Posts Tagged With: Mussar

Know Your Place

The Spirit of Shavuot

After reading this past week’s Torah portion, B’midbar,[1] and celebrating the fourth Biblical festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), I began to think about our various “positions” before YHWH. The Mussar middah (character trait) humility has at its core the question of a person’s proper place. A balanced person neither thinks too highly of himself nor too lowly. Likewise, he or she doesn’t focus too much on self or on the faults of others. This sounds so simple, but the issue of humility is a great struggle for most of us. (Me included!)

signIn parsha B’midbar, YHWH described not only the placement of each individual tribe as they camped, but also outlined the order in which they would travel and go to war. The tribal leaders were named and the duties of the priests for the movement of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) were established. YHWH is very specific and organized. There was no question as to one’s duty or placement in the body of Israel. Today, instead of “knowing our place”, we seem to be all over the place in both physicality and deed; each thinking his way, interpretation, or understanding is higher or better.

This creates confusion, not unity. Instead of being united like the believers at Shavuot in Acts Chapter 2, we seem to be more scattered and divided like they were after Messiah’s last Passover and subsequent crucifixion. Using this as a model, we know that Yeshua’s desire was for them to come back together as one people at Shavuot. This is why the risen Messiah told them during the days of the Omer count to go to Jerusalem and WAIT for the promise of being “clothed with power from on high”.

“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  (Luke 24:49 NASB. See also Acts 1:4)

We all know what happened next.

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. (Acts 2:1 KJV)

When we fully come into the Spirit of Shavuot, we know our proper estate. Can you even imagine how glorious the unity of the people was? Look at what their actions produced; it’s eerily similar to when God spoke the Ten Words to the people standing at the base of Mt. Sinai at an earlier Shavuot:

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  (3)  And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.  (4)  And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2-4 KJV)

So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.  (17)  And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  (18)  Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.  (19)  When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. (Ex. 19:16-19 NASB)

YHWH descended Mount Sinai in fire at the giving of the Ten Commandments and the people trembled. Later He descended in fire again, but this time, instead of manifesting on a mountain, the fire sat upon the people. Like the mountain, the people were not consumed. In both cases, the Word of YHWH went forth like FIRE at the feast of Shavuot!

The people in each of the above examples were unified. I dare say that their theology was NOT what united them. It’s difficult to find two people that have the same opinion on any given matter. Jews have a saying to express this: “two Jews, three opinions”. So what did unite the people? Or better yet, what CAN unify us?

The two most memorable Shavuot festivals have at their heart two great leaders. And there is one trait that both are said to possess that I find most fitting for us to focus on within the theme of unity. Moses is called the most humble man on earth.[2] Later, the one like unto Moses[3] is also called humble.[4] By following Moses’ and Yeshua’s example, it’s not our theology and opinions that binds us into one accord. Rather, it’s our willingness to “know our place” or live in a state of humility.

The Humility of Shavuot

“Always seek to learn wisdom from everyone, to recognize your failings and correct them. In doing so you will learn to stop thinking about your virtues and you will take your mind off your friend’s faults.”Cheshbon ha-Nefesh by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Satanov.

If there is one thing that I notice more than anything on television, the blogosphere, and social media, it is that our focus is continually on the faults of others. I see very little introspection and meekness. As Rabbi Menachem mentions in the above quote, it is by seeking to learn wisdom from EVERYONE that we are enabled to really see our own failings and correct them.

Everyone? Even the heathen, pagan, atheist, and cult follower? Most would squawk that these lost souls have no wisdom. Is this true? The last time I checked, they too were made in the image of God. While they may need redemption, they too are a holy soul and YHWH cares greatly for them. Pride is what causes us to assume that we have nothing to learn from these precious ones.

But this is also true of those that we interact with from the redeemed. Just because Joe Schmoe doesn’t think, believe, or act out his walk with YHWH exactly like you do, doesn’t mean that you are better than him or that he doesn’t have something yet to teach you. Again, it’s PRIDE that keeps us from gathering together. I’ll give you an example from my own life.

Years ago, I was part of a congregation in FL. The local Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) church allowed us to meet in their building. I personally don’t think or believe like SDAs. Other than obeying the Sabbath, I thought I didn’t have much in common with these folks. One day, the SDA group asked us to join with them to break bread. To be honest, I didn’t really want to go. My prideful little self secretly thought, “What could they possibly teach me at this point?” I know you’ve never had a thought like that about a person or group, but I freely admit my debauchery to you anyway. 🙂

FootwashingLong story short, I went… begrudgingly. The meal was fine. It was more or less a communion service in their fellowship hall. Since I associate communion with Passover, I felt that the meal wasn’t quite “accurate”. (More pride.) Then something odd happened. The people rose from their seats and began to break off for a foot washing ceremony. Without anyone leading, spontaneous songs and hymns began to flow from the lips of these people. A sweet Spirit entered our midst and I think my mouth hung open, lol.

Married couples went to one room. Singles of the same sex went off into two other areas (children included). A sink and a stack of basins were in each room for us to gather water. One spouse sat while fresh, warm water was poured over the other’s feet. Song and praise continued to flow throughout the building. It was one of the most touching experiences I’ve ever had in my life. The water was just water, but it felt like SO much more than that.

