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By Gary Shaffer, Co-President
We will soon be approaching the middle of summer. Kids are off from school, and we are often off in some fashion as well. If we can, we take a vacation and enjoy the warmth and extended daylight that can make summer so delightful. The older I get, the more I appreciate both. Many of us who study and practice Mussar do so as part of programs that take place on an academic schedule. Programs finish in May or June; by August our attention may turn to what’s next. Coincidentally, on the Jewish calendar Tisha B’Av usually occurs in August, as does the month of Elul, which begins a month of reflection and repentance leading up to Rosh Hashanah. On the secular calendar, as we move into August and the daylight of those long summer evenings gently begins to ebb and cooler evenings start to arrive, our minds often turn to the coming fall.
The Jewish calendar has many periods dedicated to specific purposes. Some strengthen community. Others provide a time for personal renewal. And still others offer a time to learn how to improve the world.
For The Mussar Institute, our annual Kallah is such a period. By gathering as a community, we strengthen it. We greet old friends and make new ones. We meet people with whom we have only talked or e-mailed. Most importantly, we deepen our practices, renew ourselves and learn ways to improve our world.
The Mussar Institute’s Kallah IX is just such a special occasion. We will welcome Alan Morinis back as an attendee and as a teacher. He is as excited to be with us as we are to have him back. He and Rabbi Micha Berger have put together an inspirational program.
Interest and engagement with Mussar studies continues to grow beyond our ability to keep up. I’ve given thought to why that is, and it has come clear to me in recent months that the vast majority of our generation of Jews can accurately be described as spiritual orphans. As I interact with audiences at talks and with students in courses—indeed, with people from all segments and backgrounds of the Jewish world—I see so clearly that very few of us grew up with the benefit of an older generation that was well-versed in the ways of the heart and soul. With few exceptions, our parents made a priority of providing us with material security and good educations in order that we could have a leg up in the modern world. Maybe they gave us some religious observance, though likely it was perfunctory. But they themselves were also a generation of orphans at least as bereft of guidance as we are, and when it came to answering the spiritual questions about life in its mysteries and its meaning that sprouted for so many of us through the concrete of North American materialism, they had no better answers than if we had asked them how the Internet works.
TORAH THE MIDDAH WAY
The Torah portion each week prominently features one or more middot (or soul traits). If you have suggestions or, better yet, if you have written a drash that relates the Torah portion to a middah, please send it to us at email@example.com. We will build a database and make it available so that members of the community can have access to resources to study Torah in a middah way.
LISTEN TO ALAN'S TALK ON STRENGTH, GEVURAH
The middah [soul-trait] of gevurah is central to a life of wholeness, but what is strength? And how do we grow stronger?
In Hebrew, a person who possesses gevurah is a gibor, which is the modern Hebrew word for “hero.” In Pirkei Avot (4:1), the question is asked, “Who is a strong person?” The answer to that question, along with other important insights and practices, were the focus of a session that Alan Morinis led May 1 at the Seattle Mussar Kallah. You can listen to the talk here or go to http://db.tt/rUoOMGC.
MUSSAR KALLAH IX
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