Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I have a radar detector in my car. I don’t know if it’s gotten me out of any tickets, but it’s a constant reminder for me to keep to the speed limit. Problem is, it’s kind of gone berserk. It randomly alerts me to things that I don’t see, such as railroad crossings that aren’t there, emergency vehicles nowhere in sight, and the latest alert was for a road hazard when only other vehicles were in view. I have pretty good eyesight and I’m confident the alerts are wrong.
“Road hazard ahead. Road hazard ahead.” It keeps repeating until I think, “Are you my road hazard” to the car in front of me? Then, just like that, it clicks. While I like to think of myself as a diligent driver, there are hazards all around us. Sometimes we can’t see them. Sometimes they are hidden. Sometimes they are masked behind our own insecurities and fears, but they are very real and present. While the hazard may not literally be an obstacle on the road before me, it made me reflect on the “road hazards” in my life.
For example, there was the time I was so overwhelmed with work that, for weeks, I was on my computer at home instead of spending quality time with my children and husband. While there may still be exceptions when I need to bring work home, I remind myself every day to make time for my family. They are my priority and the hazard that gets in my way is my desire not to leave a task to be completed for the following day and learning to say “no” when I have a choice to accept additional responsibilities.
Or, the time I prejudged a colleague, but once I became aware that my own judgment prevented me from truly seeing the person in front of me, I recognized their skills, their strengths, and their inherent worth. Removing the obstacle of judgment granted me a valuable relationship from which I continue to be blessed.
What are the obstacles to your journey and how do they hinder you? There is a Jewish practice that helps us identify some of these obstacles and become our best selves. It is called Mussar. The practice of Mussar encourages us to take time for self-reflection and practice values that help us improve ourselves.
Mussar encourages us to be mindful of our words and actions and how they relate to the middah (Jewish value) that we are currently studying. For example, I might focus on Gevurah (self-regulation) as a way to control my impulses when it comes to my work habits. As we read in Avot 4:1- Ben Zoma said, “Who is mighty? The person who conquers their impulse, as it says [in Proverbs 16:32], ‘slowness to anger is better than a mighty person and the ruler of one’s spirit than the conqueror of a city.'” If my inclination is to keep working and accept more responsibilities, I need to practice stopping and recognizing when I am pushing myself too hard at the expense of my family. I might ask myself, “what would happen if I don’t complete this task today?” If it is not time urgent, it can wait until the morning so I can return my focus to my family.
Or, if I want to maintain openness to all people and avoid making assumptions and judgments, a middah called Shekol Da’at, I might try being mindful in my encounters each day. Learning from the text “Who is wise? One who learns from all people (Pirkei Avot 4:1),” I might ask myself, “what can this person teach me” as a reminder that every new person I meet is worthy of respect and has something of value to share.
Think about the barriers you may place in front of yourself and how recognizing them could free you to experience something better and become someone better.