It was SO much more than that! YHWH humbled me in a way that day that I will NEVER forget. Washing someone else’s feet is the epitome of humility. But I honestly believe it takes even MORE humility to have someone else wash YOUR feet.

Feet are the lowest part of our bodies. Since they are what touch the earth and because they are what carry our every weight and burden, they are likened to our nephesh (soul/flesh). They are our beast (of burden). And they get dirty. They, more than any other part of us, need frequent washings. You can walk around in the dirt all day and your hands can remain clean, but not your feet.

Some of you may know that I’m a licensed manicurist. I give pedicures (wash, clean, and manicure of the feet) all the time. I actually enjoy it. I consider it a privilege to care for a person in this way that is often difficult for them to do for themselves. But without soap, sweet ointments, or even toenail polish, the foot washing that I gave and received at that little SDA church has stood out as the best of the best.

Having my feet washed in the presence of YHWH and His people nearly overwhelmed me. The chip on my shoulder fell off the minute the water touched my toes. This is the Spirit of Shavuot. I wanted to separate myself out like the disciples did at Passover and Unleavened Bread, but Abba wanted me to humble myself and gather together with His people in one accord and one place.

Shavout isn’t about perfect doctrine or halachah. It is one of the pilgrimage feasts and as such, it is literally a FOOT festival. You must tame your feet and direct them to Jerusalem to receive the promise of the Father. The journey will make your feet both tired and dirty, but when you arrive, true disciples will be there with fresh water and songs of praise on their lips. Better yet, YOU will be there happy to wash the grime and mud off of your neighbor’s feet.

The heart of the commandments is LOVE. And there is no better way to express the love for your brother than to wash his feet. In a sense, this humble act says; let me wash the dirt from your lower nature. I know walking through life gets your soul muddy. I understand. I too, have a dirty nephesh. Let me refresh you. Allow me to care for you by meeting a need we all share regardless of our theology or lack thereof. I love you anyway. Let me learn something from you. You matter to me.

If we think about Moses and Yeshua, didn’t they do exactly this? Both dealt with imperfect and challenging people. Both humbled themselves and SERVED the people. They knew their place. Instead of calling fire down from heaven to destroy those with dirty feet, they tenderly washed the people.[5] The result was a fiery Word in the mouth of Israel.

Since Shavuot is about the Bride receiving her ketubah (Torah Covenant) and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, I thought it would be fitting to conclude with the words of Abigail, a bride of King David. Let’s see what wisdom this model bride can teach us:

woman-kneeling-in-prayerWhen the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they spoke to her, saying, “David has sent us to you to take you as his wife.” She arose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, Behold, your maidservant is a maid to wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” (1Sam. 25:40-41)

Abigail was a humble bride; one any king would desire. She proved this through the selfless action of foot washing. Shavuot beckons us to ask: “What do I do with the feet of those I encounter? Do I step on their toes? Do I turn my nose up at their grime? Or do I bow down low and tenderly wash them clean?” May we become a maidservant like Abigail. When the King comes to take us as His Bride, may we know our place as ones who wash the feet of His servants!


[1] Numbers 1:1- 4:20. B’midbar literally means “in the wilderness”.

[2] Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth. (Num. 12:3)

[3] “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” (Dt. 18:15)

[4] “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Mat. 11:29-30)

[5] Ex. 19:10-11; John 13:5-13

Categories: Moedim, Mussar, Torah Portions | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Matters of the Heart Part III

Mussar 101

This post is rather long, 
but I do hope you'll take the time to finish it. 
This topic is very close to my lev (heart)!

How do we prepare and practice in order to pass the myriad of life’s tests for our souls?

I ended Part II of Matters of the Heart with the above question. In this post, I will attempt to answer it. The battlefield may be in the mind (lev), but unless our minds are renewed, we are doomed to make the wrong choice again and again. Sadly, many of us are only aware of one way of doing things, one way of feeling, and one way of responding when our Father presents us with a test. Thus, we often find ourselves in similar situations and circumstances making the same mistakes in every relationship we have.  And worse, because of our narrow mindedness, we blame these patterns on anything and everything — except for our own choices, behaviors, and attitudes. It’s always someone else’s fault that I’m this way or that I acted this way or that I said what I did.

While it may be true that someone else provoked you or that they really don’t do what they should be doing, you have control and authority over one thing: yourself. You are not responsible for the behavior, attitude, or short-comings of any other soul besides yourself. (Obviously, child rearing is another story not covered here.)You do not control your circumstances or other people.

So, the real issue is YOU and your heart. In Part II, I mentioned the idea that we have “two” hearts or what the rabbis call the good and evil inclination. Christians may refer to this dichotomy as the battle between the spirit and the flesh. But the latter view often demonizes the flesh, which is NOT exactly accurate. True balance is found when our spirit man rules the older beastly/fleshly nature. Remember the advantage a man has in working the field with a trained beast? There is much POWER and DIRECTION (purpose) found in ruling the nephesh, beast, flesh, or evil inclination.

