My wife had her fourth hip replacement last month. After she had had the first two replaced, I told her that if she ever needed another hip replaced, I’d be calling a vet. Turned out not to be funny. The first pair involved devices that have since become the focus of a class action lawsuit. She needed both redone.
I have attended 9 or 10 Mussar Kallot, but this [May 2017] was my first Mussar Practice Retreat. I decided to attend because I needed a break from work, it was only a train ride away, and I needed a kick in the tuchas. While I consider myself an enthusiastic Mussar student, I must admit that my day-to-day practice has been dwindling. I still meet with my va’ad twice a month. I study with my chevrutah … inconsistently. I chant … sometimes. I journal … almost never. So how am I an enthusiastic Mussar student? Some of the “rewiring” that happened when I was practicing more consistently is still intact, which is very important. But I felt like a hypocrite, and it was time for me to up my game. So I hopped on the train and headed for St. Louis.
I never liked the word tolerance. It just doesn’t sit well with me. In fact, I can’t imagine how it might be translated into Hebrew, Lashon HaKodesh, the Holy Tongue, for this edition of Yashar. Tolerance has the connotation that I really don’t like you much, but I can tolerate your existence. It implies a sort of indifference, which is antithetical to Torah and Mussar. “I don’t care, go ahead and jump off the roof if that is what you want.” Nothing could be further from a life guided by the principles of Mussar.
My soul does not dance and sing; it shimmers in the light of the ultimate light.
My ego dances, sings and cries, is positive and sullen.
My body goes through its life aging but remembering the ups and downs.
But something watches and writes these observations,
perhaps, for its own sake, perhaps only for the sake of the light that is in us all.
MIDDOT CARDS: The Mussar Institute now offers sets of 20 Middot Cards that can be used as reminders of key concepts in Mussar. Inspired by Alan Morinis’s writings, each set costs $11.96, with discounts for larger orders.
PROGRAM FOR RABBIS: Are you a Rabbi or do you know a Rabbi who is looking to nurture and develop his or her spiritual practice? Nefesh HaRav is a year-long program for Rabbis, starting with a retreat in the Los Angeles area in January 2018 and continuing with distance learning. Registration is now open.
SAVE THE DATE – Fall Retreat: Mussar Kallah XV will return to the Capital Retreat Center, outside the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area from November 30 to December 3, 2017. Topic: The Holiness of Engagement. Registration is open.
VIDEO BLOG: Is it possible you act in ways contradictory to what you intend? Chances are you might. Check out this talk from Chaim Safren titled, “Excuse Me I Have a Call.”
NEW MUSSAR BOOK: Mind Over Man: The Climb to Greatness, a sefer based on the Mussar va’adim of Alan Morinis’s teacher, Yechiel Yitzchok Perr, is available for purchase from the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, N.Y.
The Practice Corner
Step 1: Awareness
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter says that the first step in working on yourself is to become aware of your spiritual curriculum, which means identifying the specific traits [middot] where you have the potential to grow.
For a week, keep a journal of all the things that people to whom you are close do to annoy and offend you. Write out briefly what they did that bruised you or inflamed you. Then, underneath that entry, identify the quality in you that their behavior triggered.
Anger and impatience? Dig a little deeper. Arrogance or worry? Reflect on what you can learn about yourself from those encounters, because that awareness of your own curriculum is a great gift to yourself. Once you are aware, you have set the stage for change, both in yourself and in the relationship.
Step 2: Giving
We learn from Rabbi Moshe Cordovero in Tomer Devorah that the foundational practice for healing loving relationships is to practice tolerance. He is not talking about tolerating abuse. He is talking about staying close and being forgiving of the inevitable offenses done to us by those whom we love.
The practice he prescribes is both simple and challenging: whenever someone who is close to you insults you or offends you, ask yourself: “What can I do to sustain this person?” How can I support and care for this person I love, despite the offenses they deliver to me?
This is not a rhetorical question. When someone who is close to you does something unpleasant or even hurtful to you, seek to identify what you can give to the person with whom you want to foster love, and take action.
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