There are soul-traits (middot) that can be understood and defined in very human terms. But holiness is not among them. Holiness is a personal spiritual quality that has one foot in this world and another foot in a world beyond. When HaShem gives us our human job description in the Torah, telling us “kedoshim tihiyu”—“You shall be holy”—that verse (Leviticus / Vayikra 19:1) ends with the emphatic, “ki kadosh ani”—God saying, “Because I am holy.” Holiness is both our potential and a quality of the divine.
Yaakov Yechezkel, our 15-month-old son, took his precious first steps a few weeks past his first birthday. Since that time, he has become quite proficient and generally totters around the house without issue. He runs into trouble, however, when trying to do two things at once. If he tries to grab something while walking or tries to show someone what’s in his hand, he loses his balance and tumbles over.
Balance is relatively easy when we can focus on just one or two tasks or when we have just one role to fill. But adult life is not that simple. There is so much to be done and so many roles to fill that balancing it all becomes a real challenge. How can we balance our roles of parent and child, spouse and co-worker? How do we balance our personal needs with the needs of our family and of our community? How can we organize our time effectively so that we can maintain our own inner balance?
TMI at the Reform Biennial: The Mussar Institute will present a program at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial 2015, being held from November 4 to 8 in Orlando, Florida.
On Thursday afternoon of the Biennial, TMI representatives will speak about Seeking Everyday Holiness, a community-strengthening program that introduces participants to Mussar. In the past year, dozens of URJ congregational rabbis were trained by TMI and then brought the program back to their communities, where hundreds of congregants participated. In this session, moderator Rabbi Eric Gurvis (Temple Shalom), along with Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker (Mount Zion), Rabbi Jill Maderer (Rodeph Shalom), and Rabbi Darryl Crystal (Temple Beth David) and members of their congregations will share their experiences.
For more information about the Biennial, please visit www.urj.org/biennial.
Shambhala Course: Shambhala Publications, in partnership with TMI, is offering Transforming Heart and Soul: An Online Course on the Jewish Tradition of Mussar.
The seven-week course is led by Alan Morinis using video lessons and live conference calls and is based on his latest book, With Heart in Mind.
TMI members are eligible for a special discount. Members: watch for an email with details. Join now for this and other benefits.
Mussar in the Sukkah: Rabbi Chaim Safren gives a video teaching on how to prolong the good resolutions you made during Yom Kippur by sitting in the Sukkah.
The Practice Corner
The practice to cultivate holiness involves three distinct steps:
1. Separate yourself from defiling influences.
What do you indulge in that is defiling? The traditional definition would include nonkosher food, improper sexual relations, theft, idol worship and the like. Identify where you are drawn to things that are not pure and have a defiling influence and determine to stop pursuing one of those things for at least the next week.
2. Be restrained in things that are permitted to you.
Jewish law has no problem with satisfying desires. Food, drink, sex, sleep and whatever you might naturally crave are not forbidden to you. But the spiritual challenge is to restrain yourself to indulging in permitted things only to the extent that is healthy and necessary. Identify an area of permitted activity that you engage in where your heart knows you could and should restrain yourself more. Set goals and boundaries for the next week for being restrained in that way.
3. Dedicate all your actions to the welfare of others.
Holiness represents a dedication to the welfare of others and a commitment to benefit others through our actions. This is both a practice that leads to holiness and a measure of its presence. Choose a very mundane activity—it could be washing your body or feeding yourself or getting dressed or the like—and for the next week, consciously dedicate that activity to the well-being of others. “I wash my body to be healthy in order to serve others.” “I dress myself in order to be able to go out in public to serve others.” “I feed myself in order to gain the strength I need to serve others.” Decide on the activity you will dedicate to the welfare of others and make a practice of articulating this dedication on a daily basis for a week, or more.
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