“He who has not yet ruled over his evil inclination is like one lost along the paths [of the maze] unable to differentiate between them.” – The Path of the Just, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto

In the DreamWorks production How to Train Your Dragon, a dragon, Toothless, and young Viking, Hiccup, are the protagonists. This unlikely duo discovers that warring against each other does nothing to conquer the real enemy: the great dragon that has enslaved them all. I cannot help but to see this story as a parable for real life. Like Hiccup, we have a real dragon or beast/nephesh. He is NOT our enemy. With a little training or taming, we can achieve great heights together! And best of all, when we harmonize this relationship, we are equipped to truly fight the real enemy of our souls, the great dragon  — that serpent of old (Rev. 12:9).

ToothlessSo, how do we TRAIN our personal dragon, or beast/nephesh? Obviously, the first step is to submit ourselves over to the King of kings. But then what? Does YHWH automatically give us a new heart (levav)? Based on my personal experience and the testimony I see in the lives of every believer I’ve ever met, the answer is yes…and no. God can certainly change and renew our hearts to serve Him, but that doesn’t imply that we have no choice after this initial change. Freewill isn’t tossed out the window once we place the blood of the Lamb on our doorposts. Sinai is still there, giving us the instructions of life. And like the Israelites’ of old, we will be tested in the wilderness. Even after the advent of Yeshua, we are daily offered the choice of life or death.

I believe that each day presents a multitude of opportunity for us to choose. The good news is that if you do have a personal relationship with the Creator, every tool you need to choose life is at your disposal. The problem is that many of us that have this relationship have no idea how to use a power tool or even where they are kept. This is where the Jewish practice of mussar has helped me the most.[1] It’s as if someone finally turned a light on in the garage and I can now see the toolbox and blueprints to build (character) more clearly.

How to Train Your DragonBeast

Do you remember Pharaoh’s hard heart that we discussed in Part I? I believe the converse of this pattern is also true. First Pharaoh hardened his own heart, which led to YHWH eventually handing him over to his own (wicked) desires. If this is true, could it also be said that if we continue to submit and humble our hearts toward YHWH that He will strengthen that choice? I believe He does; and we will explore this notion by reading some of Paul’s writings in a bit.

Php. 4:13  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Indeed, God can strengthen us in a positive way just as He strengthened Pharaoh in a negative way.[2] The determining factor, it seems, is the state of our heart. By continuing in sin, we become strengthened to sin more. By continuing to practice righteousness, we are strengthened to act with more righteousness.

Rom. 6:16  Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?

Believe it or not, this understanding is not lost on the rabbis. The whole of Jewish ethics is based in this principle. Mussar, which literally means “correction”, is about holding your own soul/nephesh/heart accountable to God. Mussar requires both thought and action. It is a meditation and a practice. The entire process is meant to be the study guide to help you pass the many exams of life. If this sounds too mystical or too Jewish for you, please at least finish reading before you throw the baby out with the bath water.

King Solomon wrote the Book of Proverbs in order to teach his son (and us) mussar; and thus, we see this Hebrew word most often in this book.

Pro. 1:3-5  To receive instruction (Mussar) in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity;  (4)  To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion,  (5)  A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,

Notice that our correction or instruction (mussar) is for the purpose of wise behavior. Solomon goes on to say that it is only fools that reject such instruction/mussar.

Pro. 1:6-7  To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles.  (7)  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction (mussar).

Mussar, therefore, is meant to instruct, correct, and in some cases even reprove our walk. I don’t know about you, but I can certainly use all the help I can get. Long before the Jewish Sages developed the practice of mussar, King Solomon, the wisest man on earth, was teaching this method. If you look closely, you will see that Yeshua and even the Apostle Paul encouraged us to practice mussar. (We will look at an example from Paul’s writings later in this post.)

Jewish Mussar can be very simply defined as a spiritual practice that enables one to refine one’s character traits, allowing us to transform ourselves, to move toward wholeness, to realize our highest spiritual potential and to live everyday life with happiness, trust and love.[3]

There are essentially three stages to “practicing” mussar. I say “practice” because this easy and non-time consuming method is meant to prepare you for life’s exams. How can we pass the test unless we study for it? So, think of mussar as the study guide you’ve been missing all these years. Mussar isn’t about doctrine, tradition, or the like. You won’t find your faith in Yeshua challenged or lessened by doing Mussar. In fact, you’ll find yourself drawing closer as you become more like Him!

Mussar Stages

Stage 1: Sensitivity

Mussar begins with you being completely honest with yourself and the choices you make. In a sense, it’s becoming AWARE of who you are, what you say, what you do, and how you feel. Denial is the antithesis to sensitivity. This process will require you to really open yourself up to the gentle correction and revelation of the Holy Spirit. The more open you are to allow the truth of what’s in your heart to be revealed, the more progress you’ll make towards shalom. Thus, repenting for what HaShem shows you is vital. This leads to stage two, which incidentally, is the next step in repentance.

Stage 2: Self- Restraint

Once you become aware of your own choices, attitudes, feelings, and actions, and have repented for those that are incorrect, you must make a conscious effort to stop the wrong behavior. Teshuvah (repentance) means “to turn” away from the bad activity. This is not always easy — don’t give up! Mussar would also have you recognize those actions, feelings, and behaviors that are good and godly in order to continue their growth.

