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Many thanks to all who attended our recent intro to Mussar at the summer 2014 UMJC Conference.  Rabbi Paul Saal and Rabbi Jason Forbes (aka. rav rafael) presented this class to a packed room. 

Due to the amount of interest at this conference, we plan to start a new year cycle after the fall holidays, on October 19th, 2014.  Sign up on our email list to the right.  In the meantime, we recommend you get started learning with the book Everyday Holiness.

Click "read more" to listen and view the presentation.


I just read an amazing insight into this week's parasha by the renowned Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna. He's commenting on Bereisheet 25:8, "Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people."

Sarna says the phrase "gathered to his people" is unique to the Torah and also used of Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, and Moses (which might get us to re-think our usual portrayal of Ishmael, but that's for another blog).

Then they called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, "I will go." Genesis 24:58

One thing I’ve observed about the male psyche in my years of counseling married couples is a certain resistance to interruptions, however reasonable and appropriate, including (or should I say especially?) interruptions from one’s wife. Even a male like me, working on his middot and looking for opportunities to serve, to express honor, to show gratitude, can get grumpy when interrupted by an unexpected request. But I’ve also learned a technique that I’ve shared with quite a few frustrated wives; make your request, smile through the initial curmudgeonly push back, and leave it in your husband’s lap. He’ll brew on it a while and, if you leave him alone, will often show up twenty or thirty minutes later ready to do what you asked.

art-raindropsAnd on the seventh day the waters of the Flood came upon the earth. (Gen. 7:10)

I have to admit that when I come to the end of the week on a particular middah, I often feel like I barely got started on it. Some middot just seem to need long-term focus, and gratitude (from last week) is one of those. The Hebrew for gratitude is hakarat ha-tov, “recognizing the good,” and I’m thinking right now of a couple of incidents over the past week that were opportunities—missed opportunities, actually—for me to recognize the good. I need more time to start learning that response, but this new week wants me to focus on the middah of order, so perhaps I can combine the two. Maybe I can work on ordering my world by recognizing the good within it, finding within the chaotic flow of events and emotions that which is good, and highlighting that instead of bemoaning the rest.

It's already a week past Yom Kippur and I'm still thinking about the Book of Jonah, which we read on the afternoon of the holy day. 

God tells Jonah to go up to Nineveh and declare its impending doom; instead Jonah goes down to Jaffa and finds a ship headed in the opposite direction. God deals with him, but also shows him great mercy, and Jonah finally does what he’s told; he warns the Ninevites, and they repent en masse. The Yom Kippur themes are all in play—repentance, God’s sovereignty over the nations as well as Israel, and his boundless mercy over all. Toward the end of the story there’s also a subtle connection with Sukkot: “Jonah left the city of Nineveh and found a place east of the city, where he made himself a sukkah and sat down under it, in its shade, to see what would happen to the city” (4:5).

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live . . .” (Amos 5:4).

The connection between humility and the High Holy Days might seem pretty obvious. For the whole month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, and especially through the ten Days of Awe from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, we’re supposed to devote ourselves to self-examination, to making amends for wrongdoing, and to confessing our sins before God. The lengthy confession of sin on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is followed by Avinu Malkenu, when we all stand before the open ark and recite, “Our Father, our King!  Be gracious to us, and answer us, for we have no good works of our own; deal with us in charity and kindness, and save us.”

On Yom Kippur afternoon, we read the Book of Yonah and, in many congregations, spend some time discussing it through the long hours of the fast. It seems like there’s something new to discover every year, so this year let’s do a quick review of Yonah in light of the middah of responsibility.

Last night our chavurah joined the wider Jewish community here in Albuquerque for a multi-congregation Selichot service. For those unfamiliar with this tradition, “Selichot” refers to prayers for forgiveness and restoration. The custom since early medieval times is to recite these prayers early in the morning, before sunrise, for at least four days leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Some commentators relate these four days to the four days during which an offering was examined before being presented in the temple. Since we present ourselves as an offering on Rosh Hashanah (very much in line with Romans 12:1), we examine ourselves in God’s presence for four days leading up to the holy day.

Chesed or loving-kindness is an essential human attribute, but it’s first of all a divine attribute. If we want to cultivate chesed, we should pay attention to how Hashem exercises it. And God’s chesed is on display at the conclusion of the Haftarot of Comfort, the passages from Isaiah that we read during this period between Tisha B’av and Rosh Hashanah.

I have to admit that I approach the Days of Awe with some ambivalence. Unlike any of you, I’m a bit melancholic by temperament and I don’t look forward to the somber, gloomy, endless-confession aspect of these days.

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