My new book (out this month), opens by pointing out something that I believe to be entirely true, though it is not what people tend to see or experience in their encounters with the Jewish world, which is that:
The central concern of Judaism is that you and I accomplish a personal spiritual transformation in our lifetimes. That core intention can be lost in the welter of rituals, festivals, liturgy and other performative aspects of the tradition. It becomes even less visible when buried under the weight of buildings, institutions, campaigns and political struggles that are, for some, the face if not the totality of the Jewish world. But the fact remains that at its core, the driving concern of Judaism is personal spiritual transformation.
In preparation for the upcoming High Holidays, I have spent time looking back on my past year—the ups and downs and joys and sorrows; a series of daily changes. What I realized was that there was one common thread throughout the year that I could always count on—my Mussar study and my va’ad.
This fall our group will have been together for three years. During that time we have had the opportunity to share in one another’s triumphs, successes, heartaches and pains. What is especially remarkable to me is that we have all learned to speak a special language—the language of Mussar. When this journey began for me I was searching for a connection to God: that path seemed unattainable.
The world of Mussar seemed to grow exponentially following Alan Morinis’s visit to Phoenix in December 2003. The gathering was designed for those interested in learning more about this spiritual practice, and it attracted Jews from the Orthodox to the Reform to the Renewal movements. Shortly after this visit, a va’ad formed through my synagogue, Temple Chai, and we became “The Mussar Mamas.” As I think back to our initial meetings, I am in awe of the different paths of our members, as we brought our Mussar study into our lives.
Transitions are a fact of life. They happen to all of us, all the time—whether in our relationships, work, or personal life. What practical guidance does the Jewish tradition of Mussar provide to deal with transitions? More importantly, what guidance does it provide us for finding joy in these transitions?
This year’s kallah will focus on just such situations and opportunities. If you have been to a kallah in the past, you know about the community connections made along with the deep learning. While each kallah has a unique feel and flavor of its own, with a different theme and different teachers, the ultimate goals are the same: to strengthen our Mussar practice and be among a community of others who are interested in doing the same.
Presenting our first Mussar Kallah in Europe
The Mussar Institute proudly announces European Kallah I: An Introduction to Mussar, a Jewish pathway to spiritual living and everyday holiness.
The Kallah will be held Sunday, October 26, 2014, in Amsterdam. Leaders will include Alan Morinis, Dean of The Mussar Institute, and Rabbi Avi Fertig, Associate Dean.
For details on the kallah and registration, see this announcement in English and Dutch.
Please join us in a warm, supportive community for deepening your Mussar journey.
Seeking Input for 2015 Webinar Series
We are excited to announce that The Mussar Institute will offer its third annual webinar series in early 2015. These webinars are offered to the entire community at no cost. The theme of next year’s webinar series is“Mussar in the Workplace.” Kicking off the series will be Rabbi David Lapin on January 18. Successive webinars will be given by students and teachers of Mussar who integrate Mussar in their work.
Some popular ideas for workplace subjects include mediation, health care (nurses, doctors), psychotherapy, and law. What other topics would you be interested in having explored in these webinars? We welcome your input in helping us to shape the webinar series. Please click on this link to share your ideas and we will be happy to follow up.
If you provide your name and email when completing the survey, your name will be entered in a drawing to receive an autographed copy of Alan Morinis’s upcoming book, With Heart in Mind, to be published in late August.
The key to teshuvah lies not in the inventory of wrong-doing we are so often encouraged to compose but in fostering the urge we all feel to make something better of ourselves.
Write on a card or post-it the following words from Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein (Mussar supervisor of the wartime Mir yeshiva) and place it where you will repeatedly see it: “A person’s primary mission in this world is to purify and elevate one’s soul.”
The constant reminder will lead you to internalize this truth, and the urge to purify and elevate yourself will burn more brightly.
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