Day 11: Develop Your Awareness of Hashem
After my visit to Joe's shiva, I began to consider learning Mussar. Dave, of course, thought it was a great idea, and before I could stop him, he was pulling Mussar books off his bookshelves.
"Here, take a look at these," he said, as he piled them up in front of me. "Every author has his own approach, but they all lead to greater awareness of Hashem. Where do you want to start?"
I balked. To tell the truth, I've always had a negative concept of "Mussar." There used to be a guy in our shul who rebuffed reprimands by defensively raising his hand and retorting, "Don't give me any Mussar!" So I always associated it with being scolded. Dave said that's not it at all!
"It's all about Hashem and us," he said gently. "It's about His love for us and why He gave us the laws we keep." So I had a second confession to make.
"Dave, forgive me if this sounds childish, but my understanding is that G-d is a strict King, Whose main approach is punishment."
Dave slapped his forehead. "That's not only childish, it's not Jewish!" he groaned. "Of course, our obligations to Him are basic and we must remember He's watching us. But that's because He loves us."
Then Dave pointed out something incredible that he had learned in Netivot Shalom. When Hashem decided to take the Jewish People out of Egypt, he told Moshe to go to Pharaoh and tell him to release them: tell him they are "B'ni bechori Yisrael - Israel, My first-born [most beloved] son." Now at that point, we were at the 49th level of tumah! We were wallowing in practically the lowest level of depravity - yet Hashem called us His most beloved!
And it's still true today. Every Jew has His unconditional love.
He was on a roll. "Don't we owe Him a commitment to follow His laws? That's where Yirat Shamayim comes in, Steve. It's the best weapon against giving in to temptation."
That convinced me. I need to develop the kind of Yirat Shamayim that could stop me in my tracks. He said we should start learning Mussar for twenty minutes a day.
"Only twenty minutes?" I asked. "Can that really help?"
"You'd be surprised."
These e-mails are excerpts taken from the book "Windows of the Soul" by Rabbi Zvi Miller of the Salant Foundation.