Alan Morinis, Taste of Mussar – an introductory course in Mussar
The core of Mussar practice is an “accounting of the soul,” a direct translation of the Hebrew phrase “cheshbon ha’nefesh.”
Rabbi Y.B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) pointed out that in the story of creation in Genesis, after different things were created each day, God looked back at the day and evaluated it: “And God saw that it was good.” Since one of the guiding principles of Mussar practice is to “walk in God’s ways,”10 in other words, to learn from and try to emulate the divine, so, too, should we be looking back at our actions and evaluating them. That means doing an Accounting of the Soul.
Done in a systematic and thorough way, this practice provides clear knowledge of the forces and contours of your own inner landscape. That interior world of personality, thought, values, wisdom and emotions, along with its eternal essence, is what we know as “soul,” and a rigorous process of soul-accounting delivers up penetrating insight and, ultimately, change.
Identify or purchase a journal and dedicate it to your Mussar practice.
Write your intention (kavanah) at the beginning of your journal.
Reflect on your daily experience with regard to your inner trait.
Keep your notebook beside your bed, along with a pen. A blank journal of any kind can be used for this practice, but we recommend that you print out the loose-leaf journal pages that we have prepared and provided just for this purpose.
Typically, Mussar journaling is done just before you go to bed, when you look back over your day to see what you can identify that in any way reflects experience you had with any of your inner traits. Was there a situation in which you were impatient? Or patient? Perhaps you didn’t express gratitude to someone who helped you. Or perhaps you went out of your way to say thank you to someone. And so on through any the other traits that might come to your attention on reflection.
When writing in your journal, be on the lookout especially for any breakdowns, problems or troublesome feelings that arose, as well as any positive motivations, actions or successful behaviors you can identify in relation to your personal attributes.
Notes in your journal should be brief, just an outline of the facts that reveal something of how you experienced the event/feeling. Don’t worry if what you write won’t pass as literature. No one but you ever need see this notebook. The point of the writing is to bring your spiritual curriculum to conscious awareness. That is the first step in doing an Accounting of the Soul, and we will add further steps to the practice as time goes on.