Sunday, October 26, 2008

On Middot


Someone mentioned to me today the possibility of presenting at a workshop about middot in a school setting. Rather than filing it away - I will file here some of my headlines/ideas of what came to mind that I might say if the situation came to be:

Rav Yisrael Salanter re: changing one midah being harder than learning Shas. What does that mean? Do we follow through on what it really means? If something's harder to do it takes more time, no? So why do people quote that quote and then say "veiter in Shas"?

The story of the rabbi who gave mussar and had a mirror on is shtender? Ga'avah? No. He wanted to see who he was speaking to. The Rabbis say chastise X before Y. Guess who is X and who is Y.

Eliezer Kwass once saw a cartoon of a sculpture of a man sculpting himself and thought - that is the story of why w e are here. "Naaseh Adam," together with G-d we make ourselves. Do you think most people have ever thought of this as why they are here on earth?

Entry level spirituality via Rabbi A Twerski is focus on being human more than animal - this includes a focus on middot. Is it possible that this step is skipped/overlooked? What can be done to focus more on this foundation?

Midot mean measures - a cake with too much salt or too much wine won't taste write. All "middot" are part of the recipe of being a human being. Write your recipe - how much of what middah makes the best you?

The Torah was given to humans. We have to struggle with our humanity. For this we were created. Mesilla Yesharim likens it to a maze. Where's the map? Or is it maps?

Moshe challenged G-d, how can you punish people - you gave them the yetzer harah - and G-d kind of says ein hachi nami. What next?

Orchot Tzadikim has story of people in Shamayim after 120 who are confused why someone they thought was less "frum" than them is right up close to the kisei hakavod and they're in the bleachers and G-d tells them - "Hu shama bekoli, ve'atem lo shamatem bekoli." Do we listen to G-d's voice? Do we know who truly listens? How do we listen or not listen in ways that may seem the opposite?

A boy pretended to be a Chasidic Rebbe and gave advice to a boy pretending to be a Chasid. The other boy tells him he did a bad job, because he left out the most important part. He did not let out a krecht between the question asked and the advice he gave. Do you sigh for others? Did you ever want an epathic sigh more than a rational "answer"?

A great Rebbe went through a pinful medical treatment and the Dr was shocked that he didn't jump out the window in pain. The rabbi said that he listened to the painful problems of people daily and if that didn't get to him then the pain of the treatment surely wouldn't do it. Can you imagine? Can this be taught?

The Gemorah says that if you have a choice between a cantankerous talmid chacham and a nice am ha'aretz as a neighbor - choose the former because his essence is Torah and that will rub off on you. A good question is what would the Gemoah say - if you had to choose to be one or the other, which then?

How many times does G-d complain that he doesn't want out korbanot/service if we mistreat each other? (This is not asking for a number but the idea behind the fact that the number is so high).

Rav Elchonon Wasserman once saw his students pushing to get a good seat for shiur and said he wouldn't teach that day because he only taught human beings. Thoughts on his reaction?

The Cherokee story of the two wolves inside - the greedy/nasty and the gentle/kind. The wise man is questioned: which one survives and he answers - the one that I feed. What part of ourselves do we nurture (really)?

A misnaged once said that he realized a Chasidic Rabbi knew a lot of Torah and that he previously hadn't know he was chashuv. The Rebbe replied that what makes you chashuv as a Rabbi is if you take away pain from others. And he proved it from the Gemorah about why people foolishly stand for the Torah and not for Rabbis - because Rabbis deserve appreciation for decreasing 40 makkot to 39 - meaning their role is to decrease suffering. Something to strive for, no?

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was once asked what he saw the role of a Rav to be and he said that it was to do chesed. And this was known to be the case - the stories are many and legendary of R Chaim's chesed. Are Rabbanim /teachers taught to put chesed up top? What do the baalhabati and talmidim yearn for?

