Mussar is an engaging Jewish spiritual pathway of personal transformation for the sake of creating a better world. For centuries, Jewish scholars, philosophers and theologians have explored the deep questions of what creates a meaningful, purposeful life. How do we actually live our values and align our behaviors with our intentions? How do we learn to respond to life in a way that brings us and others greater connection, happiness and peace? A Mussar group (va’ad) responds to these questions, by helping us learn how to apply Jewish wisdom to our everyday lives.
A Mussar group explores personal attributes/values, called middot, that each of us has in different measure. By increasing our awareness, development and practice of how we express these soul traits, participants learn how to respond to the world in ways that help bring about positive changes in personal outlook, interpersonal relationships, and closer connections with others, life and Judaism.
The Mussar Experience
A Mussar group, called a va'ad in Hebrew, is an engaging, welcoming group of people seeking to connect more deeply with themselves, others and Jewish wisdom in an atmosphere of authenticity, curiosity and kindness. Small groups of approximately 10 participants, led by an experienced Mussar facilitator, gather regularly to learn and support one another in their Mussar learning and practice.
The va'ad experience provides participants with an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations and practices focused on how to live our lives with greater awareness and intentionality. Participants study classic and modern Jewish texts, building a shared language for our inner lives and how our actions impact the world around us. Over time, participants in Mussar often develop greater connection with themselves, with others and with their Jewish spirituality. In addition, Mussar provides an invaluable compass for navigating life's every day challenges, by teaching us how to pause, identify our choices, and then choose our responses. This gem from our Jewish tradition helps to create a joyful foundation upon which to live our lives.
Walk Your Wisdom
In the study and practice of Mussar, core concepts are made real by bringing awareness to how they can be applied to everyday life. With a strong focus on awareness and action, life becomes an experiential learning lab that takes Jewish wisdom from theory into practice.
A few core concepts include:
Hitlamdut: Learning Through Curiosity
We begin by adopting a stance of life as our teacher. By engaging with curiosity and asking ourselves 'What can I learn from this?' each of us activates our ability to extract important learning from our daily lives and interactions. Hitlamdut includes an openness to learning and personal growth. We gain a valuable lesson from Pirkei Avot, in which Ben Zoma asks: Who is wise? The answer: one who learns from everyone.
Alan Morinis, founder of The Mussar Institute, describes the personal challenges we face as our “Soul Curriculum.” Each of us has our own pathways for learning and growth. As the va'ad studies a middah, each person chooses how and where to apply the learning in their own personal life. By doing this, the individual becomes an active, co-creator in making Mussar relevant and applicable in their own life.
Simcha - Joy
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, in his classic Mussar text Alei Shur teaches that "The starting point and the end of our spiritual journey is joy!" The Mussar va’ad is led from a place of joy, where our humanness and holiness are respected and celebrated. The va'ad is a place for positivity, safety and authenticity.
Shleimut - Pursuing Wholeness
The journey of Mussar focuses on each of us pursuing wholeness by living in alignment with our ethics and values. We welcome all parts of ourselves and embark on this path with compassion for ourselves and others as holy souls living human lives.
Mussar is based on an understanding that our character is comprised of a variety of middot (soul traits) that shape our responses to the world. When we bring thoughtful awareness to these middot, we are able to see how are actions impact both ourselves and the world around us. Through studying about the middot in a Jewish context, we develop valuable language for understanding our inner life and are better able to experiment with new responses to everyday life situations. Some examples of middot include:
· Gratitude/Hakarat HaTov
A Brief History of Mussar
Mussar began as a genre of literature with origins that dates back to the Torah. in the 11th century, specific literature began to be written focusing on how to live an ethical life and our obligation to do so. Thus, was born the Mussar literature movement that thrived for centuries.
In 19th century Eastern Europe, several prominent yeshivas were founded upon a structured practice of developing a strong, ethical inner life that was demonstrated by one's external actions. The rigorous integration of Mussar into yeshiva learning expanded the focus on performing mitzvot, to include a strong emphasis on the quality of the heart when doing so. It was not enough to know Torah and study classical texts. Mussar shined the light on how we live these teachings in our relationships with others and in our tasks of daily life.
With the widespread destruction of communities in Eastern Europe in the Holocaust, the thriving Mussar movement came to a halt. As Jews and society as a whole began searching for deeper meaning in our lives, several prominent scholars have breathed new life into Mussar, ushering forth a resurgence in this movement for a much broader audience than ever before. Now, more than ever, people from across the Jewish spectrum are finding meaning, value and connection within this vital gem from our tradition.
"Absolutely a positive experience. Among the best adult learning I've experienced and I've had alot. What made it so special for me was the group, the learning community, the feeling of togetherness. We were all committed, we were all learning from and sharing with each others. People were open honest, sincere, and respectful. It was great and I plan to continue."