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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Through a Mussar Lens: Moving Forward after 10 Kallahs

Ten years of Mussar Kallahs. Ten years of Jewish spiritual seekers coming together to share the journey of life. Ten years during which the presence of Mussar has grown in the Jewish world so that, at this Kallah in October, there were people from Brazil and Holland, Israel and Canada, as well as the U.S. There were Orthodox Jews and Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews. There were people from New York and people from Oklahoma; people from California, Florida, Texas and Missouri (and more). Men and women. Every one of them a neshama in search of holiness.

The world of Mussar is growing, so much so that most of the work we are doing is just a desperate attempt to keep up. A new Mussar movement is emerging, and if you are reading this column, you are invited to see yourself as part of a new and emerging Jewish community, one that makes the inner life of the individual a Jewish priority.

The first activities of The Mussar Institute (which was founded in 2004, two years after the first Kallah) were aimed at individual spiritual seekers. People like that continue to participate. Then we expanded to target communities, primarily synagogues. Synagogues continue to be central to our activities. But recently we have seen strong interest coming our way from another level of organization and scope in the Jewish community. A sampling of recent developments:

  • The Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning has been offering our A Season of Mussar program under their umbrella in Miami. The Melton program is offered annually in 50 locations throughout North America.
  • The entire leadership of the Jewish community in Buffalo, N.Y., from the head of Federation and the JCC to the rabbis, heads of school, etc., is participating in a Mussar-focused leadership development program that I am guiding personally. 
  • Last month, I addressed the Board of Governors of the JCC of Greater Boston on the relevance of Mussar to their mission. The JCC has made a focus of individual physical well-being. What of the soul?
  • In April I will address a group from the Wexner Foundation Heritage Program, which is already offering some Mussar study to its participants.
  • A school-wide Mussar program is in full swing at Gann Academy in Boston, possibly a model for programs other Jewish schools could offer.
  • At the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles, we are providing the Mussar curriculum to their rabbinical students in groups led by TMI facilitators.

This (partial!) list reflects a huge shift. The inner life of the individual, so conspicuously absent from the Jewish agenda in the post-World War II era, is being welcomed back into the Jewish mainstream in any number of settings and ways.

This year we initiated a membership program with the goal of creating a stronger community base for our activities. That program has been very well received, and if you have not yet shown your support and announced your engagement by becoming a member, I urge you to do so now.

But even with the membership program, the reality is that The Mussar Institute is facing opportunities to touch souls, families, communities and the Jewish world far beyond our current capacity.

Because of the excellent strategic planning we have done, and because we have been diligent in pursuing those plans, and because HaShem seems to have blessed our efforts, so many opportunities are opening up before us. We are being invited to expand our activities in fulfillment of our mission. For example, it seems obvious that we could initiate an expansion of the pilot program currently running with Melton in Miami to others of the 50 Melton sites. There are many JCCs that might be as interested in what we offer as is the Boston JCC, and there are many Jewish day schools that could learn from the innovation happening at Gann Academy … and so on through the other doorways that are swinging open before us.

But in every case, we do not yet have the system, resources or personnel to develop these opportunities, in fulfillment of our mission. This is our current challenge. It is exciting and it is very positive, but it is a challenge nonetheless. How can we grow to meet this need?

From the beginning until now, my primary role has been to engage in my own spiritual journey and then to share what I am discovering. I intend to continue making that process the center of my working life, through further study, practice and writing. We will therefore need different people in addition to new ideas, more resources, great creativity and more blessings from heaven to fulfill what the Jewish world is asking of us.

Do you have some of those ideas? Skills? Resources? Inspiration? We are a community, and I want your input. Please email me directly with anything you have to say on this challenge and what you think we can do to meet it:

We have the opportunity to touch, enrich and guide so many neshamas that it seems to me to be virtually an obligation to reorganize ourselves in order to be able to do so. I welcome you to taste the joy of being part of this endeavor.

Returning to the Kallah, one note to conclude. The theme of this year’s Kallah was yirah, variously translated as fear or awe or reverence. There is no English word that even comes close to translating yirah because it can mean any of those things (for which there are English words), but is there a state in which the heart is taken over with a single experience that at once generates fear and awe and reverence?

The weather report answered the question. As we met on the shores of Lake Michigan, Hurricane Sandy bore down on the eastern seaboard. We were spared the storm, but there were enough images broadcast to provide something approximating the experience itself. Part of what is so magnetizing about a storm on that scale is that the lashing rain and home-destroying wind are at one and the same time terrifying, awe-provoking and inducing of reverence for the source of such power.

Although we in Chicago did not feel the brunt of the storm, we were equipping ourselves with Jewish wisdom that helps us understand our own experience, as yirah is the exact concept to describe what it is like to experience a hurricane. That is the gift of Mussar. We are fortunate to have received it. Won’t you help us bring it to other souls as well?

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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