Friday, 24 February 2012

Assignment for March Class


My apologies for the delay. The next assignment is to read pages 41 to 57 in Siddur Eit Ratzon. As previously, please identify middot in the prayers. Also, if one of the middot you identify matches up with what you are practicing, please consider using a pharse from that prayer as your mussar phrase.

Also, please send me an email by the end of next week – that is next Friday – about your mussar practice. Look again at the blogpost in which I describe and recommend various mussar practices and let me know which ones you are doing and how your practice is going generally.

Also, please let me know if I can share your response, either attributed or not attributed, on the class blog.

Also, today is the first day of the month of Adar. There is a teaching in the Talmud, "When Adar comes, joy is increased." There is something about this month when we (may) begin to move out of Winter's darkest and coldest hours, when Purim comes with it's profound but crazy celebrations, that might enable us to rediscover joy.

Joy itself may not be a middah - it is more a state of mind. But learning how to let go of anger (slowness to anger, erech apayim), learning how to discover gratitude (hakarat ha-tov, as we discussed in class last time), learning how to not be haunted by worry and to have trust that things will be ok (trust, bitachon) - these are all middot. If you are not in the middle of another middah right now, these might be things to consider.

Finally, please, please - if you need Jewish teachings about a middah that you are working on, send me an email or call me to let me know. I will help you.

Thank you, and shabbat shalom


  1. Learning to be imbued with trust is tough. It seems more natural to worry. Worry is a trait that has a life of its own. There is always a direct mental object of what to worry about. The problem is that the "screen" of the mind does not differentiate that well among what is displayed on it. So whether a big issue or little issue, it all gets played in technicolor and quadriphonic sound on the worry screen. The antidote is trust. I sometimes deceive myself in to thinking that I am developing trust. Wrong. Worry still holds sway. I will try to open up to a more trusting month of Adar.

  2. Maybe if some folks have time, we could use this blog to continue to explore the topics we’re learning about and to share our musar practices with each other? I really appreciate the contributions people have made in our discussions, and the willingness to share their ideas, experiences, and questions in class. Once a month just doesn’t seem often enough to keep me on track.

  3. “When Adar arrives, joy increases.”
    Does that come with a guarantee? Are there statistics to back that up, or is it just acknowledging that Purim is coming up? I do look forward to Purim, it feels like a little like a Jewish Mardi Gras. Let the good times roll/ Let the joy increase!

    Question about meditation:
    Is the meditation intended as a general practice to get used to being quiet and aware of our thoughts so we can see ourselves better, or should there be a specific connection with our midot when we meditate? Does it get combined with a mantra or chanting or spiritual teachings? Not that there are any rules to this, I’m just trying to get the whole picture for meditation. Thanks.

    Kaballah Practice:
    Has anyone tried the kaballah practice? I’d be interested to hear what you did and how it worked for you.

    Weekly Midot:
    If some folks have tried to focus on a new midah each week, can someone share how that’s going? I think I would feel too scattered and unable to really make any progress in such a short time, and I'd like to see some change in the most important ones before I start focusing on others.

    1. Shalom Roxane,

      I was thinking that I have not experienced that exhilerating joy you spoke of since my childhood. What
      brings me joy today is taking care of my body, mind and soul so that I experience the "shalom" that I am greeted with.

      I have been working on middot for the last month and a half without specifically identifying them. When a thought will enter my mind such as I need to exercise more "caution" when speaking and another thought enters my mind that I must have more faith then I look back on the day and my life to realize what happens when I exercise caution and faith, and what happens in my life when I don't.

      I know the way of mussar is to concentrating on specific middot which makes us more aware of our behavior daily.

      This class and reading the blog gives me incentive to do just that, but I soon forget and must come back to the basics of this class.

      Shalom and Lehitraot tonight


    2. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your musar practice. I like your method of looking at the results when you choose the right behavior and when you don’t. It seems like that would be very motivating and clear. Right now, I have all sorts of very clear evidence that my current behaviors aren’t right, but eliminating them is hard. I keep working at it. Maybe someday I’ll have more control. It has gotten much better, and I’m not shooting for perfection, but I‘m not content with my actions yet. Like Rabbi Rose said, it’s our life’s work.

      I think you’re lucky to get such straightforward thoughts about being more cautious or having more faith. I have to work pretty hard sometimes to figure out what the attribute is that needs work. I see results and work backward to find the action(s) that may have caused the result, and then try to pinpoint why I chose that action, what my logic was, what my tendencies and assumptions are, and then try to label the problem with an attribute. It would be nice to just get a message saying “work on this.” On the other hand, I tend to need more incentive than some, so I guess it’s helpful to know that improving my chosen attributes will (hopefully) have a direct impact on the relationships in my life. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. Class comments, extended classroom discussion:

    About Prayer:
    “Sometimes if you just listen and let your soul float, you get what you need from it.”
    I really liked this comment about prayer, (unintentionally paraphrased). I completely agree. I also love the poetry of it - letting your soul float sounds so cool. This happens for me with the prayers sometimes, and sometimes all I need is me-time, time to reflect and get a better perspective. Sometimes, it’s a more specific idea, or inspiration.

