Monday, December 13, 2010

Nobody's Perfect (but some are less perfect than others)

Mussar began as a 19th century movement within eastern European Orthodox, non-Chasidic Jewry. The movement seems in part to have been formed as a response to Chasidism, which sought to enliven Jewish practice with ecstatic, personal elements. Mussar did the same, concentrating on ethical behavior and practice, deep introspection, meditation, isolation, community involvement, and strict Torah observance.

Alan Morinis’ Everyday Holiness is his follow up volume to Climbing Jacob’s Ladder. That book was about Morinis’ introduction and embrace of Mussar practice. Everyday Holiness shows that Morinis has now done his homework, read the Mussar texts, done the practices, and presented us with an introductory primer.

Everyday Holiness instructs us to do things we would normally do as good people if life and our own character faults did not so often trip us up: We should be kind, patient, soft spoken, not speak ill of others, not lie, have compassion, humility, patience, gratitude, a sense of order, and so forth. Easy things to read about and say, yet harder to live and practice. Mussar, with its strident attitude about action, will broker no theoretical life. Mussar must be lived.

If you want to try the Mussar program (or a portion of it) there is a section at the end with tips. If you want to read the original texts, The Palm Tree of Devorah, The Path of The Just, The Duties of the Heart, feel free to buckle down and get your exegesis on.

Morinis’ book, although a trifle lulling at times and prone to repetition, is a perfect start to the seemingly impossible task of making ourselves better than we are.

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