Stage 3: Transformation

The more we practice the two stages above, we gradually change or “renew our minds”. As you will soon discover, the traits we focus on are from the Word and it really does have transformative power! You will find yourself in yet another repetitive situation and for the first time —- you will know how to respond appropriately and godly! It’s as if door number two has been there all along, you just couldn’t “see” it in order to make a better choice. Now, door number two is clearly seen and you have made the first step toward overcoming in that area in which you struggle.

Does this sound too good to be true? I thought so too until I started practicing mussar. It is worth pointing out that mussar is a little different for each us. This is because we do not all share the same struggles. For example, you might not have any issue with being generous (one of your good traits), whereas your neighbor may have a tendency toward being stingy. Thus, we each will have our own personal “soul” curriculum to work on. Stage one, sensitivity, should help you to discern where you lack and where you excel. And sometimes, we “think” we excel in an area, and only later discover that there was still much room for improvement.

photo (7)Keep an Accounting

We begin mussar practice by keeping an “accounting of the soul” (Chesbon HaNephesh) diary or journal for a week or two. It’s simple. Every night for a week, record (it doesn’t have to be lengthy) the instances in your day where you believe your lower self (beast/nephesh/flesh) had the upper hand. Be specific. It can be anything from over eating to doing or saying something you should or shouldn’t have. For example, did you find yourself behind Ms. Slowpoke with three carts at the grocery store? Did bad thoughts cross your mind? Write them down. What about traffic? Any road rage today? What about a stranger asking for money? Did you open or close your hand? Why? Did you lose your temper with your spouse or child? Did you look upon someone and judge them for what they wore or didn’t wear? Did you lust after or covet something that wasn’t yours? Be honest. No one will see your journal but you and God.

The areas that you need to work on can be narrowed down into one word. For example, you may find that you have a pattern of impatience. Lacking patience quickly ignites ungodly anger and rage. This area of your life is out of balance. In a word, the trait you need to improve is patience. Perhaps you are highly critical of other people. It matters not how they’ve behaved. By criticizing them (even in your mind), you are making an unrighteous judgment that is fueled by a lack of honor and respect for a being created in the image of God. The trait you must work on is honor. (It may be very difficult to see the “good” or “holiness” in a person that lives contrary to the Word, but Yeshua died for them too. Thus, the point isn’t to overlook or condone their bad behavior, but for you to realize that they too were created in the image of God. The practice isn’t about them, it’s about you. Can you honor them … anyway?)

This type of journaling will reveal PATTERNS in your life and areas that need to be corrected (mussar). For years now, my family has been doing this in mini fashion in preparation for Yom Kippur. An accounting of the soul[4] chart is what my family uses before we perform the tashlich service. Until rather recently, I had no idea that this accounting was part of mussar work! But, repentance and accounting should occur more than once a year, right? Start a mussar journal and you’ll find that YHWH can speak to you in your own handwriting! This isn’t mystical. In being transparent and honest with yourself, you are in effect being open and honest with the Creator and He strengthens your heart to dive deeper and be that overcomer you desire to be.

Soul Traits (Middot)

Once you’ve discovered the traits (areas) that you need to improve, you will spend one week practicing or focusing on each one. If you have a hard time making or discerning your list (curriculum), you can use a preformed chart with traits already listed. Most mussar programs recommend starting with thirteen or eighteen traits. A list of thirteen would take you through each trait four times in a year.

It is vital to meditate upon and learn more about each of your soul traits. You cannot improve if you do not understand what it is that is the problem. This is where a good mussar book or an online program comes in handy. My favorite book is Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis. If you can’t spare any money, you can go through a free online course in order to get the hang of doing mussar. This program is also written by Mr. Morinis:  http://www.jewishpathways.com/course/mussar-program

Reading about the trait you are working to improve is an exercise of your mind (lev). The Word of God is your best resource. If you are working on honor, do a concordance search for all the verses that speak to about honor. Read them in context and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how you can act and think with holy honor. I also recommend that you read an article or two during this week about honor. Riverton Mussar has some excellent articles on many soul traits.

To help you focus throughout the days you are working on a particular trait, it is advisable to develop a phrase that will remind you of that trait. For example, for honor, Mr. Morinis suggests thinking “each one, a holy soul” to encourage us to honor our fellowman. He also recommends finding another person to practice mussar with in order to go deeper. Accountability is always helpful and so is another person’s insight. We can learn much from one another. (This doesn’t mean you have to reveal your personal journal.)photo (6)

Mussar in a Nutshell

  • Work on one trait for a week. Throughout the week, read about your trait from Scripture and other resources.
  • Every morning meditate upon the phrase you’ve chosen for that trait. Pray and ask the Father to give you an opportunity to exercise this muscle you’re trying develop. (Be prepared for this: like in exercise, your muscles/flesh may complain.)
  • At the end of the day, record your triumphs and failings in this area. Pray and ask the Father to help you improve.

This may seem too simple to warrant results. And I must admit that at first, I thought this was the case. However, that thought was quickly overruled when I was actually tested in an area I had “studied” for. Instead of reacting as I usually did, I was sensitive to my emotions and unhealthy soul patterns. Though its not what I wanted to do (nephesh), I chose differently and gained much better results! Moreover, I think it surprised the person I was dealing with and disarmed them from a normal escalation.

