Instead of our traditional Through a Mussar Lens column this month, Yashar took a different approach to exploring our theme of justice. We are blessed to have two former state legislators in The Mussar Institute community, both of whom agreed to be interviewed about their careers, thoughts on justice, and experiences as students of Mussar.
Pursuing Justice: Conversations with Former Legislators
Those members of the TMI community who attended the most recent Kallah will no doubt recall the wit and wisdom of Marshall Rauch, who regaled us with tales from his business and political careers and demonstrated that, at age 91, he has not lost any of his zest for life or passion for learning. I had the privilege of speaking with the longtime state senator from North Carolina by phone in February about his background, Mussar studies, and perspective on justice and politics.
To gain perspectives on justice this month, I conducted phone interviews with two former legislators who are members of The Mussar Institute community. Leona Siadek spent six years in the California Legislature after being elected in 1974. We spoke in February about her political career, thoughts on justice and the impact of Mussar on her life today.
Some 40 years ago, my mentor, a therapist rabbi, told me, “If your father had gone to Slabodka rather than Novarodock, how different his and your life would have been.” This article represents my efforts to understand what that rabbi meant, influenced and shaped in this pursuit by the writings of Shlomo Tchikochinsky, a scholar at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Mussar practitioners believe that “deep down” we all want to behave with justice and fairness, to do the “right thing.” The source of this desire is our spark of divinity, often called “soul.” Parents and teachers struggle to find the balance between the right and left hand, the soft and hard, between positive and negative reinforcement, to produce young adults who are disciplined and able to be fair and just and resist the “easy way out.”
It is with deep humility that I share my personal Mussar journey, as I have only relatively recently stepped onto this extraordinary spiritual path. Many of you have traveled more years, acquired more awareness and wisdom than I, and have experienced to a greater degree the transformation that Mussar brings to those who study and practice this ancient Jewish tradition.
The Hebrew word for justice is tzedek and for charity is tzedakah. This shared root reveals that the essence of charity, in the Jewish view, is that it is not acting out of benevolence but justice. Cultivating this trait would mean then to give generously to others with the mental intention that it is not out of pity but a matter of justice to support those in need.
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