straight • upright • righteous

newsletter of  The Mussar Institute


December 2012

Kallah Recap



To what may Awe be likened? To the tremor of fear which a father feels when his beloved young son rides his shoulders as he dances with him and rejoices before him, taking care that he not fall off. Here there is joy that is incomparable, pleasure that is incomparable. And the fear tied up with them is pleasant, too. It does not impede the freedom of dance.
Rabbi Avraham Elya Kaplan

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Save the Date: Mussar Kallah XI is coming October 1821, 2013, Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center, Zion, Ill.


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My Mussar Journey

I grew up singing in the choir of my Presbyterian Church in my hometown in eastern North Carolina. … So how did I get from there to Mussar? 

In my teens, I had deep longings for a spiritual life. During those years, I worked and prayed hard to be perfect in hopes of easing my spiritual angst. Mostly I felt confused and never “good enough.” When I was 20 years old, I left Christianity. Early one summer morning I drove to the ocean and had a conversation with God that went like this: “God, I am really sorry, but I can't accept the Jesus stories, one among my many doubts, and I am not real sure about you either.” I set aside my childhood God but never lost the desire for that relationship. 

At the age of 25 I converted to Judaism. I walked into an orthodox shuland felt deeply and immediately connected. I fell in love with all of it and embraced it all. I loved the sound of chanting Hebrew, the rituals, the holidays, the sense of community and family. But above all, I loved the antiquity of it. I was proud to belong to a peoplehood and a religion whose roots were ancient and deep, yet still alive and bearing fruit. 

For the next many years, my life and my work revolved around everything Jewish: causes, organizations, synagogue, ritual, the Jewish world. Despite all that involvement, however, I continued to have an emptiness that I did not have words for and did not know how to fix. As a convert, I assumed I never knew enough. But neither did I hear conversations or sermons that mentioned the soul, human spiritual needs, or God, except in adiscussion of the parashah (weekly Torah portion). My community was brittle and shrinking, as was my Jewish life. I was spiritually lonely and lost. I never doubted, however, that my way back must be with Judaism. 

One day I was visiting a friend in Atlanta. As we left her house, I saw that she had a book under her arm. The title caught my eye: Everyday Holiness. I asked the crucial question, “Did a Jewish person write that?” Without opening the book, I knew I had a place to start. I wanted to learn how to take those two ordinary words, “everyday” and “holiness,” and figure out how to live them. Surely that book could be a guide to teach me ways of living my ordinary days with more goodness and deeper Jewish meaning. I hoped my words, my thoughts, and my intentions could find a path to higher ground. And Mussar became my path. Mussar study and practice can deepen and transform a life. It has mine. 

Mussar gave me the teachers, the mentors, the language, and support I desperately sought. It has given me the framework and structure to help plot my path every day. I have been exposed to some of the great wisdom books on Mussar: Path of the Just, Cheshbon HaNefesh, The Ways of the Tzaddikim, and Duties of the Heart, translated by the kind and endearing Rabbi Yaakov Feldman, who spoke at our Kallah this year.

The words of guidance and spirit that Alan writes for each program we study are invaluable. My chevrutas and va'ad members constantly remind me I am not alone in the search for spiritual growth and awareness. My daily journaling helps keep me honest. It holds a mirror to my face and tells me when I have failed—which I manage to do every day in some way. But Mussar has also given me the freedom to fail. It tells me I will never be perfect or attain absolute wholeness or holiness. My spiritual life comes one day at a time. I just have to stay the course, get back on the path and try again tomorrow. Because of Mussar, I have a meaningful prayer life. And only since Mussar have I been blessed with fleeting moments of what I can only call grace—the grace of seeing the Mystery in the ordinary and sensing the Divine Presence near. 

For everyone who has shared with me, enlightened me, taught me, or guided me, I offer my deepest gratitude. I have been looking for you for a long time. 

It's b’sherte. I was meant to be Jewish, and I was meant to see that book under my friend's arm.


Newsletter Home
Through a Mussar Lens: Moving Forward after 10 Kallahs – by Alan Morinis
Welcome – by Gary Shaffer
October in Zion – by Jeff Agron
My Mussar Journey – by
13 Middos – Neil Harris
New “Middah a Month” Program for 2013
Special Offer for Kallah XI
The Practice Corner

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