Welcome back to my Mussar blog. Remember that Mussar is about real life moments and expanding our free will so I will always share a Mussar moment of mine and end with suggestions for you.
Before we jump in, here’s a dictionary for today’s post:
Middah/Middot = Hebrew for: Measure / Measures (not a character trait / characteristics, I’ll explain as we go)
Tikkun Olam = Hebrew for: repairing the world
Mussar = The Hebrew word referring to learning about our middot to expand our free will in order to heal the world
Mundane = regular or everyday, seemingly insignificant
Holy = the level above the mundane
Automatic Mode = when our Middot readjust themselves without us knowing or choosing
Quick theory review: If we imagine for a minute that all our personality traits are held in cups. Some cups currently hold more than others and when we encounter things in life, the cups pour their contents around without us knowing. Mussar is the study of how much is in each cup and how we use our free will to actively rebalance what’s inside them. We try to become the masters of our measures, the sommeliers of our own cups (as it were).
So, here’s my Mussar moment: I went for a manicure a few days ago. It took my nails 20 minutes to dry. Twenty minutes of not using my hands, not touching anything, not going on my phone. Twenty minutes to patiently wait, literally, for paint to dry. It was agony.
I had never realized before that twenty minutes can sometimes feel like a lifetime – Einstein is dancing a hora somewhere as I write those words.
I never realized that my measure of patience could reduce to almost nothing in an instant. The description of one’s patience is measured by the middah of patience. People who are perceived as ‘patient people’ have more patience in their cup so it takes longer for their patience to run out. My patience cup seemed to empty after a few minutes of waiting for my nails to dry. I thought I had more in there, I was surprised by how quickly it emptied, how fast the ticking of the clock on the wall became really really loud.
In Mussar language, my middah of patience set itself without me consciously choosing the measurement, which is called functioning in ‘automatic mode’. My free will stays dormant, my patience middah reacts to the world, and basically I’m along for the ride.
The obvious problem with this is that the world will never change if we’re all functioning in automatic. The only thing that can possibly repair the world is to use my free will and make active choices.
So, back to my nails…the twenty minutes that simply wouldn’t end. If I weren’t in automatic mode, I might have realized that I had been gifted twenty unexpected minutes. I could have met someone new, struck a personal moment with someone who works there who might welcome a conversation. I saw none of it, I was frustrated so I couldn’t see I still had choices.
It is a mundane moment, but Mussar is defined by entering the mundane and finding more choices. The world heals a tiny bit when we see that mundane frustrations can be opportunities of choice. I know I won’t see it every time, but maybe now I will see it one more time than I did before.
Here’s my Mussar suggestion for you: ask yourself when your patience middah readjusts itself without you choosing. Find a moment of challenge in your everyday where you might see a new choice, a new opportunity.
Comment below with your Mussar moment. Mussar is about engaging with each other – but let’s also remember our measure of ‘respect.’