    It also reminded me of something I heard Rabbi Rose say. He said that just breathing can be a prayer; that Gd knows what we need, what we’re struggling with. Prayer without words can be meaningful; just being there in the moment of the prayer, silent and intentional. That was so comforting to hear. It takes off all the pressure of wondering how to do this “right” and lets you just be there. It was also comforting because it made me feel more connected, and watched over and cared for. What a nice package. Someone’s listening when all I do is breathe.

    About Responsibility to Others:
    We learned that musar is about nurturing a sense of our responsibility and interconnectedness to others. "Responsibility to others” is not exactly how I think of it. I tend to think that I have a responsibility to me to treat others kindly. I have a lot of learning to do in this area.

    About Gratitude, Seeing the Good,"hakarat ha-tov":
    “The end result of gratitude should not be me,” as we learned in class. But it generally has been for me. Sometimes my actions change when I’m inspired by others’ good deeds. Is this close to what is intended, or should the end result be change in others? What would the ideal end result be?

    Orientation of Otherness:
    I know the basic concept of caring for others is critically important, but an orientation of otherness isn’t really part of my mindset. It doesn’t even sound familiar when I hear the phrase. I don’t think I have an orientation of otherness. I don’t spend much time “seeking the good of other people.” What does that mean exactly?

    About the Homework:
    I find lots of midah references when I'm looking through the prayers, but if the midah appears in the prayer as a trait of Gd, it takes some effort to turn it around in my head and think of it as the same trait I’m working on. It seems like His compassion has got to be a completely different version than what I’m shooting for. I know there's no logical reason for this, and I can objectively say that compassion is compassion regardless, but it’s just something I've noticed.

  5. odd Hebrew question:
    is there any relation between midah/midot and modeh, as in modeh ani?

    1. great question. the root of modeh is yud-dalet-heh, and midah is mem-dalet-heh. but it's exactly the kind of question that so often leads to cool places in hebrew.

  6. Midah In Everyday Practice –
    I just had two opportunities, not more than ten minutes apart, to demonstrate one or more of the attributes I’m working on, (patience, including restraint, self-control, silence or some combination, compassion, generosity), and both were unsuccessful. I even stopped and thought calmly about what to say, and what not to say, and how to say it, but it was still the wrong choice. Does anybody out there have any tips for instant wisdom, or maybe just a crystal ball to be able to tell before I act if it’s gonna work out or not? Silence seems to be the only safe option. I know I have no real control over how the other person responds or what they might be dealing with, so maybe I’m not using an accurate barometer for my success. But it feels lousy just the same. Any suggestions?

    1. interesting. sorry for the slow response.

      i can't tell from what you've written whether the 'response' of the other person is how you're measuring your success in working on the middah. if you're saying that you paused but then your own reaction still wasn't what you'd want, then i'd say we can all sympathize. our best is so often hidden beneath. and mussar is hard work, and our souls require repeated opportunities to act in the right way. if you're saying that the other person's response wasn't what you'd want, then i would say...."and?" we can't control the repsonses of others. if our own kindness was always met with reciprocation, our own humility with recognition, our own generosity with gratitude, etcetera, it would be easy to be on the mesilat yesharim, the path of the just.

      it requires a deep level of faith to act with the confidence that deeds of goodness are worth doing even when they are met with hostility or indifference.

      there is also a deeper level of reaching out to another who repeatedly acts in a selfish, or blind way. and that is to let them know that in a loving and trusting way. not every relationship can sustain that at every stage, but it is an option.

      im ein ani li mi li, if i am not for myself who will be for me, k'sh'ani b'atzmi mah ani, when i am only for myself what am i, v'im lo achshav, ematai, and if not now when.

      thank you

  7. If I’m hoping for a peaceful relationship, not speaking is often a better choice than speaking, considering my recent track record. So I am sort of judging my musar success by the outcome, because if there’s a negative reaction that means I said something when I could have kept my mouth shut.

    I know that the good deeds are always worth doing and I can usually do them, but it still takes a toll getting through the reaction sometimes. At the moment it seems like my silence is the best “good deed” I can do in this situation. I’m getting more used to it, with occasional nods and ‘hmmm’s.

    I have managed to discuss the behavior a few times successfully, which was eye-opening to see that it could be so simple and effective (for that moment anyway).

    im ein ani li mi li - From one minute to the next, I don’t know which side of this saying I’ll be on. Sometimes I feel like I’m only for myself (usually after I’m burned out), and sometimes I might not be for myself enough when I’m trying to be giving and supportive. It’s hard to see the line sometimes, but thanks for the reminder of both sides. “If not now, when” is one I always dread. I’m pretty sure “later” is not the right answer.