When I was a kid a classmate of mine left her Shabbos table crying because her parents insisted she name a kid who did something wrong and she felt it was lashon hara. Imagine... Do we have such fortitude in behaving in the way we believe to be the right manner?

We’re told to love people - oheiv et habriyot - we think this applies to people in far away or nonexistent places. We need to love the people next to us. And that's often the hardest. Where can we start?

There was a time when 7 students shared one blanket in the cold. R Chaim Shmuelevitz says this is possible if each is trying to give rather than take the blanket. Do we more often ask what we can get or is it hard to resist the human urge to get?

R Yisrael - Worry about your own ruchniyut and you friend's gashmiut. Did you ever catch yourself doing the opposite?

How often do we criticize? How often do we compliment. R Fischel Schachter says any time he chastises a student he sandwiches it between two compliments. How close or far are we from this model?

Rav Moshe warmed his son's clothes on the radiator in the winter. What message did this give them? What behavior did this model?

A father would not put jelly on his son's toast if the son misbehaved - but on those days he would not put jelly on his own bread either. What middah does that exemplify?


Blogger Neil Harris said...

Brilliant. I hope you don't mind if I post a link to this sometime tonight.

October 28, 2008 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thanks. I would get a lot of nachas from that and hope it would help others - Yet, lo lichvodi velo lichvod beit abba elah lechvodecha shelo yarbu machloket be'yisrael.

I need to go back and see if spell check works, there are probably some mistakes in spelling, spacing, etc. If you caught any please let me know.

This is really headline form, hope to find tiime to flesh it out -
One more that came to mind -

Orchot Tzadikim says that middot are like perls on a necklace and that Yirat Shamayim is the clasp that allow them all to exist beautifully together.

October 28, 2008 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger Neil Harris said...

"Orchot Tzadikim says that middot are like perls on a necklace and that Yirat Shamayim is the clasp that allow them all to exist beautifully together."

Ohr Yisrael (the colllected letters/writings of R Ysrael Salanter) is knee deep into the idea of Yirat Shamyim. A few summers ago I also posted on my blog a series of writings based on R Salanter's 13 Middos. The list of 13 attributed to him are great starting points.

November 2, 2008 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thanks for your comments.

what do you know about the connection between his principles and those of benjamin franklin.

alan morinis writes in finding jacob's ladder that the hardest "gate" of mussar was yirat shamayim.

November 2, 2008 at 1:05 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

neil h - which blog are you referring to - i searched yirat shamayim on your 3 and it didn't come up.

November 2, 2008 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger Neil Harris said...

Rabbi Fleishchmann,

A) Originally attributed to Rabbi Salanter, the "13 Middos" are based on Franklin's 13 Virtues, and the sefer "Cheshbon HaNefesh", written by Rav Menachem
Mendel Lefin, was encourage by R Salanter. Somehow these 13 middos became know as R Salanter's 13 (R Micha Berger was quick to point this out to me).

B) Search "Salanter 13" on Modern Uberdox.

C) The popularity of Alan Morinis' writing is a tell-true sign that the need and thirst for Mussar is out there (and IMHO he's a great writer).

D) Re: Yirat Shamayim. I've found that the best way for me to "learn" about Yiras Shamayim is to find those who are truly Yirai Shamayim.

November 3, 2008 at 1:28 AM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

This is an amazing post! Ilove the way the ideas flow so seamlessly into one another. My favorite is the story about Rav Moshe and the radiator - I love the tenderness and care it shows.

By the way, how do you know Eliezer Kwass?? (He was a rebbe of mine in yeshiva)

June 24, 2009 at 7:38 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

I am so glad that this post was meaningful to you and am very appreciative that you let me know. I agree that the Rav Moshe story is remarkable.

I am a contemporary of Eliezer Kwass, we were in Yu and Gruss at the same time. He is very wise and spiritual. I learned a lot with and from him.

June 24, 2009 at 11:20 PM  

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