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 " ").
Ma'amido al HaShalom translates as "setting others on the path of peace." Ma'amido comes from the Hebrew root ayin-mem-daled meaning "to place" or "to stand," and shalom comes from the Hebrew root shin-lamed-mem meaning "completeness" or "wholeness."
"Hillel says: Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them closer to the Torah." (Avot 1:12)
Aaron, the brother of Moses, was considered an exemplar of a peacemaker among his people. It is told that when Aaron saw two people at odds with each other, he would approach each one separately, without the other one's knowledge, and say,"Why are you fighting with your friend? He begged me to approach you and arrange a reconciliation." With this tactic, Aaron was able to bring about peace between the two people. (Pirkei Avos Treasury, p. 38)
Similarly, if a man and his wife were experiencing marital problems, Aaron would even allow himself to be degraded in order to restore harmony between them. In gratitude, couples whose marriages he had strengthened would often name their next son after him. At Aaron's funeral, there were said to be eighty thousand other "Aarons" that walked behind his casket. (Kallah Rabbasi 3)
The concept of peace (shalom) can refer to intra-personal, interpersonal, and international relationships. Without inner peace, a person is anxious, confused, and hurting. Without communal peace, each person is isolated, separate, and detached. Without global peace, our world will remain in pieces, fractious and fractured. The need for a unified and harmonious whole exists in a person, in a family, in a people, and in all peoples. Shalom is still an unrealized ideal.
Language itself hints at the centrality of peace in Jewish tradition. The word shalom carries a wealth of positive meanings. Referring not only to the absence of war, shalom also means "safety," "wholeness," "completion," "fulfillment," "prosperity,",and "peace of mind and heart.".In English, "peace" is often understood to be the absence of something—a lack of conflict. In Hebrew, shalom is understood to be the presence of something—a sense of well-being and fulfillment. (Artson, It's a Mitzvah, p. 121)
How can Ma'amido al HaShalom (setting others on the path of peace) lead to becoming a Torah-wise person? In a commentary on this middah, it is suggested that by being flexible and ready to compromise when possible, and legitimate, the Torah scholar promotes peace among people (Midrash Shmuel) and increases peace in the world. (Berachos 64a)
To Talk About
- The Talmud explains that we are obligated to seek peace at all times. At home and away from home, we are obligated to seek peace and pursue it. (Numbers Rabbah 19:27) Give an example of how you might fulfill that mitzvah. How can you respond to Hillel's teaching and be a disciple of Aaron?
- Jewish tradition stresses the centrality of peace in the home through shalom bayit (domestic harmony). A midrash found in Avot de Rebbe Natan, explains: "Those who make peace in their own homes are as if they made peace in all Israel." What do you think this means? Do you agree or disagree with this midrash? Why or why not?
- The Talmudic sages claimed, "Scholars multiply peace on earth." (Talmud, Berakhot) Some claim that this is proof that the Rabbis had a sense of humor! Talk about some of the ways in which scholars can multiply peace. What are some of the ways in which your learning can help you increase peace?
- Compare the English understanding of the word "peace" to the Hebrew understanding of the word shalom. Make a list of all the areas of life in which the presence of shalom makes a difference. Start with yourself and build towards the world community.
- There are many prayers in our liturgy that talk about shalom. Brainstorm the names of all the prayers in the Daily Service that contain the word shalom. Check the Gates of Prayer to see how accurate you are. Why do you think there are several prayers for peace in the siddur?
We have an obligation, as members of the Jewish people, to involve ourselves in the quest for shalom. Choose a place where you think you can help bring about peace. It may be within yourself, your family, your community or in the world. Make a decision as to what you are going to do to bring about peace and begin as soon as possible. How might you encourage others to follow your example?