“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” Chinese Proverb
My last blog ‘QC’, https://emunatrek.com/2021/01/31/qc/ introduced the topic of mussar.
“Mussar is typically defined as ethical teachings. That is, the field of mussar is devoted to character and behavioral improvement.” Rabbi Ephraim D. Becker, Ph.D.
This series will be more of a transference of information. The topic of mussar contains a mountain of information, and at best, this series will only scratch the surface of the mountain.
Bringing this information before my readership I hope to inspire others to see the need for the study and application of mussar as a part of your personal walk with the Creator and their fellow man.
What importance should we place on mussar?
It is so important, that King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived begins his discourse of the book of Proverbs with it.
Proverbs 1:1-2 “The Proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: To make known words of wisdom and discipline (mussar)…”
The Sages of Israel teach us that the book of Proverbs contains three sections.
- Chochmah/wisdom, Chapters 1-9
- Mussar/discipline, Chapters10-24
- Torah, Chapter 25
Proverbs 1:2 “To make known words of wisdom and discipline…”, will guide our first step as we begin learning about mussar.
To help us take our first step, I will be quoting from the teachings of Meir Lob Ben Yehiel Michal (Malbim) a 19th century Torah Scholar. The following quote is found in Vol. 1 Mishlei/Proverbs, Artscroll Tanach Series.
Malbim explains chochmah/wisdom and mussar/discipline as follows:
“The term ‘chochmah/wisdom’ implies the proper choice between two opposite courses of action, such as cruelty and compassion, arrogance, and humility so on. The correct choice would be chochmah/wisdom. In all cases where the terms ‘good’ or ‘bad’ apply, wisdom shows the person which path to choose – when and how much to use each character trait.
Mussar is derived from a Hebrew word a root word that means ‘afflict’ and relates to a verb that means ‘to bind’. Since a person’s natural tendencies are toward arrogance, jealousy, vengeance, cruelty, lust, passion and the like, he must learn to afflict and restrict himself so that he remains bound to the dictates of wisdom, neither deviating toward folly nor excessive piety.
In the book of Proverbs, mussar refers to ‘fear of God’ (15:33 “Fear of God is the discipline/mussar of wisdom”) One who believes in God and realizes that the dictates of chochmah/wisdom are Divine will be in awe of His greatness, judgment and punishment. This will bring about compliance with His commandments. Thus mussar acts like a “rope” forcing a person to remain within Divinely ordained bounds and restraining his natural inclination to break loose.”
The information thus far, shows us, that mussar – ethical teachings for character and behavioral improvement – begins with the Fear of God. The Fear of God is the mussar, “rope”, that binds us to wisdom.
When we get into the mussar of our individual traits, we will learn that without the Fear of God guiding you, your wisdom in making proper choices is more difficult and easier to fall into folly.
The Fear of God is the First Step.
Terry W. Hayes
Photo Credit: Mukuko Studio on Unsplash