“Getting Things in Order” – My thoughts on this weeks middah.

organize

Generally, I am an organized person. I’m not sure how many people daydream of becoming a professional organizer or read Don Aslett’s book, “How To Have A 48-Hour Day” numerous times for fun. 😉 “Obsessed” is an understatement for my love of all things planner and stationary related.  Working at The Container Store would not be lucrative for me.  My paycheck would be history before it cleared my bank account!!!

BUT… THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT!

Our family has doubled in size and my personal responsibilities have mysteriously quadrupled! Not sure how that works!?! Keeping my home organized has proved exponentially more difficult with two toddlers! Keeping things in order (inwardly/spiritually) also takes much more concerted effort.

Similar to Humility, order is a foundational middah because it is essential to developing any discipline. “Without steady, systematic practice, one never emerges from mediocrity into excellence, whether it be as a violinist practicing scales for hours daily to prepare for a great solo performance, or a runner hitting the trail every day, rain or shine, to get ready for a marathon. Likewise, spiritual development requires an ordered life.”

“Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe said in the name of the Alter of Kelm that order can be compared to the clasp on a pearl necklace. The pearls are what make the necklace, and they are definitely more important than the clasp, but without the clasp the pearls will fall off and scatter, and all that will remain of the necklace is the string alone. Similarly, a person contains an abundance of strengths, intellect, character traits, and qualities. But without order, all these virtues will scatter, and he or she will be left with nothing.”

My key observations on this middah were…

1) Order is fragile and requires maintenance. In Gan Eden, Hashem charged Adam and Eve to: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Subdue it, because disorder is ready to break out at all times! Indeed, much of Jewish life is about maintaining order within this dynamic creation.

2) Order is a priority among the middot because its presence or absence will be evident. As Alan Morinis writes, “External disorder may be a reflection of internal disarray.” We might be able to mislead ourselves or our friends about other traits, but disorder will be evident. Order, then, serves as a barometer of our overall progress in Mussar.

3) Practicing order in one’s personal life involves developing and utilizing other middot.

Disorder is often the child of a rebellious ego that resists humbly occupying a rightful space. All that it whispers in your inner ear can be reduced to “I want” or “I don’t want.” I want to have fun, and cleaning up after myself is no fun. I want my leisure, and setting things in order is work. Humility – occupying one’s rightful space – is essential to order. {Ouch!}

Likewise, honor is essential to practicing order. “When you live with other people and you are content to make a mess in shared spaces, you dishonor the people you live with. Honor is due to all human beings not because of the greatness of their achievements but more simply because they embody an inherently holy soul. When you activate this inner sensibility, you want to keep things in order not just for order’s sake, but also for the higher purpose of honoring the people with whom you share relationships. All of us, are after all, are made in the divine image, and so when we honor people we honor G-d.”

I loved this thought… “Instead of fruitlessly yelling at the fire to cool down, you need to ask yourself, “What’s the water in this case? In other words, what’s the corresponding trait that will, if strengthened, cause the obstacles to orderliness to evaporate as if by themselves?”

Reflecting on any area of disorder in one’s life will likely reveal work that should be done with related middot!

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald, was a book I read several years ago. Although the book is written from a secular perspective, the author was unknowingly writing about Mussar. 😉 He made several noteworthy statements which I took the liberty of making sound a little more Jewish:

If my private world is in order, it will be because I am convinced that the inner world of the spiritual must govern the outer world of activity. 

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have made a daily determination to see time as G-d’s gift and worthy of careful investments.

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have determined that every day will be for me a day of growth in knowledge and wisdom.

If my private world is in order, it will be because I absorb the words of *Torah* into my attitudes and actions.

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have begun to pursue the discipline of seeing events and people through the eyes of Hashem so that my prayers reflect my desire to be in alignment with His purposes and promises for them.

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have chosen to press Sabbath peace into the rush and routine of my daily life in order to find the rest G-d prescribed Himself and all of humanity.

Alan Morinis’s summary is best:

“The essential value of practicing order is that by voluntarily aligning ourselves with an orderly way of living, we draw ourselves closer to the divine way of being. When we are orderly, we emulate one of G-d’s intrinsic characteristics and that draws us closer to G-d.”

In parsha Chayei Sarah, we read in Ch. 23:1 “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life.” At first glance, this pasuk sounds a little redundant. However, the commentary suggests that the phrase “the years of Sarah’s life” means they were all equal for goodness. Our forefather Abraham is described as being “advanced in days” in Ch. 24:1. Commentators explain that every moment of his every day was productive and fulfilling! They were not time wasters! They were history makers! As their progeny, we should follow in their footsteps and emulate our creator.  

