathe in slowly, and when breathe out say the phrase above gently.  As you speak this phrase on your exhale, continue to reach a deeper level in its meaning, dwelling on how you can better emulate your Maker and help others put greater trust in you. Contemplate on whatever is your weak point that might cause others not to put their faith in you (lateness, saying things but never coming through, broken promises, sporadic behavior, failing to answer correspondences, etc...).

As you slowly and gently end your meditation by opening your eyes,  try to maintain a sense of quietness for a time after—allow the experience to flow through you and feel its effect.

The goal is to help you become aware of how trustworthy you are. If you properly focus during meditation and allow yourself to dig deeply into your life and root out your inconsistencies, over time you will achieve a higher level of trustworthiness. By becoming more faithful in matters, simple to great, people will put greater trust in you and your relationships will flourish and grow.  Through all of this, you will be a better witness of the Divine in your words and deeds.

meditation Sun, 22 Jul 2012 19:51:32 +0000
taking it to the street http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/694-taking-it-to-the-street http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/694-taking-it-to-the-street

art-tostreetsShammai taught: "Say little and do much." — Avot 1:15

Rabbi Natan said, “What does this mean? It teaches that the righteous say little and do much, whereas the wicked say much and do not even a little.”  — Avot 13:3

In Judaism, it isn't so much about what you know, but what you do.  Judaism is a doing religion, not bound up in the recesses of your mind in theology.  True, we need some truths to operate by, but we don't spend our time crowning ourself with laurels because we have these truths.  We are expected to act.  It is in our actions by which we will be deemed trustworthy or not. It's not our talking points or our lofty dissertations, but what we do on the street.

So how do we say little and do much?  Does this mean that we aren't to talk about spiritual and physical matters?  I don't think this is what this verse is implying.  Instead of talking about things, maybe to the point of over-talking, there is a time for action.  Have you ever met someone who comes up with grandiose ideas but does nothing to see them through?  Do you hear people make vain promises or commitments and never act on them?  Have you ever heard people talking righteously but never demonstrating it in their own lives?  Of course you have, and this is what this verse is aiming at changing.  We have to move beyond the realm of speech and put it to the ground, in our deeds, on the path that we walk daily. 

The Bible lays less stress on an abstract concept of truth and far more on reliability and trustworthiness.  

-- Exodus, Henry Leopol Ellison, pg. 180

Our ability to bring something from the mind into reality will only happen when we realize that moralizing, dreaming, and speculating are just part of the process.  It is in the doing that will render us responsible, trustworthy, and reliable.  If you can bring whatever truth, wherever you are at, and take it from speech to action, then you are really getting somewhere.  And by this, you will be known.  In whatever you say, be sure to stop yourself short and do it.  Take the time to act on those words, those truths, and make for yourself a good name: one in which people can put their trust and faith.  The fruits of your labors and intentions will be made known and will be a sign to others that you mean business and can be counted on.  For it is then, and only then, that you will be deemed trustworthy.

"Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give." —Proverbs 25:14

Use this checklist to assess how trustworthy you are and to find the areas you need to work on:

  • when you make commitments, do you follow through?
  • do you come up with a lot of ideas but are not part of any process to see things into action?
  • do you commit to something verbally and then back out after a while?
  • are you chronically late when you say you will meet people at specific times?
  • do you chronically gossip about others?
  • do you have people who can vouch for your good name?
  • do people offer you responsibilities easily?
  • do you associate with people who have a good name?
mesorah Sun, 22 Jul 2012 19:25:17 +0000
making the mark http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/691-making-the-mark http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/691-making-the-mark

art-woodbirdAn ancient Indian sage was teaching his disciples the art of archery. He put a wooden bird as the target and asked them to aim at the eye of the bird. The first disciple was asked to describe what he saw. He said, "I see the trees, the branches, the leaves, the sky, the bird and its eye." The sage asked this disciple to wait. Then he asked the second disciple the same question and he replied, "I only see the eye of the bird." The sage said, "Very good, then shoot." The arrow went straight and hit the eye of the bird.

Focus.  Sometimes it alludes us.  The ability to concentrate can get so clouded by responsibilities, needs, and life in general.  We "miss the mark" on so many occasions because we are looking around at the proverbial trees, branches, leaves, and sky.  Once we haze our focus with periphery information and distractions, we cannot accomplish nearly what we set out to do.  Even the most concentrated magnifying glass cannot set grass alight if it is moved about.  To see something through, we need to hold steady, hone in, and see the goal to its end.

Does this mean that we are unaware of those around us? Do we shirk responsibility to make something happen?  Obviously not.  But many times we find reasons not to make something happen (take a class, work on a project, etc...) because we are either tentative, lack confidence, or afraid of the magnitude of work involved. 

"And how can you achieve such concentration? By recognizing that everything you do is important to God, and is one vital piece of the larger picture of your life." — Menachem Mendel Schneerson

As you approach your next challenge, goal, or task at hand, see if you can heighten your ability to concentrate so that you not only fulfill that which you set out to do, but you do so with panache and precision.  What you do does matter; in the grand scheme of your life and the life of others, it is another necessary piece in the divine design.  Concentrate with all your might and make it count.

stories Thu, 12 Jul 2012 19:13:17 +0000
finding concentration http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/689-finding-concentration http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/689-finding-concentration

Rabban Gamliel said, "All my days have I grown up among the wise and I have not found anything better for a man (literally, “better for the body”) than silence."  --Pirke Avot 1:17

Meditation is a discipline of concentrating on one specific thought.  Perhaps it is a Torah verse, counting breaths, or focusing on a single object. However, no matter what, it is essential during meditation not to think about results. Some people get caught in the trap of thinking "am I doing this right", "will I get anything out of this", "I must be doing this wrong". This takes away from the very practice of meditation and is counterproductive.  Most people will get something out of meditation, even if they have only done it for a few times.

However, there are very real results and one must know what they are in order to gain the motivation to take on a regular meditation practice.  Regular practice meditation helps to quiet the mind. If anything, it gets one to be still and quiet.  Even though thoughts and images still arise, they do not come as frequently or with the same intensity.  Practiced meditation strengthens our power of concentration and allows us to clearly distinguish between those thoughts that are leading us towards God and a healthy life and those that are leading us toward negative or even destructive patterns of behavior.

getting it right

Sometimes, we imagine that we are only doing something impressive or productive when we are talking, doing, studying.  Indeed, we can do productive things in these states.  But just as well, we can accomplish much in a meditative state.  We can connect to parts within ourselves that can only be accessed in the quiet moments, in the introspective and highly aware moments.  These moments of concentration are crucial in honing our spirituality and connecting with the parts that need to be refined.

