Tag Archives: mussar

Pesach is Coming

9 Apr

This pissed me off over pesach:

There’s a guy at shul who’s constantly giving mussar to everyone else. Like he thinks he’s everyone’s personal mashgiach. The guy barely knows other people in shul and he’ll go over, ‘So, you don’t believe in hats?’ Always with a smile of course, so you get caught off guard and don’t have your ‘go fuck yourself’ handy.

Now this guy’s obviously an idiot, probably a failed mashgiach or rebbi or something, but people do this all the time. Just dialed down. Or maybe it’s just frum people. People are constantly talking about everyone else, or just thinking, judging. And if it’s a religious thing, they can shut out the guilt by feeling all frum about themselves. Now they have full permission to, no, a Responsibility, to stop someone else from doing an aveirah.

And no matter how righteous they think they are, they’re usually full of shit. Like me right now. I want to think I’m doing the world a favor by pointing out this behavior, but I’m actually just pissed off at the guy in shul and didn’t get the chance to tell him off. Here’s a mashal I thought about during davening later:

Everyone has to clean and prepare for pesach. If you don’t turn your entire house upside down, you won’t have anywhere to go, or any thing to eat come yomtov. And you get kares.

Let’s say it’s a week before pesach and you haven’t done a thing. You also notice your neighbor hasn’t done a thing. At this point, you have 2 logical choices. You could either A) work on your own house, or B) you could work on your friend’s house. A real tzaddik might help out his friend before himself. Most normal people would obviously do their own houses. But who the fuck would ignore his own house and go make comments about the other guy’s mess?? It’s insane.

Unless you don’t really believe that pesach’s coming. Then you’d look at your own house, maybe try to clean it up a little, see how hard it is and give up. Then, you don’t want to look like a kofer so you don’t let anybody see into your house, pretend you’re cleaning, and divert their attention to other people’s messes. And if you’re really screwed up, you feel guilty, so you point out other people’s flaws to divert your OWN attention from your OWN mess. And maybe you do something because you still feel guilty deep down. Like pointing the mess out to your friend. (Or writing about it on a blog.)

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Random Thoughts #14

3 Jan

-I was thinking about this for a while and suddenly realized why I don’t like Facebook. It’s not one of those new problems every pop psychologist is talking about. It’s the same old ‘I can’t stand other people’ one. It’s why I’m on the internet in the first place. You went on a trip to Catch-a-canoo? Who the fuck cares? Entertain me or begone with ye.

-Yesterday I was smoking by myself, outside, away from everyone, and some random frum guy comes and gives me a mussar schmooze about it. And not the yelling kind, which I can deal with. This was a “nice” one. Something that a bais medrash guy would give you in high school back in the day. Personal questions, weird advice, something about masturbation, the works. I didn’t know how to handle it then, and I still don’t, and at the end, the guy got pissed (well, nice-pissed, actually. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s creepy and unnatural, and makes me think of mussar.) that I didn’t put out the cigarette and quit smoking right then and there. You know, I really haven’t enjoyed smoking in years, so I feel like I actually owe this man a thank you. Thank you for reminding me why I started smoking in the first place.

-That little episode got me to pondering a physics question- Would it be possible to shove it up and blow it out your ass simultaneously?

Career Rabbis Should Stick With What They Know

12 Oct
shmuli shmueli advice

(Ahh, don't read into my choice of pictures too much.)

My friend in Edison yeshiva told me a story about his Rosh Yeshiva, R’ Yosef Eichenstein, which I really liked. At a yeshiva dinner, R’ Eichenstein got up and said that parents complain to him sometimes that when their boys go home for bein hazmanim (sukkos, pesach, summer vacation, off shabbasim, etc.) they don’t learn. They sleep late, schmooze, stay up late. Why aren’t their sons more serious about learning if they go to yeshiva?

R’ Eichenstein answered from the dais like this: You ever watch a duck swimming in a lake? On the surface the duck looks calm, floating there without a care in the world. But when you look underneath the water, “he’s paddling like hell”. (Exact quote.)

He was saying: Parents simply don’t understand what it’s like to be a teenager in yeshiva. Do you know how much effort it takes to come off as a passable human being in a high-pressured 7AM-11PM+ environment that you’re forced to go to? No, you have no idea. So you make demands on another person on top of everything they’re doing to stay afloat.