Life is chaotic, but our souls don’t need to be. The wisdom of Mussar is that we can increase our inward order through practical action in our outward surroundings.

My Mussar phrases/meditations for this week were:

“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

Take time, be exact, unclutter the mind. – Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm

I have only hust a minute
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me,
Can’t refuse it,
Didn’t seek it,
Didn’t choose it.
I must suffer if I lose it
Give account if I abuse it
Just a tiny little minute
But eternity is in it!
– Unknown

My Mussar practices for the week were:

Look at your daily routine and see if it is working; if not, change some part of your routine so it is more lifegiving.

Take a room or space that is out of order and make a plan to organize it.

Take an area or your life that needs discipline (health, fitness, prayer) and make a plan to make time for it.

Make a habit of “Eating the Frog First!” There’s an old saying that goes, “If the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is eat a live frog, then nothing worse can happen for the rest of the day!” Whatever the task on your to-do list is that will take the most time or you are least motivated to do… get it done first. You will save time and energy by procrastinating/stressing less!

Reflecting on and accounting for areas in need of improvement in my life was a reminder that I have a lot of work to do. At the same time, I was encouraged to “beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

“The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset, to whiz through our obligations without time for a single mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life.” – Wayne Muller

The purpose for cultivating order is not for the quantity of things you can check of a to-do list. Cultivating order is about putting {quality} back into how you use your time!

May Hashem help you and I to avoid “the barrenness of a busy life” and grow in the attribute of orderliness.

Shalom,

Maayan

“My Thoughts on Humility”

humility

Last week I began my Mussar cycle and studied the first middah – anavah (humility). It was a productive and enlightening study!

The introduction to Everyday Holiness says: “Spiritual truths are not so much learned as recalled. Some ideas that we encounter, even if for the first time, don’t strike us as new information but more like memories being reawakened within us. It is as if our hearts innately possess these truths and so we don’t need lessons, only reminders of wisdom that we already know. These reminders awaken us, and then we see life more clearly and we know what we must do.”

In my mind, I thought I knew what humility was all about. However, over the course of the week, I was reawakened to the bigger picture of humility and its true definition.

 Humility is not an extreme. It’s balanced in between pride and self-debasement.

Humility is an accurate recognition of self, neither too grand or too diminished.

Real humility is always associated with a healthy self-esteem.

 Generally, humility is the first middah one studies in the Mussar cycle. In Duties of the Heart, Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda helps direct our attention by posing a question: “On what do the virtues depend?” His answer is clear, “All virtues and duties are dependent on humility.”

The importance of humility is underlined in the Talmud, where we read: “One who sacrifices a whole offering shall be rewarded for a whole offering. One who offers a burnt-offering shall have the reward of a burnt-offering. But one who offers humility to G-d and man shall be rewarded with a reward as if he had offered all the sacrifices in the whole world.”

“The Mussar teachers stress that humility is a primary soul-trait to work on because it entails an unvarnished and honest assessment of who you are. Without this accurate self-awareness, nothing else in your inner life will come into focus in its true measure.”

Just as you can’t work on perfecting the middot in your life without true humility (honest self-assessment), you cannot obtain humility without a healthy self-esteem.

It’s obvious that pride and arrogance are antithetical to humility. But a low opinion of self or self-worth has no relation to true humility either!

True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. – Timothy Keller

As someone who is naturally a bit shy and introverted – this was a great lesson!

I have negative experiences affect my self-esteem in a big way and I don’t always speak up when I have something to say for fear of saying the wrong thing.

I learned it is equally as important for people who are timid and perhaps shy, to understand their level of humility better. “Someone who is too humble might find themselves in a situation where action is call for, but they think to themselves “who am I to act?” As Mordechai said to Esther, “It’s such a time as this…” Someone with a weaker ego (sense of self-worth) might think that they are not worthy of the task.”

 I am worthy of the task, and I need to sacrifice what I think is humility to act on another’s behalf.

A story in the Talmud helped me begin to get a sense of the distinctively Jewish understanding of humility:

The passage begins: “The anivut [humility] of Rabbi Zechariah son of Avkulas caused the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem” (Gittin 55b-56a). This was a cataclysmic event in Jewish history that is still mourned today. How could a virtue like humility cause so terrible a catastrophe?

To understand, we have to enter the story a bit earlier, when a man named Bar Kamtza sought revenge on the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem, by going to the Romans to claim that the Jews were rebelling. To prove his point, he told the Roman leadership to send a sacrifice to the Temple. Normally such a sacrifice would be offered up, but Bar Kamtza caused a minor blemish on the animal that was unnoticeable to the Romans, but which he knew the rabbis would see and so refuse to accept the offering. This refusal would be “proof” that the Jews were in rebellion against Rome.

