I have recently been fascinated to learn how the brain functions. A student of Mussar—and anyone who wants to realize their personal potential—needs to understand how the brain works. To take an example that applies to many of us, a person dealing with anger is operating in the dark unless he or she understands that anger is a product of the limbic brain, and the neuronal pathways along which anger flies through the brain are among the most hardwired. Anger moves through the brain at supersonic speed, in contrast to conscious, deliberate thought, which creeps through the brain at a much slower speed.
When I was first introduced to Mussar practice at a talk by Alan Morinis, one of the phrases he used really resonated with me: “bringing balance to our souls.” This phrase was also part of a prayer suggested to be used at the end of each va’ad (group) meeting. I love this phrase because it represents so much more than just “work-life balance.” A balanced soul is not a teeter totter that I am trying to keep in a fixed middle position, with the tension of trying to keep it from going up or down on either end. It is more fluid. There is breathing room for my time and energy to sometimes be invested in my job, and other times in my family, and other times in my other job, and other times in another part of my family. If my soul is in balance, then I have an easier time navigating through these hills and valleys, riding or diving into these waves.
Mussar study and practice have transformed my life, offering me more than I ever could have imagined. But I had not anticipated that its benefits would extend to (almost) halfway around the world. The seeds for this amazing experience took place at the 2014 Kallah, where I met Henri and Marga Vogel from Amsterdam.
A frequently heard term in education, business and technology is “disruptive innovation”—
TMI’s first Derekh HaNefesh program for rabbis of all denominations began in January and culminated in a four-day retreat in July at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute outside Los Angeles. Eighteen rabbis participated in the program. The retreat was led by Avi Fertig, David Jaffe and Efrat Zarren-Zohar, with contributions from Alan Morinis. Judith Edelstein and Pam Wax served as va'ad leaders.
A new cohort will begin in January 2016; registration information will follow soon.
The Torah provides us with many models of people bowing to one another as a sign of respect. Moses bows to Yitro (Exodus / Shemot 18:7). Avraham bows to his guests (Genesis / Beresihit 18:2). Yaakov bows to Esav (Genesis / Beresihit 33:3). And so on.
Whenever you meet another neshama (holy soul), in recognition of the holiness of that spiritual being (irrespective of their earthly merits or demerits), make a practice to bow to them. It will be enough to dip your head, or even to bow in your imagination, because it is not the extent of the prostration that measures the kavod / honor you show another, but the intention in your heart to recognize that this one, too, is a holy soul and so worthy of honor.
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