This month's Yashar is dedicated to the memory of Jacob Ween, z'l by the Jacob Ween Manhattan Va'ad.
Depending on your perspective, you might say Yashar contains multiple themes this month. I prefer to see the interconnectedness, however.
Our “official” theme is Rachamim/Compassion, and our featured Through a Mussar Lens article from Alan Morinis focuses specifically on this, as does The Practice Corner. We also are spotlighting Generosity Week 2014 with two articles this month and encouraging the full Mussar Institute community to participate. It is challenging to cultivate generosity without a foundation of compassion, so the two middot work hand in hand—and, this month in particular, from hand to hand.
This year, Generosity Week (February 23 to 28) will be celebrating its third birthday in a whole new way, featuring video lessons from six Generosity All-Star “celebrities” who have been carefully selected to deliver unique lessons to inspire participants to act generously.
In the Mussar tradition, generous giving shines a light in the heart of both giver and recipient. The purpose of the program is to foster individual spiritual development through the practice of generosity—a core human inner trait.
Generosity is a universal value, and most religions agree that generosity is an innate human virtue. In Judaism, and particularly in the Mussar tradition, generosity is a core human trait (middah in Hebrew) that needs mindful cultivation in the fertile soil of the heart. How does one then start cultivating a generosity garden in one’s heart?
The first person who fertilized my generosity garden was my mother (z’l). I have vivid memories of her loving kindness expressed in a bouquet of generous acts. I can still hear her loud whistle as she leaned against an open window to call hungry street peddlers to our door to receive a full meal, which she would carry down the stairs on a serving tray, accompanied by utensils, condiments, a beverage and even dessert, a gesture that showed true respect (kavod) for each hungry soul. I recall the smell of food traveling down the stairs and the repetitive thank-yous, sometimes accompanied by words of praise, uttered by the lips of the many she fed.
On behalf of the New York Mussar Va’ad, which just renamed ourselves the Jacob Ween Manhattan Va’ad, I am writing this for the greater Mussar Institute community about a dear and cherished member, Jacob Ween, who far too suddenly and prematurely passed away in December.
The angel Michael represents compassion [rachamim] as his name suggests: mi ka’el – “who is like God,” which calls to mind the essential compassionate nature of the divine. In the bedtime shma prayers there is a recitation that names four angels as surrounding and protecting you. It says, “At my right is Michael.” This means that compassion is at your right hand.
In your mind, conceive an image of the angel Michael as the embodiment of compassion. This image may or may not have form for you. It need not have wings. The important thing is to fill your mind with a vivid image of embodied compassion.
Once you have that image, visualize it there at your right hand. Feel, see in your mind and experience the vibrant presence of compassion at your right hand.
To intensify the visualization, you can add the recitation of a phrase, whether in Hebrew or English (or any other language, for that matter). It is the line from the bedtime shma about Michael:
* To my right is Michael
* Mi yemini Micha’el
Repeat the line over and over aloud in a way that suits your soul and continue to visualize compassion at your right hand. Continue for 5 minutes and repeat every day for one week to strengthen your compassionate nature.
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