Remember, your mind (lev) can only choose differently when it is taught differently. A renewed mind/heart has been changed by steady diet of godly instruction. But like any test, you must study the areas where you lack knowledge and understanding in order to pass. Mussar guides you to these weak areas and builds up your awareness and knowledge.

Paul’s Mussar

I thought that it would be helpful to see a mussar example from the Brit Hadashah (N.T.). I’ve chosen to use the passage from a verse I quoted earlier. Let’s begin by looking at the context of the following verse.

Php. 4:13  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

The following passage is lengthy, but I urge you to read it in its entirety for the best perspective.

Php 4:4-9  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  (5)  Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.  (6)  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  (7)  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (8)  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.  (9)  The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul is giving us some pretty awesome advice that is not unlike the practice of Mussar. Notice the bolded words above. Each is one is a middah or a “soul trait” that can be meditated upon and practiced in Mussar. I hardly believe this is coincidence. Best of all, Paul says that the shalom of God will guard our hearts and minds (levav) IF we do these things! The passage continues:

Php 4:10-13  But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.  (11)  Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  (12)  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  (13)  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

It was in doing these things that Paul LEARNED to be content in all circumstances — good or bad. I want to know what Paul did. How exactly could he end this discourse with “I can do all things through Him that strengthens me”? We quote this last verse all the time, but I can’t help but to wonder if we are missing something important that is revealed before Paul arrives at this summation.

Going back to the beginning of these quotes from Philippians, let’s look at the things he tells us to DO so that the peace of God guards our hearts and minds (levav).

  1. Dwell on these things. (vs. 8)
  2. Practice these things. (vs. 9)

Hello? Does this not sound like mussar? Number one uses the Greek word logizomai (Strong’s G3049), which literally means to “to take an inventory”. The entire point of doing Mussar is to take (or give) an accounting of your soul. You are to do this (in part) by meditating upon godly attributes, characteristics, or qualities. The King James Version of verse 8 translates logizomai as “to think on”. We are to purposefully think upon godly attributes and weigh ourselves in that balance. Paul mentions these particular qualities:

  1. Rejoice (This is akin to the common mussar trait of enthusiasm or zeal, vs. 4, notice that is repeated)
  2. Gentleness (vs. 5)
  3. Trust (inferred as the opposite of being anxious, vs.6 )
  4. Thanksgiving (vs. 6)
  5. Truth (vs. 8)
  6. Honor (vs. 8)
  7. Righteousness (vs. 8)
  8. Purity (vs. 8)
  9. Love (vs. 8)
  10. Goodness (vs. 8)
  11. Excellence (vs. 8)
  12. Worthiness (vs. 8)
  13. Generosity (inferred by “concern” for another, vs. 10)

I purposely drew out thirteen qualities from this passage because most mussar programs choose this number as a starting point to begin your work. Paul tells us to THINK upon these things and to PRACTICE these things. This is mussar; and the Biblical path to overcoming, contentment, and shalom.

The result will be none other than our hearts and minds being guarded by the peace of God. Moreover, it is the key, according to Paul, as to how he LEARNED to be content in ALL circumstances. If Paul had to LEARN these things, what makes us think that we don’t have to? How many of us would give just about anything for either one of these things?

 “Mussar aims to help you close the gap between your ideals and the life you actually lead” –Alan Morinis

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I believe Mussar is the hidden power tool in our garden shed. The question is, are we willing to wield it?

 


 

[1] I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the fantastic Creation Gospel series as the springboard that led me to mussar in the first place. Dr. Alewine’s work is incomparable in its scope to treat and remedy the whole person in the glorious light of the Messiah and His Holy Spirit.

[2] This is explained in Matters of the Heart Part I.

[3] Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg

[4] This accounting is called an Chesbon HaNephesh.

Categories: Messianic Issues, Musings | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Teaching of Balaam


This article was originally a Torah commentary. Because of the flow of the story, it actually involves three portions, Balak, Pinchas, and Mattot. You can see all the scripture references in this footnote.[1] The entire focus of this study is on the Teaching of Balaam. Thus, I felt it was better suited as topical article. I fully believe that the teachings of Balaam are alive and well in our assemblies and we are unaware. My desire here is to look at what the Word has to say on this subject so that we are empowered to remove this wickedness from our own hearts and assemblies. Those of you familiar with Dr. Alewine’s Creation Gospel model will also find this article helpful as it is the foundation behind my thinking.

The Story

Near the holy place, where the Ark dwelt, an Israelite sees a beautiful woman. Her eyes tell him everything he wants to know. He approached her; and as they say, “the rest is history”. Out of nowhere, a holy man named Pinchas bounds toward the couple with a spear raised high in the air. The couple, already in the throes of passion, doesn’t even see him coming. Pinchas releases the spear with great force and it skewers the couple like a human kabob; first the Israelite and then the woman beneath his naked body. The deadly plague grinds to a halt and the masses are spared.

Torah portion Balak ends like the scene out of a graphic action/drama movie. It’s pretty explicit, but that’s exactly how the drama is presented to us in the Hebrew text. This Bible story is definitely for mature audiences only!

pinchasYet this brazen act by Pinchas not only stayed the plague that had broken out on the people, but earned him a permanent covenant of peace and a covenant of perpetual priesthood before YHWH. Wow. The seriousness of the peoples’ sin is illustrated by the harsh and detailed judgment mete out by Pinchas. Thankfully, we know who and what placed Israel in this position. Balaam could not curse what YHWH had blessed, but he sure knew how to work around the system or find the loopholes.

