With the Pesach seders days away, the middah [soul-trait] that looms large before us is “order.” The Hebrew for “order” is that very word seder—the name given to the ordered Passover festive meal. Seder/order gives us the name as well of the prayerbook [siddur] and of the officiant at a wedding (mesudar). The trait of order figures so centrally in prayer, festivals and rituals because Judaism sees order as a necessary quality for one who would engage in spiritual processes and growth. How can we achieve that ideal when most of us are anything but orderly in our affairs?
Because Pesach celebrates liberation from slavery, it is a holiday ripe with spiritually infused symbolism and practices. Because that liberation was not only freedom from slavery but also freedom to willingly praise, worship and serve the divine, it steers away from the license of the libertine, which is also the fruit of freedom, and takes on the qualities of a practice. Whereas the service of slavery is imposed by others, the service of spiritual practice is freely chosen.
Lots of goodies on the bulletin board this month. Mini-Kallot! Pesach webinar! Chevruta Partners Needed. Mussar for teens? Mussar videos with our own Chaim Safren. Videos on Jewish ethics. Check them out!
It is winter in Buffalo and it is cold outside. Not just cold, but frigid! Outside my window, heavy snow is falling and, according to my weather app, the wind chill is minus 3 degrees. Buffalo born, I tend to take winter here for granted, and just get through it. But for many others, this time of year can be both physically and emotionally challenging. So how can we get through these cold, often dreary months? That I can tell you with one word—Mussar!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Mussar values we have been learning and practicing could be made accessible to young children? What if these principles could not only be taught in the classroom but also be reinforced by parents at home? And what if all the materials needed were easily accessible and ready for use? Well, such is the case with a new curriculum being offered by The Mussar Institute (TMI) specifically geared to children ages 3 to 8—Jewish Values for Everyday Living: Mussar for Children.
The Alter of Slabodka (Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel, 1849–1927) insisted that his students conduct themselves in an orderly way. He would say, “A hole in one’s sleeve is a hole in one’s head. A wrinkled, tattered hat is a sign of confusion.” Note that what he focused on is how a person dresses, and indeed, that was part of the Slabodka approach and method. They would say, if you want to internalize a trait, make that trait part of your behavior. In the case of order, that would translate into creating external order so that the trait of order will become implanted in your heart, in keeping with the teaching of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in Path of the Just, who says, “External motions generate internal motions.” As you behave, so you become.
If order is your goal and disorder is your habit, undertaking to try to get everything in order is likely to fail. A much better strategy is to pick one area of your life and make order in that specific sphere. It could be your clothing, as the Alter seems to suggest, or it could be the kitchen, your study, the garage, the garden, a single filing cabinet. If you can create order in one specific area, you will start to get a feel for order and its rewards. A successful experience in that one realm will give you a taste for being orderly that you can then take and apply in other areas of your life.
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