These are trying times for the virtue of lovingkindness (chesed in Hebrew). The online world has made it so easy to tweet hatred, vilification and intolerance, and some leaders have become fully complicit, actually leading the charge toward unkindness. The impact is felt not online but in the actual reality of people’s lives. Refugees are no longer people in dire need but terrorists. Neighbors who are different from us are inherently suspect. Kindness is judged a weakness.
I can go anywhere and feel at home.
The small group of Mussarniks stood in the middle of the Etz Haim library in Amsterdam, facing several archival books open for our display. I was fortunate to be one of those included in this special tour following the Mussar Summer Academy in June. The guide led us to view a handwritten book. We stood in awe at the original Mishna Torah, handwritten by the Rambam in 1282. I dropped my phone and lost my breath
I love the story told by Rabbi Abraham Yachnes which clarifies the kind of action needed to qualify as chesed / kindness. He said, “If you are walking down the street and someone is walking beside you carrying a large box, and you offer to help the person carry the box, that’s not chesed / kindness. Making that offer is just a sign that you are not a rasha [evil]. What counts as chesed is when you are walking the opposite way and you turn around to help carry that load in the direction they are going. That’s chesed.”
I belong to two congregations. The much larger Reform congregation provides dinner every Sunday for about 40 people at the homeless shelter. The members are justifiably proud of this mitzvah, which they have been doing continually for over 30 years. The homeless shelter is close to our local warehouse store, and it is common to see congregants buying food for donation on Sunday afternoons. Their motivation is probably similar to mine; I can justify buying non-essential luxury items if I am also helping to feed the many homeless people hanging out in the neighborhood. In terms of Mussar middot, this might be described as generosity, even compassion. It is certainly tzedakah.
Mussar and art are two passions of mine, and the marriage of these two passions into MussArt™ in 2009 has allowed me to deepen my personal Mussar practice, help others deepen their Mussar practice and share my gifts in a variety of ways.
This past June, I was inspired to paint a piece titled “Zerizut” (Alacrity) as a means to raise money for the Jewish Values for Everyday Living: Mussar for Children program. It was a joy to paint the piece for such a wonderful cause, and my delight increased when I witnessed how many people supported both me and the program! I raised $1,000 selling $20 raffle tickets.
Elul initiates a very special period of introspection and self-analysis, two cardinal aspects of Mussar practice. Beginning on Rosh Hodesh Elul, August 22, TMI will provide a free, daily Mussar study and practice program.
Be a facilitator, help others walk their spiritual path, and grow your own soul in the process.
In the Manchim Program you will learn how to guide a va'ad and lead The Mussar Institute’s advanced courses. You will develop the values, skills, and traits needed to facilitate small study groups in the ways and traditions of Mussar and help members of your own community to engage in personal development and growth.
Course prerequisites include the completion of two TMI courses and some additional items. The program begins the second week of November, 2017.
For more information, please go to mussarinstitute.org/mussar-leaders/
MIDDOT CARDS: The Mussar Institute now offers sets of 20 Middot Cards that can be used as reminders of key concepts in Mussar. Inspired by Alan Morinis’s writings, each set costs $11.96, with discounts for larger orders.
PROGRAM FOR RABBIS: Are you a Rabbi or do you know a Rabbi who is looking to nurture and develop his or her spiritual practice? Nefesh HaRav is a year-long program for Rabbis, starting with a retreat in the Los Angeles area in January 2018 and continuing with distance learning. Registration is now open.
SAVE THE DATE – Fall Retreat: Mussar Kallah XV will return to the Capital Retreat Center, outside the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area from November 30 to December 3, 2017. Topic: The Holiness of Engagement. Registration is open.
VIDEO BLOG: Is it possible you act in ways contradictory to what you intend? Chances are you might. Check out this talk from Chaim Safren titled, “Excuse Me I Have a Call.”
NEW MUSSAR BOOK: Mind Over Man: The Climb to Greatness, a sefer based on the Mussar va’adim of Alan Morinis’s teacher, Yechiel Yitzchok Perr, is available for purchase from the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, N.Y.
The Practice Corner
The Mussar masters stress that actions affect us most deeply when they are connected with proper intent. The full force of positive actions is realized when one’s mind is in synch with one’s actions.
To enhance/elevate your act of giving, your practice is to spend a few moments concentrating on what it is you are about to do and why you are doing it. Consciously remove any selfish motivations you may have and evoke your middah of pure lovingkindness. Concentrate on doing the action with the purest of motivations—to help the other—and follow through with the action while holding that pure intention in your mind. Pay careful attention to your innermost struggles, and after completing your act of chesed, spend a few moments contemplating the benefits of this practice.
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