If you only read parsha Balak, it may not be very clear exactly what the prophet Balaam did that was horrible enough to earn him a name that is forever associated with wickedness. (Micah 6:5, 2 Peter 2:1-22, Jude 11, Revelation 2:14-15) After all, YHWH did let Balaam go to Balak and he only blessed the Children of Israel. Surely, there is more to this prophet than hearing a talking ass. So, what happened? We learn the rest of the story two portions later in Mattot.

Num. 31:15-16  And Moses said to them, “Have you spared all the women?  (16)  “Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.

At some point in his dealings with Balak, Balaam gave him some wicked advise. The fees for divination and recognition are indeed a mighty snare. Balaam found a way (so he thought) to have his cake and eat it too. Balaam could truly hear the voice of YHWH, but he did not fear or reverence the Holy One. He obviously told the Midianite king how to get around the Word of YHWH. What do you do when you want to curse what God has blessed? You put a stumbling block before the other person’s feet; a temptation that is almost irresistible. And there has never been a greater temptation for a man than a scintillating woman.

Causing a brother or sister to stumble, especially on purpose, is equivalent to high treason in YHWH”s economy. Balaam may have earned the respect and the wealth of a pagan king, but YHWH brought judgment to his door rather swiftly. Again from Torah portion Mattot:

Num. 31:8  They killed the kings of Midian along with the rest of their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.

Jos 13:22  The sons of Israel also killed Balaam the son of Beor, the diviner, with the sword among the rest of their slain.

The Israelites ended up killing Balaam with the sword. Now, let’s fast forward all the way to Book of Revelation. Yeshua has some interesting things to say to the assembly at Pergamum.[2] This is a little lengthy, but I urge you to read each verse and notice the parallels of word usage.

Rev 2:12-17  “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:  (13)  ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  (14)  ‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.  (15)  ‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  (16)  ‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.  (17)  ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

What sort of judgment comes to our door when we go the way of Balaam? A quick and piercing double edged sword. The sword of Truth is in Yeshua’s mouth; it is the Holy Word of God.

Heb. 4:11-12  Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.  (12)  For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The corrupt couple was pierced by the Word of YHWH (sword) by the hand of Pinchas. Balaam received the same judgment as those he placed a stumbling block before and it came swiftly. There was no mercy for either party. Wow, that all sounds so harsh. I’m not writing to put an unholy fear in your bones, but to point out the actual sin and penalty that occurred in these portions. The Holy One included quite few verses warning us about the teaching of Balaam; therefore, His desire is that we learn from these examples in order to avoid this type of judgment.

So, what did Balaam teach?

wolf-sheepYeshua says he taught the people to “eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality”. Fortunately, we have more clues given to us in 2 Peter and Jude.

2Pe 2:15-17  forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;  (16)  but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.  (17)  These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.

Balaam wanted a REWARD. He had a problem with a lust for recognition and wealth. This lust caused the prophet to try and profit off the people of YHWH. Let’s look at the metaphors that Peter uses to describe the followers of Balaam. What is a spring without water? It is a natural well that fails to give forth the waters of Life. Wells, springs, and water are all idioms for the Holy Spirit, Wisdom, and the righteous woman (Bride). In other words, there is indeed a spirit at play here; it’s just not the Holy Spirit. It brings death rather than life. Mists driven by a storm gives us a similar picture. Jude uses equivalent expressions in his warning; thus, the action/spirit we are to avoid is definitely cohesive in the minds of the writers of the Holy Bible.

Jude 1:11-13  Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.  (12)  These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted;  (13)  wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

Again, we see that reward or pay is what drives the spirit of Balaam. But what is scary is that these followers of Balaam are not outside the assembly; they are in the midst of even our feast celebrations! These people lack sacrificial love and only really care for themselves. Like Peter, Jude compares them to something that should bring life and water, but they do not. They are “clouds without water”. Instead of being driven by the wind of the Ruach HaKodesh, they are powered by another wind/spirit. Thus, they are incapable of producing holy fruit. They are not the “stars” of Abraham’s seed; in fact, they are the tares among the wheat — ready to be burned and reserved for black darkness.

So, if all this is true, we should be able to pick a follower of Balaam out in heartbeat, right? Wrong. If it were that easy, there would be no need for all the warnings given to us in Scripture. I believe there is a very specific reason why it is so difficult. And, most of you won’t like my answer. The difficulty we have, or you might say our lack of discernment in this area, is because we each struggle with the same temptations that are encompassed in Balaam. I will let Jude explain:

Jude 1:14- 19 (14)  It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones,  (15)  to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”  (16)  These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.  (17)  But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,  (18)  that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.”  (19)  These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve ran into many grumblers, fault finders, and divisions in those groups returning to YHWH’s Torah. As a matter of fact, I have to admit that in my earlier years of this walk, I even participated in such things all in the name of holiness. I know it’s terrible, but it’s the sad truth. At the time, I would have thought I was anything but a follower of Balaam!