By taking at least 15 minutes a day, we can improve our health by mindful breathing, concentration, and purposeful quiet.  Not only will we dig deeper into the recesses of our mind and find answers, we will hear, if we try, the expansiveness of Hashem's leading in our silent moments.

Truly, there is nothing better for a man or woman than to find oneself in a meditative state: exploring, contemplating, concentrating, and reaching new heights.

mesorah Mon, 09 Jul 2012 04:50:28 +0000
focus already http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/687-focus-already http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/687-focus-already

art-shvitiThe pious ones of earlier generations spent an hour in contemplation before the beginning of their prayers, and one hour after. --Tractate Berachot, 30b

The phone rings.  The phone buzzes.  The doorbell chimes.  Email comes in.  Someone texts you.  Someone needs something, forget what you are doing.  Even if you tried to remember what you are doing, so many distractions are prevalent, it is hard to know where you left off.

It's no wonder we all don't lose our minds. And it's no wonder that the middah of concentration made it on our list. 

The Hebrew word for concentration is rechuz.  It can be difficult to engage in meaningful thought when we are constantly bombarded wtih information, stimulus, and noise.  While many people thrive on this, sometimes it is best to remove oneself from all this constant distraction in order to hone the mind and engage higher levels of thinking and focus.  Concentration is vital if we hope to be able to reach higher levels in our spirituality and our daily lives.

(For more information on meditative techniques, see the source Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.)

Find a comfortable seat in a safe, quiet place.  Breathing in slowly, allow your stomach to completely inflate which in turn helps your lungs to competely inflate.  As you exhale, gently pull your stomach in, squeezing all the air out of your lungs. Deep breathing brings oxygen to your brain and helps clear the mind. Continue breathing until you feel relaxed and feel little or no distractions.  Let the noises around you, no matter how small, filter out. Focus on your breath.

The focus of this meditation will be upon the psalm verse below.  Using a well-known phrase for meditation in Judaism, choose whether you will say the Hebrew or the English. Both are provided below:

:שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד

(Shiviti Adonai L'negdi Tamid)

I have set Hashem before me always.  --Psalms 16:8


The image included in this article is an example of Shiviti, which is used in some communities for contemplation over Hashem's name.  The Name, or Tetragrammaton, is never said— however, this part of the psalm above as transliterated is used.  Quietly speaking this phrase, or meditating upon it without words in your mind,  let the concept of Hashem, His Name, and His being before you consume your thoughts.  As you repeat this phrase over and over, you will find that the idea will change, be absorbed and affect you in a completely new way. Don't try to control it— let Hashem work in you.  Don't try and meditate on the concept of righteousness—the repetition of this verse is the focus.

True righteousness will only come from having Hashem before you at all times - like lenses, to help you to see the world, your actions and your duties in the proper way.

Meditate on this phrase for at least 10 minutes without interruption.  As you slowly and gently end your meditation by opening your eyes,  try to maintain a sense of quietness for a time after  - allow the experience to flow through you and feel its effect. By meditating on the Divine, you will feel less inclined to pursue your idea of righteousness, but rather that of the Eternal.

meditation Fri, 06 Jul 2012 06:56:31 +0000
haze in the olam http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/679-haze-in-the-olam http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/679-haze-in-the-olam

art-smogThe books of Martin Buber, and especially his seminal work "I-and-Thou", allow us, it seems to me, to distinguish with better precision between Olam Haze and Olam Haba, using criteria which are meaningful to the individual and communal life of any educated reader, be (s)he Christian or Jew, religious or secular or even an agnostic.

In his "I-and-Thou", Buber distinguishes between two types of human existence which are characterised by two kinds of relationship: "I-Thou" and "I-It". Taking exception to the way Buber's originally German book was translated to Hebrew, I propose that what he calls "it" is what is in Biblical and Modern Hebrew "Ze" to denote "that", and denotes a form of distancing and alienation. From the alienated relationship between self and other or self and environment grows an alienated world. It is possible to point at different types of alienation, and they seem to multiply. Buber was concerned both with alienation between people and the alienation between humans and God, which is, of course, the alienation that concerned the author of Genesis and our sages of blessed memory.

The most crucial question is perhaps the amount of alienation in inter-human relation and the recognition of each person as a brother and a "thou". (Many traditional societies which might have had an extremely strong inner solidarity probably did not recognize the native of the next village or next valley as a human identical to themselves and certainly not the native of another continent with a different skin color). The real test, in my opinion, to the emergence from the "Olam Haze" state of alienation to "Olam Haba"(world to come) is that each human being receives any other one as "welcome".  —Dr. Yitzhak I. Hayutman [1] 

I have always loathed transliteration.  I know it is an aid for many, but I have always found that things get lost in the transliteration.  I can't find the Hebrew root of the word, and I grapple with the varying conventions by which words are transliterated.  Today was another prime example of my transliteration fuzz.  As I was skimming this article above, I was completely in accord with Dr. Hayutman.  I agreed that this haze we have in the olam is keeping us from a greater relationship from our fellow adamites and HashemThen it dawned on me: the word wasn't haze, but hazeh.  The transliteration was omitting the "h" at the end of haze in his section titles.  I hadn't gotten to the next section which would made it more obviousThis of course means something completely different.  It means "this" in Hebrew.  While this seemed like a ridiculous mistake for me to make (it can happen when you are skimming something), I also feel it was serendipitous.  We are living in a haze in the Olam Haze(h).  And this haze causes us to have limited vision, limited relationships with those around us, and short-sightedness when dealing with our Creator by and through our relationships with each other.

As we become even more engaged in our technological society, we can have a far reaching effect on many through our blog posts, emails, and social media connections.  But at the same time, we can also live in a fuzzy world, where our connections are behind a curtain and we lose face to face contact.  We can either become more aware or more detached. Also, in a world where many of us are distanced from agrarian concerns and know not where our produce comes (except from the label), we find ourselves lapsing into consumerism with minimal concern as to how that product came to be.  True, many of us give a hoot if something is kosher, organic, local, free-range, fair-trade.  But is that enough?  Are even those labels being sold out just to please us, while people's lives fall by the wayside?

Martin Buber challenges us to look at "other", whoever that may be, as "thou" and not "it".  But this takes training on our part.  We have to look at each of our actions as affecting "thou" and seeing how that affects our Olam Haze(h). Our carbon footprint, the one we make with our lives, affects many. We have to respond to "thou" from the deepest compassion for "thou's" humanity and divinity. Do we truly love our neighbor as ourself?  And how can we say we love our neighbor if we know nothing about our neighbor's plight and care not as long as it doesn't affect our little bubble of life?

