The most difficult part of being a Jew is sorting Jewish values when they conflict. We are tied to memories of our many ancestors’ sufferings in Ukraine. Our Jewish hearts, at the same time, go out to those presently being attacked and violated.

What do we do when our hearts are torn in two directions?

Mussar is a body of Jewish study through which we reflect on values and character attributes. It is a significant Jewish tool in one’s quest to become a balanced being and more polished soul.

I turned to a dear friend, Steve Lewis, who has invested years in the study of Mussar. In the throes of the emotional and moral push-pulls of the Ukraine situation, we are affected by strong family stories, and at the same time do not want to harshly over-judge the present generations in Ukraine. I asked Steve if Mussar had a schema through which to sift the issues.

A primary Mussar character trait, or Middah, as Steve reminded me, is ‘Judging Others Favorably’.

We often judge quickly and harshly without knowing the full context of the situation. We may be judging current Ukranians negatively for the transgressions of some of their ancestors. This is not only possibly unfair to Ukranians, but feeds a negative world view in our own mind – an unhealthy way to live.

Another well known Mussar trait (or Middah) is the well-known chesed/ lovingkindness – having compassion and empathy for what current civilians in Ukraine are experiencing.

Do we remember the stories our families have told us? Absolutely. Do we honor the pain and travails of our past family members? Absolutely.

But in the Jewish way – in fact living out one of Judaism’s strongest messages – we look into the present and future with our widest heart, greatest vision and the kindest view of our fellow human beings possible.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Mark Biller