When the sacrifice came before the rabbis in the Temple, they noticed the hidden blemish, and understood immediately what was going on. One sage suggested that they offer the sacrifice anyway. Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas, however, argued that if they did so, people would draw the incorrect conclusion that it was permitted to offer blemished sacrifices.

The rabbis then suggested that Bar Kamtza be killed to prevent him from telling the Romans and endangering the Jewish people. Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas responded again, by saying, “If we do so, then people will incorrectly think that those who inflict blemishes on sacrifices are put to death.”

As a result of this unwillingness to accept either course of action, Bar Kamtza succeeded in his plan. The sacrifice was denied, and the Romans took this as proof of a Jewish rebellion. The Romans attacked and ultimately destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.

The Talmud concludes: “The anivut of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas caused the loss of our home, the burning of our sanctuary, and our exile from the land.”

What can we learn of the Jewish concept of humility from the story of Zechariah ben Avkulas?

Rabbi Zechariah showed humility because he did not act with presumption — either by offering a blemished animal that contravened the rules, or by condoning murder. But he actually manifested too much humility in shrinking from the task at hand. He held the fate of the Temple and his people in his hands, yet he seems to say, “Who am I to make such unprecedented decisions that will potentially mislead the people as to the law?” This was his excessive humility. His sense of self was flawed because he saw himself as less capable of solving a real-life dilemma of great consequence than he actually was. For surely if God sent the challenge, Rabbi Zechariah had the capability to handle it.”

Another of my favorite stories was of Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pschishe who used to carry two notes in his pockets, so that he could reach in to fetch out one or the other, depending on the need. One said “For my sake was the world created” (Mishnah – Sanhedrin 4:5). The other had the words: “I am dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27).

I learned from Orchot Tzaddikin (The Ways of the Tzaddikim), that humility manifests itself in six ways.

  • In the intensity of a man’s anger. If he is greatly shamed by word or deed and is in a position to take revenge but forgives the other for the sake of the Blessed Creator – this is a sign of humility.
  • If one suffers a great loss and he vindicates G-d’s justice, accepting all with love, this is a strong sign of humility and submissiveness.
  • If one hears people praising him for his wisdom and good deeds he should not rejoice in his heard, but rather reflect that his good deeds are very insignificant to what he ought to do, being like a drop in the great ocean.
  • If the Blessed One graces a man with wealth and children and He gives him wisdom in abundance, understanding, and honor; he should be even more humble and lowly before the Blessed Creator and honor men and pursue their good to an even greater extent than before.
  • If one reproves himself for having harmed another in word or deed and goes of his own volition, without another’s intercession, and asks for forgiveness, humbling himself before him, undoing the wrong, and speaking ingratiatingly – this, too, is a sign of humility.
  • One should be given to soft words. And one should not preoccupy himself with beautiful garments and adornments. And he must not be given to luxuries. All these are signs of humility.

Lastly, as a parent of two toddlers this quote was a good reminder, “Another extremely good form of humility is humbling oneself before one’s students, explaining everything that is difficult to them – to the older one on his level and to the younger one on his. And he should explain again and again with a pleasant expression and demeanor until they understand, and not say: “How can I answer so that he understands; his heart is as hard as stone!” But he must review the matter patiently numerous times. We are familiar with the reward of Rabbi Preida (Eruvin 54b), who reviewed a lesson four hundred times for the benefit of one student.”

 My Mussar phrases for the week were:

 “Always seek to learn wisdom from every man, to recognize your failings and correct them. In doing so, you will learn to stop thinking about your virtues and you will take your mind off your friends faults.” – Rabbi Mendel of Satanov (Cheshbon ha-Nefesh)

“Upon the heels of humility comes fear of Hashem.” (Shekalim 9b.)

“For my sake the world was created… I am but dust and ashes.”

“Know before whom you stand.”

My psukim of the week were:

 May He guide the humble in to justice; may he teach the humble His ways. Ps. 25:9

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

My Mussar practices for the week were:

In a conversation, focus intently on what the other person is saying and not on what you will say next.

Practice active listening and talk less.

Prefer someone’s needs over yours.

When someone says something that does not agree with your opinion, consider holding your tongue and letting it go.

And my favorite…

 “As you are in the presence of another person, whether in conversation or activity, take a few deep breaths. Focus on the verse, “Know before whom you stand.”

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

“If we are able to have a better understanding of whom you stand before on this planet, you can better know Whom your stand before in the Heavens.”

 Shalom Chaverim,

Maayan