straight • upright • righteous

newsletter of  The Mussar Institute


April 2012



There are seven characteristics of a wise person. One is that he responds to first things first and to last things later.
-- Pirkei Avot 5:10

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Through a Mussar LensAlan Morinis

Seder’s Deep Roots in the Subconscious

With the Pesach seders less than a week away, the middah [soul-trait] that looms large before us is “order.” The Hebrew for “order” is seder—the name that is also given to the ordered festive meal as well as the prayerbook [siddur]. That the trait of order figures so centrally in prayer and festivals tells us that Judaism sees order as a necessary quality for one who would engage in spiritual processes and growth. How to reconcile that view with the fact that most of us are anything but orderly in our affairs?
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Welcome Jason Winston

Spring invites optimism, with its longer days, blooming flowers and promise of renewal. So in this season of Pesach, as we celebrate freedom, I choose to see our monthly topic, Seder, as an opportunity to free myself of some disorder.
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Mussar Journeys

While I was attending seminary at the ripe age of 43, I learned about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter and the Mussar Movement. The basic concepts intrigued me, and I filed the information near the back of my overloaded rabbinical student brain. Some ten years later I heard the word Mussar being bandied about by my closest colleagues and again my interest was piqued. Within months of this renewed awareness, I was delighted to see a posting in my congregation’s newsletter (where I am not the rabbi) for a Mussar group that was forming. Without knowing anything about The Mussar Institute, I immediately signed up for Season of Mussar and even persuaded a friend to join me, who, in turn, invited a friend of hers.
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Around the Mussar WorldHoward Shapiro

I began my Mussar journey when I first met Alan during the training offered by the Morei Derekh program in Spiritual Direction. I had been a Reform Rabbi in the same pulpit for 25 or so years by then, and as I contemplated retirement, something clicked in me that said, Where is your spiritual life? What is it and what is the shape of this next phase you are entering?
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Sunrise at the Zion ResortMussar Kallah 2012

If you were at Mussar Kallah IX in November 2011, you'll likely have some highlight that stands out in your memory.

Was it when Rabbi Yaacov Haber told us the story of Morris and the scorpions? Or when Alan Morinis danced to “Leibedik Yankel”? Or when Rabbi Micha Berger ate only one Pringle? Or was it gathering with old chevra and new friends?
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Ten Mussar Teachings for your Pesach Seder (5772gefilte fish)

Because Pesach celebrates liberation from slavery, it is a holiday ripe with spiritually-infused symbolism and practices. Because that liberation was not only freedom from slavery but also freedom to willingly praise, worship and serve the divine, it steers away from the license of the libertine, which is also the fruit of freedom, and takes on the qualities of a practice. Whereas the service of slavery is imposed by others, the service of spiritual practice is freely chosen.
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startThe Practice Corner

The Alter of Slabodka (Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel, 1849-1927) insisted that his students conduct themselves in an orderly way. He would say, “A hole in one's sleeve is a hole in one’s head. A wrinkled, tattered hat is a sign of confusion.” Note that what he focused on is how a person dresses, and indeed, that was part of the Slabodka approach and method. They would say, if you want to internalize a trait, make that trait part of your behavior. In the case of order, that would translate into creating external order so that the trait of order will become implanted in your heart, in keeping with the teaching of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in Path of the Just, who says, “External motions generate internal motions.” As you behave, so you become.

If order is your goal and disorder is your habit, undertaking to try to get everything in order is likely to fail. A much better strategy is to pick one area of your life and make order in that specific sphere. It could be your clothing, as the Alter seems to suggest, or it could be the kitchen, your study, the garage, the garden, a single filing cabinet. If you can create order in one specific area, you will start to get a feel for order and its rewards. A successful experience in that one realm will give you a taste for being orderly that you can then take and apply in other areas of your life.

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