On the 8th night of Chanukah a group of friends gathered in our home to light the candles, sing the songs, play with spinning toys, talk, and eat. Together we lit 15 chanukiot, each with 8 lights plus 1 shamash, for a total of 135 flames. Glorious!
All that light and warmth taught me about Mussar. While working to refine a middah, a character trait, sometimes I wonder whether my effort makes any difference in the world. Over a year, each of us might succeed in changing ourselves just a little. Though it might seem insignificant, it is not. And we are not alone. Add my small bit of progress to that of everyone in my Mussar vaad, sum up over all the people in other Mussar groups, and together we illumine the world for one another—and shine light even beyond our circle of Mussar.
Those 135 flames not only shed a sweet light—they also spread a great warmth. So warm that several of the candles began to soften and bend. Some bent all the way over into an inverted U shape, teaching me four more lessons about Mussar.
One candle burning alone usually doesn’t soften enough to bend. However, the warmth of the group can enable change for individual members. I must stay connected to a Mussar community.
Some candles bent into remarkable shapes. Mussar can change us, and not only a little; we can even bend a middah through 180 degrees. Never underestimate the potential effect of Mussar practice.
When the heat subsided, bent candles became firm again and remained in their new shapes. When the conditions are right, dramatic change is possible. But conditions can change rapidly, so I must make the most of every Mussar moment.
Outside factors, such as gravity, determined the final shape of each bending candle. But we have free will to straighten middot that are bent, or curl them into beautiful forms (imagine the artistic plaiting of some Havdalah candles). When we are open to change, it's up to us to intentionally reshape ourselves.
© Rick Dinitz, 2018