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Teaching Your Children the Genuine Meaning of Mussar -- A Yom Kippur Parenting Message
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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About the time that these lines are digitally transmitted to your PC’s and BlackBerry’s, I will be walking from classroom to classroom in Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Dean, and encouraging the children to take time over Yom Kippur to reflect on what I see as the two overarching themes of the Mussar Movement – 1) to look inward with a critical eye in order to identify character flaws that need to be improved, and 2) to treat others with humility, kindness and courtesy at all times.

I share this with you in the hope that you will find this meaningful and perhaps discuss these themes with your children at home.

The message to my talmidim will be conveyed in the most positive manner – without the backdrop of why I find it necessary to share these thoughts with them. Nonetheless, it is something that ought to give us pause and is worthy of discussion.

Sadly, the genuine messages of the Mussar Movement, as with all good things, have the potential to be misused. Instead of introspection and self-improvement, they can be used to indiscriminately criticize others – often in harsh and unproductive ways.

As one who deals with many hundreds of disaffected teens and adults in our community each year, I find that this type of distortion of the Mussar Movement can be very damaging – often alienating and causing disaffection amongst the recipients of the non-productive criticism.

It behooves us all to reflect on the core values of the Mussar Movement and strive to treat others with humility, kindness and courtesy – even or especially when we have differing views on things. To loosely quote one of the leading Roshei Yeshiva of the previous generation, “Chalukei de’os (differences of opinion) is fine; it is pirud l’vavos (personal enmity) that is unacceptable.”

I suggest that the reflective process we all go through during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, ought to include what we can do as individuals and as a community to transmit the forbearance and darchei noam of the previous generation to our children and grandchildren.

Best wishes for a G’mar Chasima Tova and a year filled with simcha and nachas.

© 2010 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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