straight • upright • righteous

newsletter of  The Mussar Institute


Sept. 2012



“It appears to my limited thought that this mitzvah [of holiness] includes the entire foundation and root of the purpose of our lives. All of our work and effort should constantly be sanctified to doing good for the community. We should not use any act, movement, or get benefit or enjoyment that doesn’t have in it some element of helping another. And as understood, all holiness is being set apart for an honorable purpose – which is that a person straightens his path and strives constantly to make his lifestyle dedicated to the community. Then, anything he does even for himself, for the health of his body and soul he also associates to the mitzvah of being holy, for through this he can also do good for the masses. Through the good he does for himself he can do good for the many who rely on him. But if he derives benefit from some kind of permissible thing that isn’t needed for the health of his body and soul, that benefit is in opposition to holiness. For in this he is benefiting himself (for that moment as it seems to him), but no one else.”
Rabbi Shimon Shkop, Introduction to Sha’arei Yosher [trans. R’ Micha Berger]

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Alan MorinisThrough a Mussar Lens: Seeking a Way to Define Holiness

I had finished a talk at a synagogue in Palo Alto, home to Stanford University, when an older gentleman wearing a tweed jacket and a scowl approached me. “You didn’t define your terms,” he accused, and I could immediately see my term paper with the red comments and exclamation marks in the margins. “You talked a lot about holiness but you never said what that is!” he exclaimed.
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Jason WinstonWelcome

“The High Holidays are coming. How will you use this opportunity to focus on your spiritual curriculum? Decide and take action before they get here.”

That is how I ended my column in the August issue of Yashar. I was hoping to help inspire you, our readers, but I require the inspiration just as much as you do. In fact, since writing that a month ago, I have struggled mightily to keep my Mussar practice in focus.
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Become a Member of The Mussar Institute

As the new year approaches, a new era is dawning at The Mussar Institute. From our early days of offering one course to today, where we offer distance and local courses, beginner and more advanced courses, our community has grown. We started with one teacher, and today we have a collection of group facilitators and teachers who are counted among the leaders in the Mussar world. This year we will be hosting our 10th Kallah!  Our earlier kallot were one-day events. Today, the kallah is a weekend retreat with visiting scholars and great community building. We have come so far, but we have much work to do!
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Yirah: The Beginning of Wisdom

shooting star from space Mussar Kallah X:
10 Years Together
October 26-29, 2012

On the shores of Lake Michigan, north of Chicago
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The Early Registration Discount Ends on September 5th. REGISTER NOW for $450. After September 5th, registration will be $500.

Felice JoyceMy Mussar Journey

I awakened to my Mussar journey about 7 years ago in the midst of living a very full and stressful life as an attorney, wife, and mother of three children. Faced with personal family challenges, my highly structured life began to tilt. I clung to Torah study and yoga for balance.
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Nina Piken YarusAround the Mussar World: Miami, FL

I am so excited about the growing Mussar community in Miami. When Alan visited over five years ago, there were a few independent groups all doing their own thing. When Alan agreed to return to Miami this spring, we wanted to do more than have a few small groups experience his powerful insights and experiences. We hoped to extend our reach and introduce Mussar to as many people as possible. Strategically we wanted to offer not only our incredible courses but a way to build community as well. Now we have synagogues and educational institutes offering A Season of Mussar I & A Season of Mussar II
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A pair of wise chevruta partnersMussar Kallah X: Special price for chevruta!

Meet your chevruta at the upcoming Mussar Kallah X in Zion, IL (just north of Chicago), October 26 – 29, 2012.

Come and spend time learning and sharing with your partner. To encourage you to do that, we are offering a special incentive to you and your chevruta:

When you and your chevruta register for the Kallah, you can each take $25 off the already low registration fee of $450. For some of you, this may be your first time to meet in person.

When you and your chevruta both register for the Kallah, please notify Jeff Agron at, and you will each receive a refund of $25.

Alan Morinis will be joined at this year’s Kallah by scholars-in-residence Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe, two experienced and highly regarded Mussar teachers. The theme of the Kallah this year is “Yirah—the awe, reverence and fear of heaven.”

Register now.

The Practice Corner

The practice to cultivate holiness involves three distinct steps:

1. Separate yourself from defiling influences.

Solo meditator seasideWhat do you indulge in that is defiling? The traditional definition would include unkosher food, improper sexual relations, theft, idol worship and the like. Identify where you are drawn to things that are not pure and have a defiling influence and determine to stop pursuing one of those things for at least the next week.

2. Be restrained in things that are permitted to you.

Jewish law has no problem with satisfying desires. Food, drink, sex, sleep and whatever you might naturally crave are not forbidden to you. But the spiritual challenge is to restrain yourself to indulging in permitted things only to the extent that is healthy and necessary. Identify an area of permitted activity that you engage in where your heart knows you could and should restrain yourself more. Set goals and boundaries for the next week for being restrained in that way.

3. Dedicate all your actions to the welfare of others.

Mother hen "setting" on puppyHoliness represents a dedication to the welfare of others and a commitment to benefit others through our actions. This is both a practice that leads to holiness and a measure of its presence. Pick a very mundane activity—it could be washing your body or feeding yourself or getting dressed or the like—and for the next week, consciously dedicate that activity to the well-being of others. “I wash my body to be healthy in order to serve others.” “I dress myself in order to be able to go out in public to serve others.” “I feed myself in order to gain the strength I need to serve others.” Decide on the activity you will dedicate to the welfare of others and make a practice of articulating this dedication on a daily basis for a week, or more.

Newsletter Home
Through a Mussar Lens: Defining Holiness – by Alan Morinis
Welcome – by Jason Winston
Become a "Member" of The Mussar Institute – by Jeffrey Agron
Kallah 2012: YIRAH – The Beginning of Wisdom
My Mussar Journey – by Felice Joyce
Around the Mussar World: Miami, FL – by Nina Piken Yarus
Mussar Kallah X: Special price for chevruta!
The Practice Corner

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