group studying

What is a Va'ad (group)?

va’ad is a unique facilitated group learning environment that is traditional to Mussar. While we learn a great deal on our own, we learn differently with a partner, and differently again when we discuss things with other people, who bring additional experience and perspectives to the issue.

When you work in a va’ad, the main form of interaction is discussion, and the subject under discussion will be assigned to the group. The focus will always be some aspect of the inner life as seen and understood through the lens of Mussar teachings. Even though you may instantly recognize a term or concept that is being brought forward for examination – humility, generosity, forgiveness and the like—it is very important that you suspend your preconceived ideas in order to be open to learning the traditional Jewish teachings to which you will be exposed. You may find that the Jewish perspective on humility, for example, is quite different from the general idea in the culture, which is so influenced by a common interpretation of Christian thought. Similarly, if you have an idea about “lovingkindness” as understood in Buddhist thought and practice, you will find a new understanding in the exploration of chesed, a Jewish concept almost always translated as “lovingkindness.”

One of the best ways to explore the teachings is by seeing how they apply to your own life and experience. Therefore in the va’ad, you are encouraged to bring forward your own stories and reflections, to try out the concepts and see how they fit with aspects of your own life. In a discussion on humility, for example, as the specifically Jewish view of this quality is under scrutiny, bring out an example from your experience when you encountered someone’s (or your own?) arrogance. Your story or reflection is an offering to the group, because it will give a concrete instance in which people can try to apply concept, to test how it fits. The result will be a real lesson learned.

Although we encourage you to tell personal stories, it’s important to stress that a va’ad is not a consciousness raising or a therapy group. There is never any intention of solving problems, inner or outer. The point is to explore and learn about the nature of the inner qualities, as understood by the sages of the Mussar tradition, and to see how these play out in the reality of our lives. Personalizing the inquiry is the best way to do this learning.

The ultimate goal of the va’ad is to give all the participants a vibrant understanding of the nature of the soul-qualities you will discuss (and by extension, all soul qualities) and to help each one of you strengthen your awareness of the presence of these qualities in your own personal life.

When your work in a va’ad, you will follow these guidelines:

  • Commit to confidentiality.
  • Respect the right of each person to speak if they choose and respect their journey.
  • Speak for yourself, only. Focus on what is real and from your own experience.
  • Honor the group and enjoy the process.

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