I recently added email to my cell phone capabilities and discovered that waiting in line will never be quite the same. If it looks like the line might hold me up for more than a few minutes, I flip out my phone, click a couple of times, wait while this little icon takes a few spins, and then start doing email.
I realized this week that Mussar–Jewish writings on ethical character development–has a similar impact, but on a far more profound level.
Every mundane delay or nuisance is transformed into ethical conditioning. So, a couple of days ago I missed a freeway on ramp and had to make a u-turn at the next light to get back on course. And of course, I hit the intersection right after the light turned red, so I had a long wait when I was all ready to charge back down the street and get on the freeway.
Mussar turned this long wait into an inner conditioning opportunity, and it just happened that the focus for this week on rivertonmussar.org was Patience. So, Rabbi Lefin writes in Cheshbon HaNefesh, “Woe to the pampered man who has never been trained to be patient. Either today or in the future he is destined to sip from the cup of affliction. . . .” I’d rather spend a few minutes at the red light learning patience. In fact, I’d rather view that red light as an opportunity to pump up my patience capacity, and mussar brings just that change of perspective.