How can we bring ourselves out of this haze we are in?  What can we do to bring the kingdom of Heaven on this earth and bring the Olam Haba closerAs Dr. Hayutman aludes, it is "the revelation of God to humans, the revelation of self to other, namely human intimacy, bodily and spiritual." [ibid]  We need to see that every connection we make with another person and on this earth matters.  By validating the existence of others, being aware of their condition as we are able, and giving value to their place in this world, we draw nearer to a world that is less hazed by our own ambivalence and closer to what our Creator has for us.  Through our purposeful and holy connections to each other and our environment, we draw nearer to the Olam Haba and closer to the realization of the world to come. How and when we make these purposeful connections will look differently for each of us.  However, one thing will be the same no matter who we are: we won't be the person we were before once we make those connections.  We will become aware and more welcoming, concerned and less alienating.

Be welcoming, be purposeful, be aware, and lose your haze in hazeh. 


1. Dr. Yitzhak I. Hayutman, Cybernetician and Urban Planner, Dean of Research & Development, The Academy of Jerusalem.This paper appeared originally in Hebrew in Mudaut (Consciouseness) Number 29, June 1988.

mesorah Fri, 29 Jun 2012 18:51:50 +0000
mindful orbiting http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/678-mindful-orbiting http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/678-mindful-orbiting

art-solarsystemThe Hebrew for awareness is mudaut. Living on the third rock from the sun, we are very aware what would happen if we were closer to the sun or further away.  Life is not supported on the planets on either side of us and neither is our conspicuous placement coincidental; rather, it is perfect, intentional and life-giving. How we tune our awareness beyond this simple knowledge can be life-giving as well.

Similarly, we find in the Zohar that there are two opinions mentioned why God created the world. The first reason is in order that there be intelligent beings that are able to be conscious of God's existence. The other reason mentioned is in order to express His goodness and loving-kindness by the creation of beings who are able to emulate His goodness and loving-kindness to one another and to all creatures on earth. This means that we have two basic missions to carry out on this planet: 1. To become conscious of God and 2. To emulate His loving-kindness to all of mankind, to animals and to the whole of creation.

In our present analysis of the solar system these two qualities are manifest in the position of the earth as the third planet that revolves around the sun, which represents the keter (crown), placing the earth in either the position of da'at (knowledge), corresponding to the human ability to be conscious of God, or chesed (kindness), corresponding to the human ability to emulate and manifest God's power of loving-kindness.  — Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh

When we were given the Torah at Mount Sinai and gained an awareness of Hashem, our Creator, it rocked our spiritual world: we began orbiting around the Holy One, with His Torah as our gravitational pull and orbit director.  When Nicolaus Copernicus came out with his heliocentric (sun-centered) model of the solar system in Commentariolus in 1512, he rocked our physical world: our minds recognized that we were orbiting around the sun, thus diminishing our very egotistical fancies about our planet as being the center of everything. We gave in to the massive pull of the sun that whips us around in cycles and defines our seasons. 

Awareness comes from knowing Who the force is in our lives that keep us bound, Who regulates our cycles, and Who brings us on a journey that is wonderfully different on every orbit.  Awareness also dictates that the slightest change in a situation or scenario can render it hostile, hospitable, dysfunctional or functional.  We have the power to affect change on so many levels in cooperation with our Creator.  We also are powerless on other levels to make change.  Becoming aware of one's own purpose on this miraculous world is not only essential to our soul destiny, but the soul destiny of others.  This middah is an ongoing revelation, as our own scenery and circumstances change over time, whether slowly or rapidly.  If we wish to be connected and purposeful, we need to have an awareness of self as well as those around us.

Practice this simple meditation, hitbonenut (contemplation),  to help you heighten your awareness of your own purpose, circumstances of your own life and of others, and transform unnecessary and/or unhealthy aspects in your life.  There will be two optional meditations, one underneath a night sky, and another using a beautiful object, such as an exquisite flower, tree or fruit.

(Note:  For more information on meditative techniques, see the source Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan, or our class on meditation.)

Clear sky night meditation:

Find a comfortable seat in a safe, quiet place outside underneath a clear, night sky.  In this meditation, you will be keeping your eyes open the entire time.  Breathing in slowly, allow your stomach to completely inflate which in turn helps your lungs to competely inflate.  As you exhale, gently pull your stomach in, squeezing all the air out of your lungs. Deep breathing brings oxygen to your brain and helps clear the mind. Continue breathing until you feel relaxed and feel little or no distractions.  Let the noises around you, no matter how small, filter out. Focus on your breath and the view of the night sky (if possible, get as far away from all light pollution for the best viewing).

Once you have found a focal point on the night sky, allow your peripheral vision to become more sensitive.  Allow this meditative phrase to linger in the background of your mind, loosely or precisely.  It's the general theme that counts, not if you can remember every word.

Lift your eyes on high and see who created these, the One who brings out their host by number, He calls them all by name. --Isaiah 40:26

Continue slowly inhaling and exhaling and contemplate the expansiveness of the heavens, the stars that you see. Each of these stars affect(ed) the orbits of bodies around them.  Let your mind be present in the perfectness of the arrangement of the heavens, and consider your orbit in this world.  Heighten your awareness of where your orbit is off.  Do you do things to destabilize your orbit around Hashem, around goodness, around others?  Do you cause others to be rocked out of their orbit due to middot that you need to alter?  How can you change course?  What gentle tweak can you insert in the coming weeks to better align yourself?  Immerse yourself in the visual meditation and allow yourself to slowly become self-aware and aware of the Divine.  This make take one, two or many sessions for you to start feeling an awareness.

Exquisite flower, tree or fruit meditation: 

Find a comfortable seat in a quiet place.  In this meditation, you will be keeping your eyes open the entire time.  Breathing in slowly, allow your stomach to completely inflate which in turn helps your lungs to competely inflate.  As you exhale, gently pull your stomach in, squeezing all the air out of your lungs. Deep breathing brings oxygen to your brain and helps clear the mind. Continue breathing until you feel relaxed and feel little or no distractions.  Let the noises around you, no matter how small, filter out. Focus on your breath.

Fix your gaze on an object (exquisite flower, tree, or fruit).  Avoid pictures, images or statues as this is considered idolatry.  As you adjust to your space, sit quietly and focus on the object that is near to you.  Slowly scan the object and become aware of the whole object.  As your awareness of the object is heightened, you will become aware of its details in a very acute way when your gaze is fixed for an extended period of time (15 minutes at least).  This gazing will actually help in training your mind to focus your mind more intently while you are thinking about other important things: do you do things to destabilize your relationship with Hashem? How do you affect others due to middot that you need to alter?  How can you change?  What gentle tweak can you insert in the coming weeks to better align yourself in a more balanced way?  Immerse yourself in the visual meditation and allow yourself to slowly become self-aware and aware of the Divine.

