For the next 5 weeks, as we travel through the traditional counting from Passover to Shavuot, I invite you to join me in a weekly meditation that will help us cultivate our goodness and polish our hearts and minds. You may know that each of the seven weeks, known as the Omer period, is associated with a Middah or soul-trait. The work is to take the middah personally and use it as a lens through which to see yourself more distinctly. In the Jewish world, this kind of focus is part of a mussar practice (please see below) and is understood to increase our self-awareness and ultimately, to transform our character as well.
This is very do-able! Once a week, corresponding to the sephirah or attribute of the week, I will be posting a middah, a soul-trait, along with some teachings and readings about it. These teachings are part of a mindfulness practice that I myself am studying with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic. I am grateful to my brilliant teachers, Rabbis Nancy Flam and Pam Wax for leading the way!
It’s all about studying ourselves. When we can see more clearly how we are “wired” we begin to have more freedom in how we respond to the world around us. (Note: Unless you are very well-versed in kabbalistic theory, I suggest you take the entire week as a whole, working the trait for all 7 days equally, rather than each day in its particular sephirotic aspect.) Your primary commitment should be to a daily cultivation of the week’s middah.
- Find a set way each morning to remind yourself of the middah you will be working on that day. After setting your morning focus, set a personal kavannah or intention for your day, using this middah.
- Pay attention to ways that this middah is manifesting in you, both positively and negatively throughout the day.
- At the end of the day, journal your reflections and insights about this middah in yourself and the world around you.
- Most beneficial: Find a havruta partner (a study buddy) with whom you can check in weekly about how this practice is going and what you are learning.
- Some may choose to study the weekly teachings together. This can be done by phone.
Grounding this soul work with a friend or partner is most beneficial. It is easy to carry on the conversation of self-work in one’s head, but the purpose of community is to help one another and grow together. My wish, therefore, is that we share this journey with one another so that our entire community can rise higher and higher, in awareness and in holiness.
***For further resources on daily meditations, which fine tune the quality of each day, see the end of each week’s post.
About Mussar: The Mussar Movement arose in 19th century Eastern Europe. Much is written about its founder, the wise and holy Rabbi Israel Salanter. Here is a brief excerpt about the goals of the Mussar movement by author and spiritual teacher, Alan Morinis, one of the great mussar teachers of our time, who will be coming to Boulder to teach April 9-11!
Mussar’s goal is to spur profound inner change so our lives are brought closer to perfection and wholeness (shlemut) or even holiness (kedushah). This goal derives from the Torah, where it says in no uncertain terms: ‘You shall be holy’ (Leviticus 19:2). But the Mussar tradition is moved not just by injunctions and fiats; it also recognizes that there is an inner and intuitive resonance to the idea of moving toward holiness. Don’t we all carry a deeply echoing wish to ascend to a greater purity and refinement in our lives, to realize our human potential in spirit?
These days, holiness isn’t something we speak of much, let alone aspire to. The simplest way to understand this goal is just as the ultimate of the ultimate of human perfection. To be holy is to evolve into the most refined, beautiful version of the unique person you already are. This can’t mean that we all are to aspire to looking and being identical, as if squeezed through some mold of ideal qualities. The goal of Mussar practice is not to take on pre-ordained characteristics, but the opposite: to cause the most refined, perfected, elevated version of yourself to be revealed.
In seeking holiness, we hope to liberate light into our lives. That light isn’t especially available at some particular place or station in the world, even if certain places are designated ‘holy.’ No, all the light we seek already exists within us, and the work of Mussar is to clear up the circumstances that prevent it from flowing freely into our lives and, through us, into the world. That alone is Mussar’s route to holiness.”