Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

My Musar

on June 18, 2014

Musar defined:  a spiritual movement founded by Israel Salanter in nineteenth-century Lithuania with the aim of promoting greater inwardness, religious piety, and ethical conduct among traditionally-minded Jews (from myjewishlearning.org).

Our rabbi compared musar to tikkun olam– fixing the world. Jewish people have a duty to try and repair the world through service, good works, and advocating social justice. However, instead of focusing on fixing the world, we use musar to focus on fixing ourselves. A kind of spiritual self-improvement that uses introspection to reach holiness, as illustrated by the book the rabbi was holding in his hand (Every Day, Holy Day by Alan Morinis). While I haven’t read any of Alan’s book, I can have some of my own ideas about musar. To me, the musar movement requires cultivating a kind of inner light and strength.

I’m often more inclined to want to tackle the problems of the world. But the world is daunting. I’ve been reading fictional books that deal with poverty, corruption, Nazism, rape, abuse, and murder. Just your casual summer reading list. I want to fix so much in the world that scares and angers me. I try to share these aspirations with others, but the horrors are so great that no one wants to heed them. Besides, what can I really do?

When I focus on fixing myself, I make a little more progress. I know, it sounds like the selfish route. Why fix the world when you can focus on yourself? But listen, if I’m heading out into this world in a few years, I want to be armed and ready. And if I’m heading into a Jewish community that struggles to thrive in a troubled world, I want to have the proper arsenal:

– A sharp tongue that knows when to strike and when to build up

– An eager ear ready to accept words without judgment

-Patience when working with souls that range from very young to very old

-A skillful set of hands that can flit about tasking with a certain animating grace that inspires and humbles

-A mind that finds purpose in what I do

– An open disposition

– A connection to my soul that blurs the edges of this world and another- like the comforting grayness of the rain as it smudges against the window and mixes with the palate of gray clouds in the sky, glass blurring the line between divine openness and the closed boundary of this world.

How do I equip myself with these things? Self improvement through inner awareness.

I’ve noticed that the #100happydays campaign focuses on gratitude and appreciation of small blessings. This is the first step in self-improvement: counting blessings.

Then, the second step is turning these little blessings into accomplishments and lessons.

For example, today I became more physically aware of my body through breathing exercises in my voice lesson and built confidence in myself by taking charge of a project in my new work place. I am gathering skills everyday that I can use to help people. My past knowledge of graphic design allowed me to work with a man and make his vision of brochures for the Special Olympics a reality. Developing greater kinesthetic awareness as I work with my voice is a tool I will store away and use in the future.

My goals for self-improvement range from small to large… Making challah from scratch, offering advice to friends when needed, finishing a few sewing projects, and being a better listener.

I am gathering skills every single day. Matched with my goals, my growth can be both exponential and unlimited. I can repair what is inside and save it until I need to use it for the outside. Before we can repair the world, we must first “repair” ourselves. Just wait. The day will come when this introspection transforms more than just myself.

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