While hitbonenut, contemplation, is harder for beginners, the fruits of this type of activity will begin to show themselves over time as you are able to focus more intently and control your active mind. Remember not to  elevate the object—it is an aid, not an end.

The goal is to create an awareness of the areas in your life that need care and concern. If you give yourself permission during the meditation to probe the deeper recesses of your soul and mind, then you will be more receptive to the nudging of the Holy One in your life on course correction and your journey. 


1. http://www.inner.org/torah_and_science/torah-scientific-progress-heliocentric-geocentric.php

meditation Fri, 29 Jun 2012 18:26:48 +0000
simplicity gone too far http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/673-simplicity-gone-too-far http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/673-simplicity-gone-too-far

art-simplecoffeeRabbi Salanter once noticed that a fancy restaurant was charging a huge price for a cup of coffee. He approached the owner and asked why the coffee was so expensive. After all, some hot water, a few coffee beans and a spoonful of sugar could not amount to more than a few cents.

The owner replied: "It is correct that for a few cents you could have coffee in your own home. But here in the restaurant, we provide exquisite decor, soft background music, professional waiters, and the finest china to serve your cup of coffee."

Rabbi Salanter's face lit up. "Oh, thank you very much! I now understand the blessing of Shehakol -- 'All was created by His word' -- which we recite before drinking water. You see, until now, when I recited this blessing, I had in mind only that I am thanking the Creator for the water that He created. Now I understand the blessing much better. 'All' includes not merely the water, but also the fresh air that we breathe while drinking the water, the beautiful world around us, the music of the birds that entertain us and exalt our spirits, each with its different voice, the charming flowers with their splendid colors and marvelous hues, the fresh breeze -- for all this we have to thank God when drinking our water!"

We seldom realize how much work goes into making something happen, whether it be a cup of coffee or making an airplane.  Sometimes we just have the disposition that it's so simple: why the high price or the fuss?

But what went into the coffee? The plane?  Rabbi Salanter is giving us some enhanced insight that it isn't just the bean or the water that makes it so special.  There is all of the love and labor beyond the cup that accounts for the experience. The hazards of being overly simplistic is that we lose sight of how things truly come to be.

The next time you partake of something and want to discount it, try and reach beyond your own simplistic understanding or expectations.  Assess that the effort, time, and money that goes into making something happen or exist merits recognition and perhaps a price.  When we oversimplify the efforts of others, we risk becoming numb to the details of life that make things possible. 


stories Sun, 03 Jun 2012 21:29:39 +0000
simple riches http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/672-simple-riches http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/672-simple-riches

art-simpletreeWho is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot.  --Avot 4:1

Ben Zoma really hit the nail on the head when he gave us this nugget of wisdom.  So often, people base their happiness on what they have or don't have.  Marriages, business relationships, and lives are destroyed by the constant nagging of wanting.  Simplicity is intricately tied to the middah of gratitude.  In having gratitude about what we have, we can live simpler lives and feel content with what we do have.

not settling for less

So how does one go about being satisfied with one's lot?  Does this negate any efforts we should make in life toward improvement? Should we settle for less?

I think the thrust of what Ben Zoma is hinting at is not passivity or caving in to one's circumstances.  Rather, I believe that he is hinting at our ability to be settled when we are in a particular place in life.  If we are a student, we are satisfied with meager earnings and our study load.  We don't look to have the home or car that is out of reach, for the finances just won't support it. We are contented knowing that we will be in a better place when we are finished with our hard labor.   When we are parents with small children, we don't dream about luxury vacations in chalets and wine tasting in the country. We look to the moments of raising our children and the joy they bring in their discovery and in their growth.  When we are in a financial bind, we don't imagine spending money on items that will tax our budget. We simply weather the period of minimal spending so that we can enjoy stability and be debt-free.

I think Ben Zoma is encouraging us to be present in our moments and realistic about what we have. It is simply assessing what we have and having gratitude. When we employ gratitude in our lives, simplicity follows somewhat effortlessly.  We find that it dims our cravings and our unrealistic expectations.  We take joy in the gifts we have, and realize that the excess and the desire for more can actually hold us back in our present state.  This type of living is not settling for less: rather, it is living in the abundance of what we have and soaking it all in with a grateful spirit.  Simplicity is a middah that slows us down, causes us to enjoy the gifts of today, and look to tomorrow with temperance and wisdom.  Less is truly more.

mesorah Sun, 03 Jun 2012 19:43:28 +0000
a path to non-hoarding http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/670-a-path-to-non-hoarding http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/670-a-path-to-non-hoarding

art-luggageI can recall our second trip to Israel as a family, when our three children were 8, 6, and 6 respectively.  We rented an apartment in Yemin Moshe for a week and soaked in Jerusalem like tenants. 

Though the apartment had exquisite views and resided on a sleepy bougainvillea laden alley, it has less of the trappings and supplies than I was used to at home.  However, I can recall that all throughout the stay, I kept marveling at how content I was with what I had in that apartment.  I managed in the kitchen without a hitch and made everything work.  I was profoundly aware that I could live with less and that when I got home, I would be doing some serious purging of my belongings.  This simplicity was intoxicating and I longed to bring that taste of simpler living home with me.  The children were thrilled with their simpler surroundings and I realized it was possible to live with less.

If there is anything that trips us up in life, it's all the clutter we put in our path: unhealthy attachments and relationships, pain-producing beliefs, fears, anxiety, desires and physical stuff.  This clutter can truly confuse and trouble our journey and purpose in life.

The Hebrew word for simplicity is histap'kut. It is drawing contentment from less. Living with less possessions is only one path to simplicity.  The concept of non-hoarding is something that can be applied to many areas of our lives.  For each one of us, it is identifying the "clutter" that we need to let loose in order to have a lighter load.  I've often heart the quote, "travel light, live light."  If our journey is to take us anywhere, we need to let go of the things that weigh us down unnecessarily. It spoils the journey and takes away our energy.

Practice this simple meditation to help you to become aware of how you can simplify your life and let go of unnecessary and/or unhealthy aspects in your life: whether they are relationships, possessions, commitments, beliefs, or feelings.  

(Note:  For more information on meditative techniques, see the source Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.)

Find a comfortable seat in a quiet place.  Close your eyes.  Breathing in slowly, allow your stomach to completely inflate which in turn helps your lungs to competely inflate.  As you exhale, gently pull your stomach in, squeezing all the air out of your lungs. Deep breathing brings oxygen to your brain and helps clear the mind. Continue breathing until you feel relaxed and feel little or no distractions.  Let the noises around you, no matter how small, filter out. Focus on your breath.