It’s the same story with so many things in life. People in totally different positions judging others based on their own reality. The pretty, skinny girl judging the fat girl for acting slutty to get attention. The young Modern Orthodox doctor berating kollel families to just get a job and stay off food stamps. The straight person telling the gay guy to control his yetzer hora. You just sit on your high horse and turn your nose up at the dirty peasants.

I went to a shul in a certain frum town and heard the Rabbi (a 60 year old married posek) tell everybody that it’s assur to wear your skirt any higher than 4 inches below the knee and he’s shocked to see bais yaakov girls wearing it just below the knee. In the same speech, he told everybody that the internet is assur except at work and filtered, and that everybody should learn in shul during all their free time. “Why am I the only one here sometimes- besides for the parents who have to learn with their kids?” Then he spent the next 5 minutes speaking about humility and how everyone has ga’avah and has to learn mesilas yesharim many times to even understand that they have it.

I have to admit, he was self-deprecating by the mussar part, which took some of the edge off, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. The problem with him, and really, with most Rabbonim is that they are sheltered from the real world. In the real world, you need to use the internet. If you’re a girl, you need to compete with not only movies and internet porn, but regular women on the street who can dress in much more revealing clothing, and still be attractive (or it it attracting? I forget the exact hairsplitting chakira just now). And why is the Rabbi the only one there on Sundays and Shabbos afternoons? Maybe because it’s his job. Maybe because you’ve been rewarded your entire life for being such a talmid chochom, and you’ve never had to get off the gravy train and pull the wagon with everyone else. That part really ticked me off.

Before you look down at everyone else for “running around” doing other things, imagine what it might be like to not be the fair-haired champion of the Party-approved game and have to run around to find an arena you’re actually good at before you can feel halfway decent (yet still guilty for not learning) about yourself. You want to learn a real mussar lesson about life? Maybe the guy in the back who spends all his time selling mortgages yet still can’t make ends meet, who always comes to shul late with his tie half on, who still brings his son to shul to learn chumash on Shabbos afternoon, and is embarrassed by you and other people because it’s the only topic he’s good at and enjoys learning; maybe he can teach you what humility feels like.

Mussar Is Dead

16 Jun

I read this awesome line made by someone online: “There’s no such thing as mussar seder in yeshiva. We have 15 minutes of silence in memory of R’ Yisrael Salanter.”

If you’ve been in Yeshiva, you know what this means. But in case you’re wondering/arguing, I’ll spell it out.

Mussar was originally designed as a response to Chassidus. It was a way to take certain ideas in Judaism, and use them to change your character. Everyone could be involved in this. You didn’t have to be the smartest guy, you just had to be honest. And do a lot of work. In many ways, it was Jewish psychotherapy, before the field was opened up by Sigmund Freud, et al.

Reading old works by R Yitzchok Isaac Sher and other leaders of the movement, you are struck by the modernity and practicality of the approach. They took this whole thing very seriously, and didn’t pull any punches. Motivation is a key concept, and ideas are spoken about without appeals to authority to back them up. The litmus test is the lab, the Yeshiva, where the “Baalei Mussar” would test these ideas our on themselves. The results are astounding when you read about them. The stories of the methods and results of the Novordik Yeshiva in particular sound almost super-human.

But that whole mindset died out when the yeshivos were destroyed in the Holocaust. Today, there’s a short joke of a seder where guys read about ideas in Mesilas Yesharim and Orchos Tzaddikim and maybe even admire them, but the entire program of changing your middos is gone. Nobody wants to admit that though, so the charade goes on and most guys use the time between mincha and second seder to schmooze or take a dump.

Now I don’t think Mussar is for everyone. I think that understanding your own motivations is always helpful. But a good pschoanalyst can help you with that. I am sad that it is gone though. I mean, it’s inspiring to me to even read about such devoted, spiritual people, and I’m sure that having such an institution around would be a real benefit to our society.

(If you’re interested in learning about a real mussar program, pick up the book, “Cheshbon Hanefesh”, translated and published in a very nice edition by Feldheim.)