What I have learned (and often write about) is this very dichotomy between the Truth and a Lie. Between a man and the beast. Between the harlot and the righteous woman. Between the Spirit and the flesh/evil inclination or a wicked spirit. Between a Prophet and a Diviner. Between a Sheep and Goat. Between the Wheat and Tare. You get the point. As it turns out, the difference is often “subtle” and the battle ground is most often within — not outside of a person.

Close, But No Cigar

There are seven wicked spirits that counterfeit the seven holy spirits of YHWH (Pr. 6:16-19, Is. 11:2). In Holy Writ, we are constantly forced to deal with two brothers, two women, two houses, two “ways”. One is always righteous and one is always wicked. Nevertheless, they often can be found in the same places, doing similar things, wearing similar clothes, and calling to the same people. King Solomon the Wise, tried in earnest to teach his son and us this very simple truth. The enemy truly masquerades as an angel of light. (2 Cor. 11:14)

But what is not always immediately apparent is that this duplicity is within us! Overt wickedness is easy to detect if you know the Word. But, a heart set on self-righteousness, pride, and grandeur is not always so obvious. This is because we cannot escape our flesh or nephesh — the part of us that is shared with the beasts of field. Like them, we have instincts and a desire to survive at all costs. We get hungry, thirsty, tired, and sexually aroused and seek to gratify these appetites. At our core, the flesh seeks to preserve self.

Contrary to the old Greek philosophers, this does not mean that the nephesh is evil. It serves a godly purpose even in the lives of a holy people. Without it, we’d be no earthly good. We must eat, drink, sleep, and procreate or our species would die off. But, these passions are not to be what rules a child of the Most High; the Holy Spirit must sit at the helm of our ships.

Balaam was ruled by an unholy spirit fueled by his flesh/nehpesh. Though there was a part of him that could hear YHWH’s voice, the desire to please his own desires was much stronger. Have you ever “given in” to the desires of your flesh? I know I have and sadly sometimes still do. No one is exempt from this dilemma. It is a daily battle.

Let’s take the story of Balaam for example. How many of you read this story, realized the utter wickedness of his actions, and associated YOURSELF with Balaam? I would gander that very few, if any, of you did. Our nephesh always makes excuses or justifies its actions. It’s never wrong in its own eyes. This is why it’s so hard to come to a place of repentance or even “hear” the gospel unto salvation. The flesh is always concerned that it will be uncomfortable, restricted, or robbed of pleasure and fun.

The real lesson we are to learn from Balaam is to recognize these “negative” attributes in ourselves, correct them, and help others to do the same. The Bible brings correction, but it is mostly to us as individuals. Rarely is our job to point the finger at another. There is a time for this (which we see in Pinchas), but having a burning desire to do so more often exposes a nephesh ruled person. The nephesh always wants negative attention to be on someone else, because self-preservation is all it really cares about.

Thus, I put together the following chart for your personal introspection. If all you can “see” when perusing it is someone else’s sin, then you’ve just revealed the one seated on the throne of your heart. Here’s a clue, it’s not the Holy Spirit; it is the beast (nephesh). But fret not, you are not alone. Kick the beast down and bring it into obedience to the Ruach HaKodesh!

Balaam/Beast                                                                   vs.                             Holy Spirit/Man

Lusts for profit


Seeks to produce godly fruit


Desires recognition from others


Seeks to please YHWH


Looks for loopholes to obedience



Hears and obeys because of love


Urges others to compromise or conversely to be rigid and merciless (in the name of holiness) Strong sensations of either greasy grace, or a controlling Torah Terrorist. Extremist on either side of the scale.
Urges others to obey, but is tempered with compassion, mercy, and patience. Constantly seeking balance in all things. Allows freedom within the boundaries of Torah.

Killed by the Sword


Lays flesh on the altar by allowing the Sword of the Word to purify the heart.


Tries to get YHWH do go along with his desires/will.


Accepts the will of the Sovereign of the Universe and knows it is best even if it hurts.


Appears righteous (clouds without rain)


Does righteousness (joins the great cloud of witnesses)


Speaks blessings to others, but counsels curses in the dark.


Speaks blessings to others and means it.


Hears and turns into the way of the harlot.


Hears and turns into the way of wisdom (righteous woman).


Takes pleasure in immorality. May even participate behind closed doors. (hidden/dark)


Runs from immorality. (Like Joseph)


Uses flattery for personal gain/promotion.


Speaks truth, allows YHWH to promote them.


Grumbles and Complains (gossip/slander) which drags others into their derision against people, leadership, and assemblies. This happens under the banner of no compromise, holiness, and righteousness.


Turns from gossip/slander/lashon Hara. Knows that complaining about the way things are done, the leadership, other people, or families is only following the way of Cain, Korah, and Balaam.


Brings strife and division as a result of the above. Seeks to attract others unto themselves. Desires cookie cutter versions of belief and thought with Self as the head. They split and divide families, friends, and assemblies in the name of holiness. No unity. The house is continually being torn down. New group often latter splits again as a result of the same spirit at work. Strong sensation of feeling unwelcome, unholy, and condemnation. Run!


Seeks mercy, compassion, loving-kindness, and patience with family, friends, leadership, and assembly. Manages to disciple and mature new comers rather than condemn them for ignorance in matters of obedience. Seeks to build others up. (A wise woman builds her house) There is an overt sense of love, belonging, and warmness in these groups. Critical and judgmental spirits are not welcome.


