Category: Mussar

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Idealism

Judaism has numerous words for particular ideals; there is the tzadik, the chasid, the ba’al teshuvah, etc… But does it have a word for idealism itself – for the inherent value of a burning desire to pursue an ideal? This question is quite important. If there is no word for idealism in lashon hakodesh, neither in biblical Hebrew nor rabbinic...

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Of Arks and Rainbows

There are two events in the Torah that can be identified as yeshu’os, by which I mean events where Hashem saved someone even though they didn’t really merit it. The more obvious is Yetzi’as Mitzrayim, the Exodus. Hashem saved us just as we were slipping from the “49th level of impurity” into being hopelessly corrupt. And in the introduction before...

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Welcome

We recently concluded Mesukim MiDevash, a weekly collection of divrei Torah on the subjects of machshavah, mussar, and the meaning of various teflillos. If you’re curious about what I was thinking about before starting this blog, many of the articles there are mine. Before that, mainly around seven years ago, I wrote the Aspaqlaria column you find in this directory....

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Love, part I

Rav SR Hirsch relates the word ahavah (love) /ahb/ to the roots /hbh/ meaning “offer” and /hbb/, “bring forth”. To love is to give.In his Kunterus haChesed, Rav Dessler writes a truth fundamental to Mussar. We think of giving as an expression of love, but moreso giving is the cause of love. There’s a famous story of Rav Yisrael Salanter...

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Love, part II

If we look at the portrayal of the avos, both in their relationships with Hashem and with their families, I believe you find three distinct models for loving relationships. Avraham is noted by Chazal for being a baal chessed, for being generous, giving. As we saw in part I, this is in imitation of G-d. The purpose of creation (to...

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Psychology and Mussar

The story so far from the previous two entries: Contemporary western society puts its trust in science to the extent that things outside its domain are assumed to have a lesser reality. The current stance toward morality is therefore one of uncertainty, which is paraded as the virtues of tolerance and relativism. It also means that instead of lauding free...

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The Fire Within the Bush

“Dirshu Hashem behimatz’o — seek G-d when He can be found, qara’uhu bihyoso qarov — call Him when He is near.””Shuvu eilai, veashuva aleikhem — Return to Me and I will return to you.”Contrasting images. The first is one of G-d initiating the repentance process, and man responding after Hashem has first made Himself available. The second is G-d’s cry...

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Free Will and Environment

I noticed a result of combining two previous divrei Torah. Before reading the following, see Bemachashavah Techilah for parshiyos Bo and Beshalach. In the first, I explore the question of Hashem making it impossible for Par’oh to change his mind. Isn’t that a violation of Par’oh’s free will? I elaborate on the Sefornu’s answer that in truth, Par’oh’s witnessing miracles...

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Hispa’alus, or: Yismach Moshe

One of the critical tools of Tenu’as haMussar is hispa’alus, “learning ‘with lips aflame.’” Literally, the word is the reflexive of “to work”, in other words “to work on oneself.” Hispa’alus is such a useful practice it even became part of their davening, tefillah behispa’alus.What is hispa’alus? The Alter of Kelm describes a four-step process: Intense and single-minded concentration on...

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Tefillin Mirrors

When I started wearing tefillin, few people used a small hand mirror to see whether or not it was properly centered. I recall men using the shiny metal area indicating where to push on a door, the window in a door to a darkened stairwell, and other awkward solutions. Compared to that, the current ubiquity of mirrors, whether in the...

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A use for every middah

The Semak (mitzvah 8 ) writes that we should be careful with other people’s kavod (honor), but not our own.The Orekhos Tzaddiqim (“sha’ar haAhavah”) similarly writes that you should try to give others hana’ah (enjoyment), but try not to take hana’ah from others. (I don’t quite understand this. Perhaps the author is distinguishing “taking” from “receiving what’s freely given”.)And so,...

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A Use for Every Middah, part II: Two Dictionaries

Among the ideas I touched on in “A use for every middah” was that oftentimes the use is when dealing with others.It’s okay to be an “apiqoreis” and worry about Hashem not providing, when it comes to providing for others.At ne’ilas hachag last night, I heard R’ Yitzchak Wolpin (Rosh Yeshiva of Slonim, Boro Park) repeat a thought from his...

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Yir’ah

In Mesilas Yesharim, the Ramchal (R’ Moshe Chaim Luzato) writes of three kinds of yir’ah (fear / awe / awareness of magnitude). 1- Yir’as ha’onesh: fear of punishment. This is the lowest of the three. However, since even fear of punishment is a motivator, even yir’as ha’onesh is viewed positively. R’ Shlomo Wolbe zt”l writes that today, we’ve lost that...

