Among other facets, this style of mussar emphasized the inherent God-given greatness of a Jew and his Divine Image.
Every human being is created in God’s Image and possesses an important human soul.
But Jews also have a special neshamah that must be expressed properly.
In fact, before giving a group of rabbis mussar, Rav Yitzchak Izik Sher of Slabodka first addressed them as “my friends,” then praised them as being “fine, upstanding Jews who do not sin.” Then he briefly mentioned what he thought they needed to work on.
But first, he acknowledged his affection for them and their innate goodness.
Great Potential Enables Great Output
Upon barely escaping the Nazi claws, Rav Miller spent the rest of his life promoting the Slabodka way.
By showing the non-Torah society for what it really was (using his characteristic wit to do so) while at the same time describing the glories of Torah and being a committed Jew, Rav Miller uplifted the Jewish community of America.
What’s the point of doing that?
What Can Truly Beautiful People Do? Beautiful Acts!
If you are gorgeous & great, but the surrounding society is ugly & pathetic, why would you be attracted to that society?
You WOULDN'T be attracted to that society--IF you could truly internalize the idea that you are gorgeous and great.
And as a gorgeous and great person, you might also aim to do gorgeous and great acts, such as:
- davening with real kavanah
- doing a genuine cheshbon hanefesh (“After all, my flaws are just klippot! They aren’t the REAL me, who is actually bee-yoo-tee-ful!”)
- acts of loving-kindness
- developing the middot of patience and compassion
- learning the great and gorgeous Torah
- ...and so on.
There's Only 1 Definition of Beauty - and That's HASHEM'S Definition
When you’re surrounded by a culture that promotes a feminine ideal of sleek ‘n’ chic, it’s hard to feel up-to-par if you’re a frum lady wearing a perfectly decent snood and modest shirt & skirt with sensible shoes.
You feel plain in comparison, maybe even frumpy.
But as Rav Miller often points out: Who is beautiful in HASHEM’S Eyes?
Likewise, a pudgy balding frum Jew waddling quickly down the street to catch Mincha—he’s not tall ‘n’ brawny like the male ideal.
Yet who can't HASHEM stop gazing at adoringly?
Hashem knows that He has picked you up and flung you down with a resounding splat into the middle of Galus (Exile).
Even if you’re in Eretz Yisrael, you’re still surrounded by an Edomite-Yishmael-Erev Rav Exile.
But if you’re frum Jew, you’ve struggled to your feet and started limping around doing mitzvot.
And Hashem is like, “WOW! You’ve been flung down with a splat into the middle of the harsh Galus, yet you’ve decided to maintain a connection to Me—and maintain that connection to the point that, all dusty and limping, you’re going to wear clothes considered shlumpy or frumpy by Galus or hurry off to the nearest minyan for Mincha? I could just KISS you, I love you so much!!!!!!!”
Do you do any of the following (and more!)?
- You wear clothes that cannot possibly imitate the latest warped styles, which your surrounding society finds so attractive.
- You talk to Someone no one can see (via prayer).
- There are foods you'll never taste and world-renowned restaurants you'll never enter simply because you were told "no" millennia ago.
- You insist on studying the most beautiful and purest words of wisdom, which are denigrated by Galus as paternalistic or perverse by your surrounding society.
- You go (or wish to go) live in a country surrounded by bloodthirsty haters, where your standard of living is lowered (usually, but not always), and there are all sorts of other challenges...just because Hashem said, "Here. This is a Gift from Me. Live here."
Then guess what? Hashem thinks you're fab.
Even if you're doing it limping and mussed, you're DOING it, for crying out loud.
Gorgeous, stunning you.
The Limping Beauty
Yes, that’s right: Yaakov Avinu.
All night long, Yaakov Avinu wrestled with the horrific spiritual force of Esav/Edom.
And he came away with a limp. He won the terrible battle, but he stumbled away from it.
He didn’t heal his limp, nor did any other tzaddik do so. Hashem cured his limp. (Hashem is the only One Who could heal that Edom-inflicted limp.)
Yet Yaakov is considered beautiful—Tiferet.
Avraham Avinu symbolized Chessed (loving-kindness).
Yitzchak Avinu symbolized Gevurah (the power of restraint, the power to overcome).
The perfect synthesis of Gevurah & Chessed is Tiferet—beauty (the beauty of Truth).
And that’s what Yaakov was.
(This symbolism is mentioned in the Amidah of the Artscroll siddur, as many of you may already know.)
And Yaakov Avinu didn't just rest there on his laurels of victory.
He kept going.
Because he was beautiful in the deepest, truest, more important way.
And so are you.
The Beautiful Jew in the Ugly Exile
BECAUSE we’re struggling to keep the Torah, we are considered beautiful by Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
You need to look at yourself that way and you need to see other shomer mitzvot Jews that way. (Non-observant Jews are beautiful in potential; they could certainly express their neshamah in a way that makes them greater than anyone else - if they would do so.)
Are we flawed?
You can’t fight this fight without getting your clothes wrinkled and your hair mussed.
And yeah, we all can be stumbling around with an awkward, painful limp that only Hashem can heal.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t beautiful.
Embattled, limping, soldiering-onward Yaakov was beautiful. Yaakov was Tiferet.
So it’s good to try to see yourself and fellow struggling Jews the way Hashem sees you all:
You are beautiful. Gorgeous. Absolutely STUNNING.
And that’s the Truth.