Loves the wages of unrighteousness. Loves being right. Loves putting others in “their place”. Looks for ways to profit from the sheep.


Loves YHWH and the Body. Seeks to produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.


In a nutshell, Balaam teaches you to turn in to the house of the harlot[3] by appeasing the appetites of the flesh. What feels good and right is truth to a Balaam. Going the way of Balaam is serving or demanding to have your own preferences, desires, wants, and gain. It is the opposite of a humble, caring, patient, and loving servant of the Most High.

If we recognize the teaching of Balaam in our own lives (no matter how miniscule), we need to repent and put YHWH back on the throne of our hearts. I have found a great tool that helps me to keep the “beast” or nephesh/flesh in its proper place. That tool is the Jewish practice of Mussar. If you’ve ever used a Chesbon Nephesh (accounting of the Soul) chart to help you find hidden or forgotten sin in your life before Yom Kippur, then you have had a tiny taste of Mussar.

Mussar means correction and is a simple daily practice that guides you to develop or strengthen godly traits such as gratitude, compassion, honor, simplicity, generosity, loving-kindness, responsibility, trust, faith, etc. It only takes a few minutes a day, but the payoff is immense! Hopefully by now, you have a much better understanding of what the teaching of Balaam actually was/is. In closing, I will link to some Mussar resources that are sure to keep Balaam at bay! Don’t wait until you have to hear it from an ass…

Websites:

Riverton Mussar

Aish.org 

Books:

Everyday Holiness by Dr. Alan Morinis

Mussar with the Messiah by Vickie Howard

Expect to see more articles from me on the teachings of mussar in the future. (:


[1] Balak: Num. 22:2- 25:9; Micah 5:6- 6:8; 2Pet. 2:1-22; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14-15

Pinchas: Num. 25:10- 29:40; 1 Kings 18:46-19:21; Ps. 106; John 2:13-22

Mattot: Num. 30:1 -32:42, Jer. 1:1- 2:3, Mt. 5:33-37

[2] Note to Creation Gospel students: Notice that Pergamum is the 2nd assembly. It is on the stem of “separation”. The question becomes, separated unto what? Balaam causes separation unto division — leading to death. We know that separation is only good if it leads to gathering like the third day of creation and the spirit of resurrection.  We see this same picture with the sharp double edged sword. The Word separates the righteous unto life and the wicked, like Balaam, unto death.

[3] Proverbs 7

Categories: Messianic Issues, Torah Portions | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

The Bee Hive

Pouring out His Divine Honey of Wisdom & Revelation

redshoooz

Living the Abundant Life

In the Galute

B'ney Yosef

His Perfect Timing

My Incredible Journey with God

searchingfornorway

ancestry, geneology, knitting, history

praythroughhistory

Heal the past. Free the present. Bless the future.

Heaven and Earth

Bringing pieces of heaven to earth

Ladder of Jacob

ascend higher.

Operation Jeremiah 6:16

Ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.

Neviim Tovim/TheHaftarah Circle Gillian Gould Lazarus

Hebrew prophets and other themes from Tanakh

radicalrighteousroots

Biblical foundation resources for the family

Torah Rocker

Writings and studies of Torah

Hardcore Mesorah

Torah and Tefillah for those who aren't faint of heart

BE COURAGEOUS BLOG

NEVER LET GO OF GOD'S HAND

Ancient Footsteps

The end is known from the beginning...

modern day samaritan woman

welcome to all sojourners

Chalom Shalom

Unveiling the Voice of Creation...

ReDo~ReNew

Enjoying New Life in myself, others, and the things I find along the way...

Obadiah's Cave

A place of safety

Blue Jeans and Chocolate

~ My So-Called Glamorous Life

Awakened 2 Torah

It's time to leave Egypt and follow Yahweh!

The Well Trodden Road

Following the Way back home

Move Your "..BUT God .."

CLIMBING TO THE HEIGHTS OF GOD'S LOVE

Ohana Home Education

"Ohana means family. Family means no-one gets left behind, or forgotten."

Sewn olivette

Elevating Daily Life

Helena

The Protocol of Truth

Missing Pieces

Discover the missing pieces in your walk with Yeshua / Jesus

Wilderness Report

by Cathy Helms

Wholeness 4 Love

Life is for Living & LOVE is a choice!

natsab

Here I stand.

Rus Alan

Kingdom Minded living with issues related to discipleship, the Holy Spirit, and power.

Tannachton Farm

Faith, Family, Farm

GRACE in TORAH

Leaving Egypt is only the beginning of our journey...

The Lamb's Servant

Discerning Truth from Tradition | Our Hebrew Roots | Getting Back to Torah

Sharing God's Love

My passion is writing to share God's love with everyone who believes in HIm.

Daughters of Torah

Revealing our identity to the nations

SnarkyCrunch

Tree-hugging, Hippy-go-lucky, Dread-head, Jewish Mamma

Sanctuary Gardener

A Yankee grows in the South ~ Homesteading, gardening, & harvest recipes

little tent on the prairie

Restoring life through simple living

Coffee Shop Rabbi

Basic Judaism spoken here.

madebymamaleh

Creating a modern Jewish home one project at a time

%d bloggers like this: