A while ago I had the pleasure and privilege to hear the now-retired Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Lord Jonathan Sacks, in conversation with one of the world’s greatest religious philosophers, Dr. Charles Taylor. Rabbi Sacks spoke about gratitude (hoda’ah) and bestowed a blessing—the blessing we say when we see an outstanding scholar. In the short formula of the blessing, Rabbi Sacks affirmed that it is our Creator who gave knowledge to Dr. Taylor and for that we are very grateful.
Gratitude seems like a simple middah to develop, but how many hours or days go by when you do not express gratitude in a clear and direct manner, whether by Hebrew formula or by your own creation?
In late 2003 I came across an announcement for a Mussar course at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. Without delay I signed up for the course, which promised a combination of spirituality, introspection and self-improvement. It was love at first sight. Shortly thereafter Alan Morinis came to our synagogue to speak about Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, and before long I was a student of the online Course in Mussar I.
Although I grew up in an atheistic environment in communist Bulgaria, I have always believed that my life had a purpose and that there was a higher power guiding me on my way. Like many other Mussar students, I was fascinated by Eastern teachings and more specifically by the philosophy of yoga. But I was afraid that embracing a yogi lifestyle would mean retreating from this world and leading a secluded life. Mussar later showed me that spirituality and life in New York City are not mutually exclusive.
For the past two academic years, we have had the opportunity to facilitate Mussar va’adim at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJRCA). Dedicated to the training of rabbis, cantors and chaplains from all the denominations, AJRCA places a strong emphasis on the spiritual development of its students, including two years of Mussar study. Many of the students have already had one career and come to their religious studies later in life. They bring with them a breadth of life experience and maturity. Students are using Season of Mussar I and II materials from The Mussar Institute.
In the early days, even for a couple years before The Mussar Institute was born, Alan Morinis held kallot, or one-day gatherings, in cities across the country to spread the word about new ways to practice the ancient spiritual tradition. The first was in New York. Others followed in Houston, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and Phoenix. Four years ago, TMI settled on a weekend retreat over Shabbat at the Illinois Beach Resort, a modest hotel and conference center facing Lake Michigan, about an hour north of Chicago. Coincidentally, the name of the Illinois town where the spiritual gatherings have been held is Zion.
Create a list of things for which you are grateful. Each day this week, add three new items to the list. At the end of the week, post your 21-item list to The Mussar Institute’s Facebook page.
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