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 " ").
Dibuk Chaverim translates as "cleaving to friends." The word dibbuk comes from the Hebrew root dalet-bet-kuf meaning "to cling, be attached, glued." Chaverim translates as "friends" and comes from the Hebrew root chet-vet-reish meaning "to be joined" or "to unite."
"And it came to pass that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul?. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul." (1 Samuel: 18:1; 18:3)
The friendship of Jonathan and David as described in the First Book of Samuel is perhaps one of the most poignant examples in the Tanach of the power of human relationships. Their friendship is held up as the ideal-a friendship in which neither made demands on the other, yet each gave unstintingly of himself.
In Pirkei Avot, "cleaving to friends" (dibbuk chaverim) is listed among the 48 virtues (middot) that one needs in order to acquire Torah. At first it may seem strange that the rabbis included friendship among such virtues as fear, awe, and humility. Yet there are many examples in Jewish texts of the importance placed on friendship.
Emunas Shmuel translates this week's middah as "careful choice of friends." It suggests that in order to successfully study and internalize Torah, one must surround oneself with friends of good character and intellectual clarity, who are both good-hearted and perform good deeds.
Our Sages taught the importance of friendship with the following words: "Either friendship or death." (Taanis 23a) They insisted that one must exert great effort in cultivating a friendship, even to the extent of giving up personal preferences to those of one's friend. In this way, each of the two friends will seek to please the other, and together they will build common goals and interests.
The Talmud suggests that "a good friend serves three functions: The first is as a catalyst for increased success at Torah study. The second is to insure one's mitzvah fulfillment, for good friends feel free to offer constructive criticism to one another. The third function is to provide good advice in all areas and to act as a confidant who does not reveal secrets to others. In fact, one who breaches his friend's trust will lose him as a friend, and justifiably so."(Midrash Shmuel) R. Yonah adds that a good friend also will gloss over any injustice committed by the other, thus endearing them to each other.
Jews of medieval times sought to guide their children by writing ethical wills. In these documents, the authors shared their wisdom with those who would follow, teaching how Jews ought to behave. From Hebrew Ethical Wills, we read: "Raise not your hand against your neighbor. Never be weary of making friends; consider a single enemy as one too many. If you have a faithful friend, hold fast to him. Let him not go, for he is a precious possession." (Asher b. Yehiel, 13th century Germany and Spain)
To Talk About
- "Two are better than one, for they get a greater return for their labor. For should they fall, one can lift the other; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and there is no one to lift him! " According to this verse from Pirkei Avot, what are some of the benefits of friendship?
- The Chasidic master Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitz taught: "Friendship is like a stone. A stone has no value, but when you rub two stones together properly, sparks of fire emerge." Think about someone whom you consider to be a very special friend. In what ways has that friend helped you to become a better person? In what ways have you helped your friend to grow?
- Reread the section in the Commentary that describes the three functions of a good friend. How many other things can you add? Make a list and share it with others.
- The Talmud translates dibbuk chaverim as "a careful choice of friends." According to the Talmud, why is it important to choose your friends carefully? Do you agree or disagree? Discuss an example in your own life that supports your point of view.
- According to Rabbi Susan Freeman, God can be considered the ultimate friend. How is friendship with God similar to friendship with others? How is it different? What are some things we can do to cultivate closeness with God?
If you were going to write an ethical will for your children, what would you want to teach them about the importance and value of friendship? Write your thoughts down on a piece of paper and put it away in a safe place. Take it out from time to time and see if you want to add or change anything.