About Mussar and Middot
The Hebrew word "mussar" means moral conduct, instruction, or discipline. The Mussar Movement arose in the 1800’s in Lithuania and encompasses a range of spiritual practices, focusing on the individual’s personal characteristics, traits, or virtues, which are called middot (in Hebrew, singular: a " ").
Ahuv translates as "being loved" or "beloved." The word ahuv comes from the Hebrew root aleph-hei-vet, which means, "to love."
"Three things make a person beloved by others: an open hand, a set table, and a sparkling wit." (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 31)
This middah (virtue) is the first in a series of middot that focus on love. We begin by asking ourselves what it means to be loved. One answer can be found in our text, which is taken from a commentary on Pirkei Avot that was developed between the eighth and ninth centuries and was known as Avot de-Rabbi Natan (The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan). In this Text, we learn of three qualities that make a person beloved by others-generosity, hospitality and an outgoing personality.
But what does being loved by others have to do with the virtues (middot) needed to acquire Torah? Midrash Shmuel suggests that there is an intrinsic relationship between being loved and Torah. If a person is beloved, all people will want to share that person's company and study with him. ( Pirkei Avos Treasury, p.419) In addition, we are also told that because a true Torah scholar is a model of friendliness and righteous behavior, that person is beloved by all. (p.162)
The biblical verse that says, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) contains an important message about ahuv (being loved). It suggests that we must love ourselves, before we can love others. When you feel good about yourself, you project those positive feelings to those around you. When you become aware of what you need in order to be loved, you will also know what others need. How does this lead to being loved? Although we can't expect that when we give love, we will receive it in return, it is likely that as we love others, we become more beloved.
The great Talmudic sage, Rabbi Akiva, adds to our understanding of ahuv by pointing out the special relationship that exists between God and humankind. Akiva suggests that we (humankind) are beloved by God as evidenced by the fact that we were created in God's image. (Pirkei Avot 3:18)
To Talk About
- Our Text tells us that there are three qualities that make a person beloved by others. Why do you think the Talmudic sages identified these particular qualities? What other qualities would you add to this list?
- Discuss why ahuv (being loved) is considered to be one of the middot (virtues) needed to acquire Torah. If you had been asked to make a list of virtues necessary to acquire Torah, would you have included ahuv? Why or why not?
- R. Hanina ben Dosa, a Talmudic scholar, used to say: "If the spirit of one's fellows is pleased with him, the spirit of God is pleased with him. (Avot 3:13) What does this statement mean? Explain it in your own words. Do you agree or disagree with Rabbi ben Dosa? Why?
- Maimonides teaches us that "loving your neighbor as yourself" involves carrying out deeds of loving-kindness (g'milut chasadim). Talk about a time when you were the recipient of a deed of kindness. How did it make you feel about yourself? How did it make you feel about the doer? How does doing such deeds make you beloved?
- "It's easy to love someone who is lovable. The real challenge is to love someone who is not lovable!" Do you know someone who you would consider "lovable"? What are some of that person's qualities? Now think of someone who you consider to be "not lovable". What are some of that person's qualities? Talk about how even an "unlovable" person can be loved.
Write your name at the top of a blank sheet of paper. Pass the paper around to others and have each person complete the following statement: "You are beloved when you…" When the paper is returned, turn it over and write one additional quality or behavior that you would like to add to your list. Going forward, make a special effort to behave in ways that you think will add to the reasons you are loved.