Continue breathing and choose a focus where you know you feel cluttered. 

  • your home (material possessions, yard, etc..)
  • your finances
  • relationships
  • commitments
  • feelings
  • beliefs

Once you have found a focal point, allow this meditative phrase to linger in the background of your mind.  

A plain and simple life is a full life.  --Mishlei 13:7


Continue slowly inhaling and exhaling and analyze in your mind how it is a hindrance. Assess how you can simplify this aspect of your life, either through reorganization, reprioritization, elimination, or taking a break.  Carefully focus on only one bullet point above during a meditation until you feel you have clarity on how to employ measures to simplify this area. 

The goal is to create an awareness of the areas in your life that need simplicity.  If you properly focus during meditation and allow yourself to dig deeply into your life and employ simplistic measures, over time you will achieve a higher level of simplicity in your life.  This simplicity will not only aid in your journey and purpose, but allow your light of Mashiach to shine more brightly to those around you.

meditation Fri, 01 Jun 2012 23:03:47 +0000
like children http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/669-like-children http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/669-like-children

art-childpaintingThen they brought him children so he could place his hands upon them and pray, but his talmidim reprimanded them. Yeshua said, “Permit the children and do not withhold them from coming to me, because theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”  He placed his hands upon them, and he passed on from there.  --Matthew 19:13-15, DHE

There's something about children: refreshing, honest, open, and simple.  Not simple in a negative way, but in the best way possible.  Our Rebbe Yeshua certainly knew this.

Children are vessels waiting to be filled.  Depending on how they are filled, they grow to be amazing adults and give back to the world with more than they have been given.  They resonate with hope and seek to do the impossible.  And even more, they have a sense of eternity that abounds within them.  Their fire seems unquenchable and the sky is the limit.

going back

So what exactly was our Mashiach hinting at when he says that theirs is the kingdom of Heaven?  I believe it is more than just an inheritance that will come to them because they are younger.  I think that he is declaring that they have a state of mind that is not just simple but tender as well.  They are maleable and changeable.  They haven't been hardened by years of disappointment, hardship, circumstances, jockeying for power, or health problems.  Their lives are simple and their focus is unencumbered.  They have to ability to look forward with hope and pioneer without hangups.  Their energy seems endless and their gumption enviable.

So what happens to us that we let our pores get so clogged and our willpower so weakened?  How do we return to that state of anticipation and enthusiasm?  Perhaps it is by looking at the model of a child's life that will help us. 

small worries

Children, and I speak mostly of those in fairly healthy environments (although much can even be said for oppressed children), have fairly simple lives.  Most children are not concerned with paying bills, the latest fads, health concerns, broken relationships, jobs gone bad, and opportunities lost.  They only become this way as they get older due to the influences which adults have on their lives. 

The life of a child is a world filled with imagination, possibilities, new experiences, and connections.  Their way of looking at things, though very intelligent, is more straightforward.  They are open to change because it is exciting.  Adults get burdened by a life of experiences and over time, lose the desire to plow forward with enthusiasm and vigor.  Our simplistic way of looking at the world has become so clouded it can be difficult to muddle through a day with success and clear vision.  Have you ever witnessed the difference between a child painting and an adult?  A child will grab the brush with such fervor, while an adult will hesitate, wonder what to draw, wonder if it will turn out well, if it will be worth it, etc....   Those who are young and mind and heart feel courage and energy because what lies in their hearts and souls is simplicity.  They aren't hung up on all the what ifs.

If we wish to be part of those who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, we need to transform our minds and hearts to be like those of children. Release the loads that slow you down.  Let go of the parts of your life which stifle you.   Spend some time around those younger souls and let your soul shed its years of burdens and shackles and become simple again.

besorah Fri, 01 Jun 2012 22:36:27 +0000
how the world stands http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/667-how-the-world-stands http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/667-how-the-world-stands

art-stoolA woman died and left no money to pay for her funeral. She was an inhabitant of one of the Lithuanian twin towns of Kovno and Slobodka, which were separated only by a small river. A dispute arose between the burial societies of both towns as to which town was responsible for her burial, and would therefore have to underwrite its costs. This dispute erupted during morning prayers, disrupting the recitation of the Shema, the declaration of God's unity.

Rabbi Salanter and his disciples were present at the time. Rabbi Salanter saw the debate dragging on, with the body consequently being left unattended, an unacceptable desecration of the dead according to Jewish law. Rabbi Salanter therefore declared that since no one was ready to bury the woman she fell under the category of met mitzvah, a person who has no one to attend to his or her burial; the obligation to bury such a person falls upon every Jew in the vicinity at the time of death. He then removed his prayer shawl and phylacteries and instructed his students to do the same. He and his students attended to the woman and buried her.

It would not have occurred to most people to interrupt their prayers in order to take upon themselves the arduous tasks of preparing the corpse of a total stranger for burial. Only someone with Salanter's highly developed ethical sensitivity would conclude that the normal obligation of prayer was superseded by the duty to provide someone with a proper burial when no one else was willing to do so. --Cited in Hillel Goldberg, The Fire Within: The Living Heritage of the Musar Movement (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 1987), pp. 48-49.

In Judaism, chesed shel emet translates out to 'true kindness'.  Indeed it is, for the person you bury cannot thank you or repay your deed in any way.  The kindness that you do is truly selfless, as you benefit not in any way from performing the mitzvah.  This is how the world is able to stand.

There is a famous song that highlights this concept of loving-kindness, one of the legs that keeps the world standing and balanced.

Al shlosha d’varim, al shlosha d’varim
Al shlosha, shlosha d’varim, ha-olam, ha-olam omeid.

Al hatorah
V’al ha-avodah
V’al g’milut chassadim

Translation: There are three things upon which the world depends. On Torah, On work and study, On acts of loving-kindness.   --Pirkei Avot 1:2

Why then were these communities, separated by a river, squabbling about doing true kindness to this woman?  When it comes to performing a mitzvah, does it really come down to cost?  As Rabbi Salanter showed us, the obligation that is incumbent upon us all is what is at stake.  Whatever the price, whatever the effort, we must, and without further ado, stop what we are doing and do what is urgent and right. The world is like a three-legged stool and loving-kindness is a necessary leg.  If we all bind together and performs these acts of kindness, the burden is light and shared.  Love your neighbor as yourself and do it effortlessly.

stories Fri, 01 Jun 2012 22:20:17 +0000
merciful consideration http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/657-merciful-consideration http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/657-merciful-consideration

art-boxwritingRav Yisrael Salanter was a leading 19th century sage who founded the Mussar movement which was dedicated to the study and renewal of Torah teachings and halachot regarding ethical behavior and character development. One early morning, a disciple of Rav Yisrael passed through a room full of sleeping people in order to get water for the ritual washing of his hands. Rav Yisrael later rebuked him, saying: “Washing the hands when you wake up is a mitzvah instituted by our sages, but robbing others of their sleep is forbidden by the Torah!” Rav Yisrael was reminding his disciple that the Torah's prohibition, “You shall not rob” (Leviticus 19:13), includes a prohibition against “robbing” someone of his sleep.

