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 " ").
Eino Samayach BeHora'ah translates as "not delighting in rendering decisions." Samayach comes from the Hebrew root samech-mem-chet meaning "to rejoice" or "to be glad," and hora'ah means "decision," "meaning," or "instruction."
"One who is too self-confident in handing down legal decisions is a fool, wicked and arrogant of spirit." (Avot 4:7)
The sages teach that a judge must always view himself as one standing on the edge of Gehinnom (Hell) with a sword over his neck. Afraid to make a mistake, one who judges or makes decisions does not want to be defined by this text.
On the other hand, a judge realizes that it is his/her responsibility to rule when s/he is the most qualified to do so. A student of the Chofetz Chaim once said that he was afraid to assume a rabbinical position for fear of erring in halachic (legal) judgment. Replied the Chofetz Chaim, "Who then should be a rabbi - someone who has no fear of making a mistake?" (Pirkei Avos Treasury p. 21)
The Talmudic rabbis emphasized the importance of careful decision-making by suggesting, "when a judge issues a true verdict in keeping with the facts, God leaves Heaven and sits at the judge's side, for Scripture says, "And when God raised them up judges, then God was with the judge." (Judges 2:18).
The sages carefully enumerated the qualifications for one who might be considered as a judge in an effort to ensure that people would be judged fairly. They wrote,
"He who is wise, humble, clear-headed, and fearful of sin; whose youth was of unblemished repute; and the spirit of his fellows takes delight in him - he may be made a judge in his city."
They specifically asked that,
"Those whose speech is confusing and whose reasoning is flawed, those who jump to conclusions and whose utterances are not thought through be excluded from consideration." (The Book of Legends, p.736)
The words of the famous rabbi, Hillel, are considered to be a good rule of thumb to follow in contemplating this week's middah (virtue): "Do not judge another person until you have stood in that person's place." (Pirkei Avot) Or, going a step further, Joshua ben Perahyah urged: "Judge everyone with the scale weighted in his favor." (Voices of Wisdom, p. 79)
To Talk About
- What message were the sages trying to impart in this Text? Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?
- What was the student of the Chofetz Chaim afraid of? Do you think the Chofetz Chaim responded wisely? Why or why not? How might you have addressed the student's fears?
- Sometimes we find ourselves being asked to make difficult decisions that will affect other people. What advice would Rabbi Hillel give us under these circumstances? Think about a situation in which you would have made a different decision if you had heeded Hillel's words.
- According to the sages, what were the qualifications for one who might be considered as a judge? Find out what qualifications are necessary nowadays for someone to be considered as a judge. How are they the same? How are they different?
- The majority of the middot instruct us about the positive virtues one needs in order to be considered a Torah-wise person. This is one of the few middot that tells us how not to behave. Do you think there is any significance in the fact that this is a negative admonition? In what ways do you think that practicing the middah of eino samayach behora'ah (not delighting in rendering decisions) would help you to become a Torah-wise person?
Pay careful attention to those times when you are asked to participate in making a decision that will affect others. Before you offer your opinion, remind yourself of Joshua ben Perahyah's words, "Judge everyone with the scale weighted in her/his favor."