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 " ").
The phrase nosay b'ol im chavayro means "to share the burden with one's friend." Nosay is based on the Hebrew root nun-sin-aleph that means "to lift up" or "to carry." The word ol means "yoke" or "burden." Im means "with" and chavayro translates as "one's friend."
"A faithful friend is a powerful defense. One who has found such a friend has found a treasure." (Ben Sira 6:14; also known as Ben Sirach, who was the author of a book of proverbs called Ecclesiasticus, i.e., The Wisdom of Ben Sira)
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch offered two explanations for the middah nosay b'ol im chavayro—"to share the burden with one's friend": one who wishes to acquire Torah must seek to ease his or her neighbor of the burden of daily living. So too, this individual should seek to render assistance to every fellow-seeker of Torah knowledge. (Chapters of the Fathers, Hirsch, p.109)
The commentary Tiferet Yisrael added,
"The one who wishes to acquire Torah helps others in any way he or she can, whether the help entails physical strain, financial expense, or emotional strain. He or she feels the friend's pain and does whatever is possible to help."
The Bible includes a story of a special friendship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi in which there were tremendous burdens to share. When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem in the land of Canaan, her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, insisted on accompanying her. At the border between Moab and Canaan, Ruth urged her daughters-in-law to turn back to their own land, their own people, and their own gods. Orpah agreed, but Ruth responded to Naomi,
"Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God." (Ruth 1:16)
Ruth and Naomi's relationship was a friendship born of pain. Ruth and Orpah had married Naomi's sons. Their husbands both died, leaving the women as widows. Naomi, also a widow, chose to return to the land of her birth, Canaan. Ruth and Naomi went to Bethlehem impoverished, with no ready means to support themselves. Ruth met and eventually married Boaz, a relative of Naomi's late husband. Among their descendents was David, who became King of Israel.
Ruth and Naomi faced many difficulties, but they faced them together, thereby exemplifying the middah nosay b'ol im chavayro.
To Talk About
- Review the past week and think of a time when a friend shared a burden with you or you shared a burden with a friend. Discuss the circumstances and how sharing the burden lightened it.
- Refer back to this week's text taken from the wisdom of Ben Sira, and interpret "a faithful friend is a powerful defense."
- What obstacles and difficulties did Ruth and Naomi have to overcome? How are Ruth and Naomi role models for us? Discuss.
- What do you think tests friendships? What do you think strengthens them?
- How can you live out the middah of nosay b'ol im chavayro—to share the burden with one's friend?
Friends are treasures who share life's burdens and joys. Write a note or make a phone call to a treasured friend and let him or her know how s/he has helped you share the burdens and joys of your life.