straight • upright • righteous

newsletter of  The Mussar Institute


February 2013




“Character requires habituation, and habit rules all things, and all beginnings are difficult.”
— The Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer (1720-1793)

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Avi FertigThrough a Mussar Lens: Tree of Light

A few weeks ago a sudden power surge ended the life of the light fixture in my study. Although the study is in the middle of our apartment, right off the dining room, the small room also serves as our bomb shelter. For the past 15 years, Israeli law has required that every new apartment be built with its own bomb shelter. The walls are especially thick and reinforced with steel beams. I’m lucky that mine has a large window, closed in with two heavy metal doors, to maintain the secure nature of the room. Without my light fixture, I was forced to slide open those heavy doors each day so that the sunlight could illuminate the room.
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WelcomeJason Winston

This month we focus on a topic the Mussar masters emphasized—habit. Our capacity to develop habits can be our fiercest enemy and also the best friend of our spiritual lives. There are habits we need to break out of to stretch us in new ways, inviting growth and building new spiritual muscles. And there are positive habits required for my spiritual development, such as achieving a proper balance of order as opposed to chaos, or paying attention to my daily phrases and journaling.
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Around the Mussar World: AishDas SocietyMicha Berger

By Rabbi Micha Berger

In the traditional Orthodox community where I live, people think they know what Mussar is because learning classical Mussar texts is common, and because other senses of the word Mussar are in common usage. Many Orthodox communities have classes in Duties of the Heart (Chovot haLevavot) or Path of the Just (Mesilat Yesharim).
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My Mussar JourneyNancy Weiss

Ever since I was a child, I have been on a spiritual journey. From my current perspective, I realize that my conscious moves over the years have led me to Mussar. These have included dream tending, journaling and mindfulness practices, and a close eye on the interface of psyche, spirit and the expressive arts. Several years ago, in a Torah study and collage group, I steeped myself in Torah. In dreams, I found myself encountering the divine presence, which I represented in images, poems and prayers. It seemed that Torah was wrapping its heart around me.
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February Special Yirah poster

Our Special Offer this month is a limited edition Yirah poster created for Mussar Kallah X by Miriam Goodman. Regularly $20, these posters are now on sale for a $10 donation. Only 20 are available, so act now!

If you are interested in one of these limited edition posters, please email, and include your address for shipping the poster. We will send an invoice electronically.

Visit Miriam’s website for other Mussar-inspired art:

cookie cuttersThe Practice Corner

If you want to break a habit or take on a new one, the Mussar practice is the same: take small steps in the direction you want to head.

To relieve yourself of a behavior that is negative and not leading you toward holiness, set a period of time (a week? a month?) during which you will cut down on that behavior. At the end of that period, set another period and cut down some more. Continue with that process until the end of the behavior is within reach and then cease.

The same process holds for building up a habit. Take small, predetermined, time-bound steps and as you complete each step, move on to the next until the habit becomes, in the language of our teachers, “engrained in your heart.”

Newsletter Home
Through a Mussar Lens: Tree of Light – by Rabbi Avi Fertig
Welcome – by Jason Winston
Around the Mussar World: AishDas Society – by Rabbi Micha Berger
My Mussar Journey – by Nancy Weiss
February Special
The Practice Corner

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