Welcome to a Year of Transitions
In 2017, Yashar featured 12 middot that fit under a larger theme of Public Virtues and explored each through a Mussar Lens. In 2018, we plan to build around a common theme of Transitions, with a different middah each month that links to the personal transition story of a member of The Mussar Institute Community.
Stories this year will cover the real-life transitions we all undergo, anything from launching a business to retiring, from welcoming new family to moving on after loss, from starting a marriage to coping with a divorce. We will explore how engagement with Mussar provides us tools for learning and practice that we can all use in the transitions that will inevitably arise. This month, Elizabeth Eastman shares how gratitude guided her through a home remodeling that redefined what was normal in her family for several months, and Roann Altman shares memories of her father upon his recent passing.
These stories will come from you, our TMI family. Please consider whether your own life story includes a recent or current transition you would like to share with us. If so, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you have in mind.
We recently began remodeling our kitchen and dining room. Mostly, I wanted a bigger dining room table so we could have more guests for dinner. The project was to take six to eight weeks; it has been over five months, and we are still not finished.
During the remodel, my husband and I, our 14-year-old twin boys, and our dog and three cats are living in our small house without a kitchen or dining room, and at times, without our living room. For a while, our family room was the sole living space, apart from the bedrooms. As you might imagine, our home is crowded and cluttered with boxes, and we have had a considerable amount of construction dust, noise, and fumes; at times, we have also lost the use of our utilities.
With this January 2018 issue of Yashar, we turn to the theme of transitions. A major transition is underway for me and my sisters as my father, Edwin E. Altman, z”l, died in his sleep on December 16. I am grateful for all the support I received from my friends at The Mussar Institute—many of whom visited during shiva, called, sent cards or gifts, or emailed. I appreciated knowing that I was held in love by the members of this diverse community of souls!
I was blessed to have a wonderful father who exemplified the best of Mussar middot. Many who knew him over the years as he was ailing—his caretakers, the agency, the nurses, his doctor, the assisted living social director—have told us that they really appreciated him, enjoyed working with him, and were very sad to see him go. He was a man of few words, but he connected with people deeply, often with unexpected humor—just to let you know he was paying attention. As he began to lose his memory, he said: “I figured it out: I’m going to live until I die.”Read more
Naomi Shabot Wittlin, a member of the va’ad I joined over a year ago, called me last summer to ask if I would room with her at the 2017 Kallah. “I wasn’t planning to go,” I told her, but added that I would think it over.
“You have to go,” my husband said. “You never say ‘no’ to a mitzvah.” By mitzvah he meant that I had the health, time and means to attend a retreat with a dear friend I love and respect. Plus, I would meet “amazing people—kind and smart.”Read more
I have participated in two Mussar practice retreats and, with the 2017 Kallah now a vibrant memory, two kallot. The 2017 Kallah has been the most meaningful so far. The Kabbalat Shabbat service and the Shabbat morning egalitarian minyan were particularly moving, and our teachers and facilitators taught us so much. Yet it was the words of Rabbi Nussbaum that most touched my heart and that are helping me recommit to my Mussar practice.
Rabbi Nussbaum spoke about bitachon (trust in God), which has always been difficult for me. Likewise, its soulmate emunah (faith). Trust does not come easily, and I am convinced that this lack of trust is an impediment to both my practice and ability to experience joy. Additionally, I find it nearly impossible to pray, as my attempts at prayer leave me feeling like a fraud.Read more
It’s Over for Now: What’s Next?
Throughout the year, I have written inviting you to The Mussar Institute’s annual Kallah. Well, it’s now over, and what a Kallah it was! The energy was palpable from the very first night. The lobby was filled with those renewing acquaintances and those meeting one another for the very first time. We had a full house with 100 attendees.
The highlight of the Kallah was the presence of Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum from Israel, who served as a loving exemplar of a Mussar-led life. (See Lisa Sheldone’s article above for her personal account of what happened.) We were all inspired by Judith Golden, who led us in our egalitarian Shabbat service with her co-leaders Tova Dodi and Marcy Goldberg. We studied intensively in va’adim following the middot sessions taught by R’ Nussbaum, Alan Morinis, Avi Fertig, and David Jaffe. Saturday evening included a celebration of The Mussar Institute’s 13th birthday designed by Michele Jackman, where we learned about the history of The Mussar Institute and lit candles to honor those who have helped out along the way—which turns out to have been everyone in the room!
What is important to me now is to invite you—whether or not you attended the Kallah—to consider attending the next community-wide event in just four months, to be held in St. Louis, Missouri, from Sunday, May 6 (5 p.m. Central) to Wednesday, May 9 (12 p.m. Central).
Awakening Hearts and Minds: A Mussar Practice Intensive is a perfect opportunity for those with some background in Mussar to delve more deeply into the practices to help us become Mussar practitioners. Mussar is not just about reading and learning. A Mussar practice requires that we acquire it, having it become an integral part of who we are. Here we get to practice the tools of Mussar in a confidential, open-hearted environment. We can once again be on the path with like-minded souls, learn from one another, and grow.
Please save the dates! Registration will open shortly. And once it does, register early, as space is limited.
The Practice Corner
Three times each day appreciate the good that someone has bestowed upon you and verbally express your gratitude. The good can be something as small as someone holding the elevator or pressing your floor. Force yourself to pay no attention to the intent of the giver—it may be a shopkeeper, or the person who cleans your home—focus solely on the fact that you have received some benefit from this person.
Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz comments (Da’at Torah, Devarim II, pg. 36) that part of showing gratitude is showing the other person you are happy with what you have received. If you say “thank you” without a happy face, your gratitude is incomplete. And, so, an additional practice here is not only to verbally express our appreciation, but to show it with our face as well.
As you do this practice, consider carefully why it may be difficult for you to recognize the good, to feel appreciation and finally to express that appreciation. Which rationalizations popped into your mind making it hard to feel gratitude? What did expressing your appreciation feel like to you inside? Which aspect of the process was most difficult? Why? Remember to carefully journal your experiences and any insights you had.
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