The disciple needed to realize that his action was mistaken for two reasons: It was wrong to violate this prohibition in order to wash his hands; moreover, the mitzvah to wash one’s hands upon awakening is a rabbinic mitzvah, while robbing others of their sleep is a Torah prohibition and therefore takes priority.  --taken from “Sparks of Mussar” by Rabbi Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

Sometimes, people hold it in their mind that when they are doing a mitzvah for Hashem, nothing else in the world matters.  People, things, animals can all just deal with the intrusion while they serve their Creator.  However, it is clear that Rav Salanter felt that this was clearly untrue.  He wanted us to have compassion on those around us, even those who are sleeping, in the midst of performing a mitzvah.  He was acutely aware of human needs and always challenging the halachic observance of those around him. While he was a stickler for tradition and halachah, he would never do something if it jeopardized someone else. He was striving for sensitivity in the realm of human to human interactions in order to elevate our human to Creator actions.  To Rav Salanter, one could truly negate the other if not only the intention was incorrect, but the means of getting there. 

May we strive to emulate this righteous example of considering those around us as we serve our Creator.  In doing so, we are honoring Hashem and bringing to the world an example of merciful consideration in all that we do.

stories Mon, 14 May 2012 17:28:22 +0000
Av HaRachamim http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/651-av-harachamim http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/651-av-harachamim

art-brickwallThe Hebrew word for compassion is rachamim.  


Before we open the ark in synagogue, we recite the Av HaRachamim. This beautiful prayer is for Jerusalem and reads:

Av HaRachamim (Father of mercies), may You willingly do good to Zion. Rebuild the walls of Jerusalem; for in You alone have we trusted, King, God, elevated and exalted, Master of the World.

The walls of Jerusalem, the walls which surround it and circle it, are made of bricks.  Individual bricks.  And Jerusalem itself is a place that is not only a center of holiness, a heavenly center, but a place where people reside.  Individual people.  It is also the soul of Israel, the soul of the Jewish people and those who would see her prosper.

If it weren't for the compassion that Hashem shows us daily, we could not stand; in the same way, the compassion that we show others also helps the world to stand. This literal and proverbial wall cannot stand if the bricks are weak or out of place.  A strong wall consists of centered and whole bricks and that can only come through acts of compassion.

"Mercy is an extremely noble trait.  It is one of the thirteen traits attributed the Holy One Blessed Be He, as it is written (Shemot 34:6): "Merciful and gracious." All that one can do in cultivation this trait, he should exert himself to do.  Just as one would want to be pitied in his time of need, so should he pity others who are in need, as it is written (Vayikra 19:18): "And you should love your fellowman as yourself."  --Orchot HaTzaddikim, pg 141

Hashem brings us wholeness and strength through His compassion.  So too should we show this to our fellow, regardless of their situation.  By building up souls, uplifting those who are lowly, it is like raising walls to be unified and whole. 

Practice this simple meditation to heighten your ability to  have rachamim by focusing on your desire for the uplifting of those who are lowly.

(Note:  For more information on meditative techniques, see the source Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.)

A strong wall is made of bricks that fit together properly and are arranged in an order.  The difference between "hole" and "whole" is the letter "w".  One simple letter defines whether something has a gap or is fully in tact.  When someone is struggling, there is a hole in his/her existence.  It is our job to raise up that brick, to be part of the healing either by word or deed and restore that brick to the wall and bring wholeness.  Our wall of humanity is nothing if any or all the bricks are fallen.

Find a comfortable seat in a quiet place.  Close your eyes.  Breathing in slowly, allow your stomach to completely inflate which in turn helps your lungs to competely inflate.  As you exhale, gently pull your stomach in, squeezing all the air out of your lungs. Deep breathing brings oxygen to your brain and helps clear the mind. Continue breathing until you feel relaxed and feel little or no distractions.  Let the noises around you, no matter how small, filter out. Focus on your breath.

Honing in on the image of a wall in your mind, imagine you are the brick which is next to a hole in the wall.  Imagine you have always known the presence of the other brick next to you and suddenly it is missing.  You seek out the lost brick which has always been next to you.  You discover it has fallen to the ground below.  This is how you should view those around you who need compassion: as if they have fallen and need recognition.   Someone else's struggle needs to be important to us.  Whether or not you can put them back in the wall, you should try and offer compassion as a form of help.

As you slowly continue breathing, either recite in your mind or out loud:


Av HaRachamim, may You willingly have mercy on...

(insert name of someone you know who is struggling here)

Keep your focus on this phrase as you contemplate firstly someone with whom you are close who is struggling.

Then, allow yourself to confront in your mind someone with whom you are at odds and is struggling, no matter where he/she is in the world. Repeat this phrase with true compassion for his/her situation. Truly reach out in your heart and be sincere in your meditation for his/her well-being.

As you go through these groupings, try and recite this phrase until you feel the same level of rachamim for those with whom you are at odds and those with whom you are close. Hashem is merciful to all and wishes for all to be whole.

When you are finished with your rachamim meditation, slowly open your eyes.  Carry these meditations in your heart throughout your day and continue to remember those in need, as well as seek out others who have fallen.

The goal is to create the same level of feeling of compassion for all, as Hashem has rachamim for each one of us.  Practice this meditation often so you can begin to display your rachamim more freely.

meditation Wed, 09 May 2012 23:31:52 +0000
merciful words http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/650-merciful-words http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/650-merciful-words

art-ditchMany know of the mitzvah of giving charity and of its reward, but not of the greatness of the mitzvah of words.  Have our Rabbis not said (Bavra Basra 9b):  "One who gives a penny to a poor man is blessed with six blessings, but one who conciliates him with words is blessed with eleven."  Therefore in speaking, one must clothe himself in righteousness to speak to the poor man's heart.  His words must be gentle to the poor one; he must console him in his adversity and in his ill fortune, and he must honor and uplift him.  --The Ways of the Tzaddikim, pg. 145

get rid of cable

Our words have boundless potential.  One potential they have is to be a compassionate lifeline for those around us who are hurting, suffering in life, or who are having a temporary setback.

Some comedic commercials currently circulating are the DirecTV commercials.  They take the simple act of having cable and linking a whole series of terrible events because of it.  At the end, the announcer always tells the poor sap who is the victim that in order to prevent the final outcome, he must get rid of cable.  One commercial goes as such:

When your cable company keeps you on hold, you get angry.  When you get angry, you decide to blow off steam (man goes to play racquetball).  When you blow off steam, accidents happen (man gets hit in the eye with a racquetball).  When accidents happen, you get an eyepatch (man gets an eyepatch from injury).  When you get an eyepatch, people think you're tough.  When people think you're tough, they want to see how tough (man wearing eyepatch is running with a group of thugs chasing him).  When people want to see how tough, you wake up in a roadside ditch.  Don't wake up in a roadside ditch.  Get rid of cable.

While comedy necessitates that the announcer blames the man's roadside ditch happening all on cable, he doesn't share any compassion.  He merely tells him "don't wake up in a roadside ditch, get rid of cable".  While the announcer is showing preventative measures to the rest of us if we have cable, this cold approach of blame and lack of compassion is sadly a response that many of us give to those around us when they are experiencing calamity. It is the equivalent of saying, "It's your own fault and if you had just done a, b, and c, you wouldn't be in your current roadside ditch."  We all know this doesn't help but we sadly we might do it anyway.  It takes the life situation of a person and makes it unbearable through criticism and trite words.

out of the ditch

Inevitably, we all have our proverbial ox in the ditch one time or another.  For some people, this might happen more often than not.  But what should our response be?  Compassion. Not judgment, not stern words, compassion. It is very difficult to fall upon hard times, and even harder to vocalize it or have people see you going through them.  When we render compassionate words, merciful words to those who are suffering, we demonstrate that we are not judging and we wish to see the situation improve.  When we show compassion by offering our hearts through our words, we are standing in the ditch with an individual and attempting to help him or her out.  If we merely gaze from above and holler, "Hey, how'd you get in there?" or "What were you thinking?", we stand in judgment and make the plight of that person so much worse. We become not a friend but a bully, taunting and ridiculing, dishonoring and denegrating.

As it says above in Orchot HaTzaddikim (The Ways of the Tzaddikim):

His words must be gentle to the poor one; he must console him in his adversity and in his ill fortune, and he must honor and uplift him.

The key here is not only to honor but to uplift.  When people are suffering, they feel so lowly like they are at the bottom of the heap. The energy required to pick themselves up seems impossible to muster. A kind word, a gentle encouragement can mean the difference between life and death, and a healing balm even in the face of death.

all you can give

My husband recently found out that a co-worker, someone on his team, was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer.  The man had lost quite a bit of weight in the past few months, but everyone just thought he was dieting.  It was, however, his chemotherapy that was taking its toll.  When the manager found out, he called my husband in who he knows is an active rabbi.  He asked what the group's response should be and what to say at the next group meeting when the man would tell the group.  My husband's response was to show the man compassion and care by expressing kind words of help—that if there was anything he needed that any one of them would be there. Any day, any time.

At the group meeting, the man shared his news with the group.  The group, stunned and shocked from the news, slowly let him know they would be there for him.  My husband had a chance to talk with him later on and shared more words of encouragement.  Words at that moment were all he could give this man.  This is sometimes our only gift to those suffering and hurting around us: words of love, words of healing, words of assurance.  While to us a situation like this is so sad and there is no other outcome possible, merciful words can make all the difference and bring comfort.

But what about people who purposely put themselves in harm's way, always seeming to mess up their lives despite the good advice that people give them?  They too deserve words of compassion, merciful words to help them.  Compassion does not equal condoning someone's behavior, nor does it mean that we necessarily have to have a friendship.  It means that in a person's time of need, we are there to help. Our Mashiach demonstrated this compassion as he stood in the various ditches of the lowly and raised them up.

Be a ladder in a ditch with someone who is struggling: use your words to uplift and honor those around you who are struggling and seek to be an agent of mercy. 

mesorah Wed, 09 May 2012 22:05:19 +0000
the goldilocks principle http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/633-the-goldilocks-principle http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/633-the-goldilocks-principle

art-goldieYou shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates. --Devarim 6:5-9

The Shema is a most wholesome exhortation of moderation.  If we examine what it is saying, at the very beginning and core, it is commanding us to love Hashem in a few different ways.  And those ways, if we do them, will help us to love Him in the best and balanced way. Without the complete embodiment of heart, soul, and might, we would fail miserably in our attempt to love Hashem.


To me, when we are commanded to love with our heart, we are using our minds.  This part of us takes in knowledge, stores, and uses that knowledge to help others.  It is a seat which controls many of our daily actions and helps us to connect with the world.  Through the study of Torah and the drinking in of knowledge of the Sages and contemporary writings, we get a sense of what Hashem desires for us and how to be the kind of person He wants us to be.  This way of loving our Creator brings understanding and inner growth, and makes us knowlegable in the ways of goodness and holiness.

But what happens when we study too much?   We become hardened to prayer and deeds, because we mistakenly think that knowledge becomes complete worship.  What about when we study too little?  Our ability to comprehend greater knowledge wanes as we start become deficient in connecting with our Creator through prayer, and we start to lose sight of why deeds are important.


Through our prayers and seeking Him, we can love Him and the world by tapping into the Divine and getting guidance.  We can grow our souls, cultivate them, and make them sensitive vessels so as to change the souls of others through our inspiration and love.  Our avodah molds us, our meditation quiets our souls and informs us, our yearning for the Divine Creator causes us to see deeper than what is around us.

How can too much prayer be a downfall?  One might think such a thing can't possibly exist.  But truly, if you become so obsessed with prayer, you will lose sight of the need to learn and train your mind, and the need to get on the ground and serve Hashem in a physical way in the world.  Too little prayer and soul work?  There is no doubt that the answer to that is quite easy: your desire to learn will nearly disappear, as your mind won't be interested in learning the ways of Hashem and your feet won't have the desire to walk in His footsteps.


This physical part of our on the ground activity is vital in putting to work what has gone on in the heart and the soul.  By taking what we have stored up in the heart/mind through learning and inner growth, and by harnessing our soul power that we have achieved through prayer and daily meditation, we are able to go into the world and serve Hashem with our might.  This might could be money, physical work, technical work, etc...  In any case, it is outside of the study halls and synagogues: it is our connection to the here and now, the world in our midst.