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A History of Mussar, part I

The Dawn of Mussar Why is Avraham our first forefather? It can’t be his independent discovery of Hashem as Creator and Lawgiver, as Sheim and Ever already established such a tradition. In fact, Yitzchaq and Yaaqov each went to the school established by Sheim and Ever rather than relying on their parental tradition!The difference is that Noach and his children...

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A History of Mussar, part II

The Ramchal and the Gra The Ramchal lived in the early 18th century, primarily in Italy, but he moved to Akko shortly before his passing. He was primarily a qabbalist, although he also wrote Derekh Hashem, a philosophical work that does not overtly rely on his qabbalah. In Derekh Hashem the Ramchal describes the purpose of our time in this...

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Charitzus – Decisiveness

The Cheshbon haNefesh opens his discussion of charitzus (decisiveness) by contrasting the human condition to that of a bird. If a bird is caught in a trap once or twice, it will reflexively avoid things that look like traps. The key term is “reflexively”. There is no conscious decision process. Everything very Pavlovian. A dog, he continues, operates similarly. A...

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Modern Orthodoxy, Chareidism, and Mussar

Thinking about it, I don’t think the whole Torah uMadah (TuM) vs. Torah im Derekh Eretz (TIDE) vs. “Torah Only” distinctions which have become the borders between our communities are really compatible with Mussar. To simplify, let’s phrase the difference between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidim as basically whether (1) chol is an opportunity whose risks must be mitigated or (2)...

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Conflict Resolution

The first miracle disproving the claims of Korach and his followers was when the earth opened up and swallowed them, and fire came and killed the 250 men who tried to offer incense instead of the kohanim. (Bamidbar 16:31-35) Now one would think that’s pretty definitive, and things would end there. However, how did the masses react? “The whole congregation...

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Defining Anavah

(Copied from a “Der Alter” post of mine, but Der Alter seems defunct. I copied the time-stamp from there. -mi 1/16/2008) Is anavah really “humility”? The basic problem of understanding the difference between the Rambam Hil Dei’os ch 1 and ch 2 is not anavah, but ka’as (anger). With ka’as he explicitly invokes the middle path in ch. 1, and...

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Did you cry?

This morning (Shabbos parashas Mas’ei) we read about the borders of Israel (ch. 34:1-12). We read that the southwest corner of Israel is to be Nachal Mitzrayim, Wadi el-Arish (R’ Saadia Gaon) or the Pelusium arm of the Nile (Rashi).Regardless of what you think about the correctness of pulling out of Azza, whether you feel it’s monumental insanity or as...

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Mas’ei — the Journey as a Name of G-d

Parashas Mas’ei opens with a description of Benei Yisra’el’s trip through the desert, and lists the forty-two stops made along the way. An oft-quoted Zohar identifies the stops in the desert with each of the letters in Hashem’s forty-two letter name. What’s the particular significance of the journeys and stops in Sinai that give them such cosmic significance?Jean-Paul Sartre, when...

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Did you cry? II

(This isn’t my usual style or topic for this blog. But as it approaches the deadline, sitting here on Tish’ah beAv afternoon, it would be inhuman not to feel a need to share my thoughts on the subject.)The haftorah for Devarim also must awaken thoughts of current events. “Your country is laid waste, your cities are burned by fire, your...

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Menuchas haNefesh

Picture being in a box. A large box, plenty of room to walk around, but very much with a “boxy” feel. There is a pervasive smell of tar; the box itself is wood sealed with tar. There’s a constant background smell of animals and food as well. Your rocking, floating on the water. The lighting is poor, barely present, and...

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On Destroying Synagogues

The Israeli Government wanted to have the army destroy the synagogues of Azza, to spare us the shame, the Palestinian triumphalism and the chillul Hashem (not that the government would necessarily use that term) that greeted me upon checking the news this morning.However, the unanimous decision of Israel’s rabbis was that it is prohibited for a Jew to tear down...

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The Lishmah of Interpersonal Mitzvos

I recently noticed a paradox when it comes to mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro (interpersonal mitzvos). What is the purpose of such mitzvos? To develop feelings of love and caring toward others; to expand our natural focus on ourselves to include others. Does the lishmah (lit: for itself) mean doing the mitzvah for the sake of doing a mitzvah? If it...