I am the product of refugees. Both my mother and father were born in Europe and came to North America with their families when they were in their early teens.
My maternal grandfather, Pinchas Sholem, left Poland in 1913 with a plan for the rest of the family to follow soon after, but World War I intervened and it wasn’t until seven years later that my mother and the rest of the family arrived in Toronto. Two years after that, my grandfather died, leaving my grandmother with five children to support.
We find it far easier to be compassionate in general, compassionate toward people with whom we do not live, than to our children, our parents and our spouses. Why is this so? First, we seem to have more ego on the line when we relate to those close to us, particularly our spouses. Alan Morinis writes, “Compassion can come into existence only when you lower the barriers that ordinarily wall off and isolate your own sense of self.” When our spouses criticize us, annoy us, or disappoint us, we immediately attempt to separate ourselves from them. It is at that point when we do not want to identify with our spouse.
He was a bright light. Compassionate. Filled with love. A mensch. A mover and a shaker. He connected with people wherever he went. His goal was to get people talking, to get people communicating. He was always sharing his latest endeavor, hoping to bring others on board. Actively engaged with Landmark Education, Challenge Day programs, the Association for Youth Empowerment—his goal was always to help break down social and cultural barriers.
My Silly Tongue
So much like a pup,
romp and dump,
my sulky, silky tongue.
You’re having fun:
You jump and crash,
While I’m numb
From the damage
Don’t mean to be rash,
But I wish
I were strong enough
To pin you down,
Tie you up.
REGISTER NOW: Spots are still available for the 2017 Practice Retreat, which will be held from May 21 to 24, 2017, in St. Louis, Missouri. Registration is now open. Click here for information and to register.
NEW MUSSAR BOOK: Mind Over Man: The Climb to Greatness, a book based on the Mussar va’adim of Alan Morinis’s teacher, Yechiel Yitzchok Perr, is available for purchase from the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, N.Y.
MUSSAR KALLAH EUROPE: A Mussar Summer Academy featuring esteemed speakers set in the rich Jewish history of Amsterdam will be held June 22–23. Study will include workshops on Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, who lived in Amsterdam from 1735–1743. For more information or to register, click here.
SAVE THE DATE – Fall Retreat: Mussar Kallah XV will return to the Capital Retreat Center, outside the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area from November 30 to December 3, 2017.
VIDEO BLOG: Chaim Safren delivers short Mussar video messages several times each month. Check out this lesson on Writing Your Autobiography.
PIRKEI AVOT WEBINARS: TMI’s series of six free webinars on Pirkei Avot began with Micha Berger’s discussion of Chapter 1, followed by Chapter 2 with Meredith Cahn and Chapter 3 with Rivy Kletenik. If you missed any or all of them, click on the links to watch. Coming up: Chapter 4 with Yaakov Feldman on April 23 at 12 p.m. Eastern, Chapter 5 with Chaim Safren on May 7 at 8 p.m. Eastern, and Chapter 6 with Lisa Bock on June 4 at 12 p.m. Eastern.
The Practice Corner
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot teaches 48 ways to acquire Torah (Pirkei Avot 6:6). One of these methods is Nosei b’ole im chaveiro – bearing the burden with the other.
So much of what is called spirituality is focused on your own journey, cultivating your own awareness, being stronger or higher or better in this way or that. With “bearing the burden with the other,” we turn to face another soul in fulfillment of a major part of our human purpose. What do you need? How can I help you bear your burden? No one merits acquiring Torah who does not hear and respond to this cry.
Note carefully that it says, “bearing the burden with,” not “for.” Nosei b’ole im chaveiro requires us to penetrate into another person’s fortress by feeling his/her pain, suffering together and contemplating his/her predicament.
Visualizations help bring others’ pain (or joy) to life within us. The more details we conjure up in our mind’s eye, the closer we will experience another’s pain or joy.
Think of someone who is close to you, who is likely to be in some form of pain today. It could be physical or emotional pain. It could be the sadness of loss or the anxiety of uncertainty. Illness, failure, abandonment, loneliness … there are innumerable sources of suffering.
Once you have identified that person, close your eyes and visualize their experience from the inside. Depending on the source of their pain, bring that experience to life within you, in your own imagination. Take the time and make the effort to visualize the details of their situation, because the poignancy and the reality of another person’s feelings often lie in the small things. Make your inner experience as vivid and intense as your mind will allow and, as you exercise your imagination in this way, let their pain become your pain.
If you feel motivated by this experience to reach out to that person, do not hesitate. Taking caring action is the fruit and fulfillment of this practice.
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