But what happens if we become obsessed with the physical nature of serving Hashem and lob off the learning and soul work?  Quite literally, it is like our souls dry up and the energy to grow our minds is non-existent.  The physical takes a toll on the mind and soul.  And what if we decide that we are not going to put our feet to the task and get out there and help the world?  For one you will not only be a pale human, sequestered from the sun and all daily contact, but your soul will wither from not acting out the beauty it has stored up.  This can be compared to a weight-lifter.  Does he build muscle up by lifting weights only to go sit in a chair once he has reached his goal? No, he uses that to compete and to grow his title.  His muscles are not just for beauty, they are to lift the weights in his competition.  Our soul and mind muscles are for us to go into the world and do our job, not merely just to have them as laurels.


Be that moderation that Hashem seeks for us.  As we recite the Shema daily, may we truly listen to the moderation it speaks of and learn how to love and serve Hashem our Creator with all of our heart, soul, and might.

torah Thu, 12 Apr 2012 20:02:48 +0000
from invisible to visible http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/605-from-invisible-to-visible http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/605-from-invisible-to-visible

art-visibletruckR. Simon said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties, some of them saying, Let him be created, whilst others urged, let him not be created. Thus it is written, Love and Truth fought together, Righteousness and Peace combated each other (Ps.85, 11). Love said, 'Let him be created, because he will dispense acts of love'; Truth said, 'Let him not be created, because he is compounded of falsehood'; Righteousness said, 'Let him be created, because he will perform righteous deeds'; Peace said, 'Let him not be created, because he is full of strife'. What did the Lord do? He took Truth and cast it to the ground!  -- Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 8:5

Angels fighting?  Ditch project-man?  Truth being expelled?  What to think?  If there is one component that we know causes the most strife here on this earth is everyone's idea of what they think truth is.  It has caused countless wars, hatred to be manifest, and communities to separate.  While the quest for truth will always endure, the midrash makes a point that out of all four angels, Truth could not reign supreme in decision-making or be the one to prevail.

try and test your truth

The other three angels who are represented as Love, Righteousness, and Peace, are important in our daily lives.  Through acts of loving-kindness, we can uphold and encourage one another.  When righteousness is performed, it makes the spirit of Hashem manifest through the world in corners that might not otherwise know of Him.  When we perform acts of peace, we bring humanity together and minimize the divide. 

Now what about truth?  While cast from heaven, Truth was not all together shunned; it was put on earth and it is said "from earth truth shall sprout."  But only shall it sprout in the midst of loving-kindness, righteousness and peace.  This is the only way truth has a chance.  Otherwise it can be a vindicating, judging, and destructive force.

He [Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa] used to say: "He whose works exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures; but he whose wisdom exceeds his works, his wisdom will not endure." -- Avot 3:12

Responsibility comes into play here heavily as we examine this quote.  While we study, toil in widsom, seek truth, it is only in our works that our wisdom (truth) will endure.  By playing out what we have learned, what we have gleaned from the truth we study, only then can it take hold in our lives, in our minds, and in the lives and minds of those around us.  Otherwise, we  risk being the bearers of just ethereal thoughts and concepts— lofty, high and beyond the reach of all (including ourselves). 

This is an important principle for those who love to devour information and make study a habit. If we study just for the sake of studying and fail to put that knowledge into practical everyday living, we bear no fruit and that which we have is nothing.  The key to life is doing good deeds and not setting the goal of just becoming 'wise.'  We have the responsibility to temper ourselves by putting into action that which we have gained intellectually.  Only then can truth sprout up from the earth and we can endure in our wisdom.  Study well, but most of all, be responsible with your wisdom and let your works precede you: make the invisible visible.

mesorah Mon, 23 Jan 2012 22:35:22 +0000
tend your planet http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/603-tend-your-planet http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/603-tend-your-planet

art-littleprince"It's a question of discipline," the little prince told me later on. "When you've finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet." – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943, translated from French by Richard Howard

This remarkable little quote takes us to the heart of responsibility and puts into perspective our task: tend our planet. This broad action is really what life is about. However, for each one of us, there is a focus and a honing in that needs to occur. On this planet are people, animals, structures, and nature. While we specialize in different types of knowledge and work, and live in different locales, what we all have in common is that we have an affect over the sphere in which we orbit throughout the day. This is our responsibility, our “planet”. While we can have broader perspective and help outside of our local sphere of influence, we are ultimately responsible for that which we are close to and interact with daily first. Hashem, our animals, our family, our property, our jobs, our communities—all these require our attention. Sometimes this can overwhelming; sometimes we drop the ball and lose sight of what we should be doing. As we are all deeply interconnected with the world, what we do matters, and how much we do or don’t do matters as well.

This meditation will help you focus and clarify what “tend your planet” means to you.

(Note:  For more information on meditative techniques, see the source Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.)

Find a comfortable seat in a quiet place.  First, take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing brings oxygen to your brain and helps clear the mind. Close your eyes. Continue breathing until you feel relaxed and feel little or no distractions.  Let the noises around you, no matter how small, filter out.

As you feel relaxed, let your mind focus on you for a moment. Judaism says that each person is a world. You are a world, a planet so to speak. Sometimes we neglect this world. Contemplate any way in which you have neglected yourself (exercise, eating properly, relax time, sleep). You can only give to others if you are able, and the health of your “world” matters greatly.  Focus on how you can be more responsible with how you treat and tend to yourself.  Perhaps you tend to yourself too much (overfocused on fitness, eating, checking every blog and email, shopping); think of ways you can lessen some of the attention you give to yourself to help others.

Then, let your mind drift to people with whom you are in relationship on a daily basis (parents, siblings, children, animals, etc.). Contemplate your responsibilities to these individuals. Are you lax in what you do for them? Are you overdoing yourself? Is there a way that you could tend your planet better by tending to them?

Extend your focus to friends, people you work with or have a professional relationship with … how are you tending your planet with regard to them ? Are you meeting expectations, exceeding them or shirking them? Are you tending what you should be on a daily basis?

Think of those outside of your local sphere that might need your help.  How do you tend to them?  Do you think of them at all?  Meditate on how you might better help those who live in this realm on your planet.

As you go through these groupings, it is important that you examine your responsibilities and assess them honestly. If you are tending your work “planet” at the expense of your home, seek more balance in this area. If you are zealous about being home and loathe your work “planet”,  focus on how you can make a shift and balance your middah of responsibility. 

Concentrate on what your responsibilities are in these various areas.  Perhaps you need to simplify or magnify your responsibilities.  This is a time to realistically assess that over which you have been given charge and what you do for those with whom you are knitted in relationship.  Take time in this meditation to stay focused on the spots of your planet where you need improvement.

Practice this meditation often so you can bring clarity and stay focused on your responsibilities to yourself and those around you in a balanced fashion.

meditation Sun, 22 Jan 2012 07:09:34 +0000