Mussar is a mindfulness practice and rigorous spiritual discipline that asks us to seriously engage the question – “If everyone knows what it means to be good, why is it so hard to be good?” We do this through tracking our own lives as lived in all our relationships and encounters, and through working with middot – precepts like equanimity, patience, humility, silence, etc. – in our class/cohort, on our own, and with study partners (chavruta). The TES Mussar community started with a small group of learners under Rabbi Boettiger’s leadership and has now grown to over 70 students, serving as a model for other synagogue communities across the nation. Our Mussar students are mostly members of the congregation, but we have more and more students from unaffiliated or non-Jewish backgrounds who have been drawn to the work, as well.
The application of Mussar extends beyond our student community. Here at Temple Emek Shalom, our fundamental language and practice as a congregation has centered around Mussar, the ancient discipline that we loosely define as “Jewish Ethics.”
Mussar believes the primary measure of our spiritual/religious life is whether or not it is helping us to be more kind and more awake to everyone and anyone who crosses our path. And yet, even if this seems obvious, most of us spend little time actually studying and practicing how we might learn to truly embody this, to live a life of curiosity, and a life of service to others.
Starting in the fall of 2021, Rabbi Boettiger will offer a shiur (class) weekly to all registered Mussar students. First, second and third year students will meet separately with our community’s madrichim; Sheila Canal, Harriet Saturen, Marty Towbin and Adie Goldberg. Students who have completed the first three years of study will continue to learn together under their own leadership with input from our madrichim. Rabbi Ira Stone, Rabbi Boettiger, and other Mussar educators will be available to our community. Mussar at TES will now be a collaborative offering with the Center for Contemporary Mussar. Please check the Center’s website (contemporarymussar.org) for more information and registration specific to the TES community.
We’ve found Mussar to be a practice that can bring the reality of Torah to everyday life, and it has truly become a central lens for so many in our community and beyond. We would probably all agree that “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the central cornerstone for a human life lived with integrity, but if we don’t have a path through which we can learn to actually walk this walk, it will often not bear the fruit we would like it to. Mussar teaches a spirituality that is compassionate and generous. Join us.