In my daily Bible reading last week I read a verse in Proverbs that drew me to look up the Hebrew word that was translated as “discipline”. When I found the word, it was “mussar“. My first response was to wonder why I hadn’t looked for mussar in the Hebrew text before, and my second response was to read all of the verses that contained “mussar” in them to get a better understanding. Here are a few thoughts to share:
- My concordance defines mussar as: discipline, chastening, correction.
- Mussar is the modern Hebrew word for ethics (morality, standards, principles of right vs wrong).
The two may not make much of a connection in your mind just yet, but I think you’ll see the connection shortly. I’ve described the tradition of mussar to my friends as “spiritual character development”.
The first use of this word in the Scriptures is in Deuteronomy 11:2b-3a:
…consider the discipline (mussar) of the L-RD your G-d, His greatness, His mighty hand and His outstretched arm, His sign, and His deeds that He did in Egypt…
The next earliest uses are in Job where those passages speak of discipline that intends to bring one back from their error, a chastisement. But what really piqued my interest was the next group of uses. The book of Proverbs uses the word mussar a lot. In Proverbs 1, for example, is this:
2 To know wisdom and instruction (mussar), to understand words of insight, 3 to receive instruction (mussar) in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity…
7 The fear of the L-RD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (mussar).
Discipline and instruction – these two certainly work together. As we grow our parents instructed us and sometimes that included forms of discipline. At the same time, as we grew we developed a self-discipline through our parent’s continued instruction. We would not learn without the two being partners – discipline and instruction. Continue reading