An edited excerpt from this week’s Temple Talks follows below.
What is Mussar?
It’s no secret that character has become a huge topic of conversation in this country. How are we living? What are our values? How do we treat one another?
Character is this very important topic of how we’re choosing to show up in the world. In the Jewish world we used to refer to it as being a mensch, you know as simple as that. Am I living my values?
Mussar is a Jewish spiritual pathway that comes out of 19th century Eastern Europe. It contains the idea that at a certain point in our lives we can wake up and make choices about how we are in the world. For a while I’m reacting to the influences of how I grew up, and I cultivate certain character traits based on my experiences. And then I reach a certain point of introspection where I can go, “are those responses to the world really serving me and others as best they could.
Through a practice of learning, introspection, and creating small doable changes, I can make adjustments in how I respond to the world around me.
In essence, it is the ever-evolving practice of becoming a mensch.
I love that definition. I’m currently in a class that you’re teaching, in which you are training myself and others to be facilitators of a mussar va’ad, a facilitated group that is one of the main modes of mussar practice. Julie, could you explain the way a va’ad functions as a seminal structure of mussar practice.
Sure, so within mussar, there is the opportunity to be part of a va’ad--a small group of maybe 6-12 participants. We meet in small groups, whether on Zoom or in person, and we look at a certain character trait through a Jewish lens and through the lens of our own lives. We talk about where this midah, or character trait, shows up in our own soul curriculum. My life has all kinds of experiences that take place, and I can learn from those experiences.
So in the va’ad, we take a given character trait such as patience, generosity, compassion, anger, honor, and many others. We study this middah, examine where it appears in our daily life, and ask where I could make a small change. What would be a small doable step to become more patient, for example?
Being human is messy business. Judaism tells us that everyone is a holy soul. We hold these two ideas together. We’re not fixing something that is bad or broken in ourselves, but we’re currently working on our evolving development as people.
There’s good humor when we do this together as a group. And I can learn from another’s experiences and insights. Everyone is a teacher and a learner in a mussar group.
Welcome to Temple Talks, a new podcast from Temple Israel in Minneapolis, where Jewish wisdom meets our ever-changing world. Join us as we talk with our favorite partners and thought leaders, from around town and around the world. We hope these talks will inspire you, challenge you, and give us all new ideas about Judaism, religious life, and social justice. Join us for services, learning, and community at TempleIsrael.com.
What is Temple Talks?
Welcome to Temple Talks, the podcast of Temple Israel in Minneapolis, where Jewish wisdom meets our ever-changing world. Join us as we talk with our favorite partners and thought leaders, from around town and around the world. We hope these talks will inspire you, challenge you, and give us all new ideas about Judaism, religious life, and social justice. Join us for services, learning, and community at TempleIsrael.com.
Join the conversation with Rabbi Zimmerman, Rabbi Klein, Rabbi Hartman, Rabbi Moss, and Cantor Abelson.
Join us for services, learning, and community at TempleIsrael.com.
We welcome questions and comments directed to TMoss@templeisrael.com