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Welcome – Gary Shaffer
By Gary Shaffer, Co-President
Life has a way of speeding up on us at times. The lunar-based Jewish calendar, with its many leap years means that holidays can oscillate at slight odds with the secular calendar in which many of us conduct our routine affairs. It is true that Shabbat comes every Shabbat, but this year we found Rosh Hashanah falling right on the heels of Labor Day, the close of summer that often means several more weeks before the New Year. Chanukah starts this year on the 24th of Kislev, as always, but also on Dec. 1, just after Thanksgiving, and almost three weeks earlier than it will in 2011. This can be jarring. The light is different, we’ve barely finished what we were doing, we may not be mentally prepared. And let’s face it; life goes fast enough as it is.
We all need some routine in life. Otherwise, we would never get anything done. If we didn’t follow a routine in our Mussar practice there would be no growth. Gratitude today? Humility on Thursday? Or perhaps next Monday. Hey, why not? Well, because we would never absorb anything. We wouldn’t engage in the planned day to day review of a middah over a week, or two, that reveals the contours of our behaviors and thoughts. Yet routine can be our nemesis as well, draining the vibrancy of our activities and our interpersonal relations.
By Rabbi David Jaffe
I spent this past Rosh Hashanah with 30,000 Jews from around the world in Uman, Ukraine. Why Uman? Uman is where the Hassidic master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was buried 200 years ago. During his lifetime the Breslov Hassidim gathered with Rebbe Nachman every Rosh Hashanah and he asked them to continue this practice at his gravesite even after his death. For 200 years, even during times of great danger during the Soviet era, Breslov Hassidim made their way to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. Since the fall of the Soviet Union the numbers of pilgrims has grown from several dozen to tens of thousands.
It is quite an amazing experience to be in a small Ukrainian town with throngs of Jewish men of every background. (The Rosh Hashanah gathering is primarily for men. Women usually go to Uman in the spring.) Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews of all types, from all of over the world gather together for four days of intense prayer and fellowship while the locals look on with amused curiosity. There is a minyan on practically every corner.
I am often asked about reincarnation, and I can see why. When I teach that each of us is really a soul with a spiritual curriculum, which means working on certain soul-traits in order to become more whole, the question that comes up is, “What happens if I don’t pay any attention to my spiritual curriculum? Or, even if I do, what happens if my life ends before I complete the inner work I’m called to do?”
It may not be classic Mussar language, but the idea of a personal spiritual curriculum is nevertheless classic Mussar. Each of us has some inner traits that tend toward excess or deficiency—too much anger, too little generosity, too much worry, too little equanimity, and so on. Those traits that tend toward the extreme not only cause suffering to ourselves as well as others, they define the areas where we have the potential to grow spiritually.
By Rabbi Micha Berger
I spent the weekend of October 8 in a hotel on the grounds of the Illinois Beach State Park. Beautiful location -- beach, Lake Michigan, seagulls, geese, and nightly weddings. It was the site of this year's Mussar Kallah, run by The Mussar Institute. I gained a lot from the experience.
But the trip home...
The plane back from Chicago was overbooked, so American Airlines didn't let us pick seats. They gave me 23F, the back corner, two seats from the aisle. Didn't even have the perk of being a window seat, because an MD-80 has engines on the tail, so all I saw was the side of an engine.
The two young women, sisters returning from vacation, who sat next to me were pleasant company, but all three of us could have used some weight loss. Our seats didn't go back, there was a wall behind us, and the person in front of me wanted to sleep. So, the curve of the airplane wall overhead, a seat back inches from my knees, and not much side-to-side room. Good thing I am not claustrophobic.
By Jeff Agron
A weekend last month marked a milestone and new era for The Mussar Institute. For the first time, TMI hosted a weekend, residential retreat for students of Mussar. For the past seven years, TMI has held an annual one-day kallah in various cities, including New York, Phoenix, Chicago, Miami, Houston and San Francisco. These one- day events have been geared mostly to new students of Mussar and have been designed to attract newcomers in the host cities. They were a way for those already studying to gather and help spread Mussar practice.
As our ranks have grown and thousands of students have studied Mussar with TMI, we recognized the need to bring a deeper level of learning to our community. Thus, we decided to have a weekend retreat for experienced students, where we could gather for a more in-depth exploration of our spiritual journeys. At the same time, we want to continue with regional kallot or gatherings for new students, such as the Seattle Mussar Kallah organized by Dr. Shirah Bell, entering its third year.
Mussar Kallah CDs Now Available
The 8th Annual gathering of Mussar teachers and students featured inspiring, informative, challenging sessions by Rabbi David Lapin, Rabbi Avi Fertig, Rabbi Micha Berger, Rabbi David Jaffe, Dr. Shirah Bell and others. Order yours today. To see the full list of available sessions, click here. CDs of past Mussar Kallahs are also available on our website at www.mussarinstitute.org/audio-kallah_8.htm.
Alan's Upcoming Speaking Engagement
Friday, Nov. 26 - Sunday, Nov. 28
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