middot diligence riverton mussar concept
riverton mussar concept
riverton mussar concept

riverton mussar concept (2)

Tuesday, 31 August 2010 11:27

why do mussar?

Written by rav rafael

The vision of the Riverton Mussar project is a bold one forged out of several years of leading a community, teaching Torah and working toward a meaningful life.  As we moved toward the end of the year 5770, a vision of the next year began to sharpen into focus.  This would be a new year of community transformation.  For several generations, our community has endeavored to build the Malkut HaShamayim (Kingdom of Heaven).  We have laid many bricks for this kingdom and have a solid foundation.  Even with our studies and community support system, each year we come to the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur) with an accounting of many of the same personal weaknesses.  

Aware of the ever present struggles in our lives, the lives of our congregants, and our wider movement, we decided to formalize the practice of personal character growth.  There are many approaches to this.  Go to your local book store and you will find shelves full of "self help" books.  You'll see pastors, priests, and rabbis on television and the Internet who have all the solutions for you.  We've all resolved to make changes each new year, but struggle to stay on track long enough to affect permanent change.  After much searching, we felt the best solution to this pale effort was to tap into an ancient Jewish tradition, a 13-step program to becoming a better human being.  The practice of Mussar is rooted in Hebrew scriptures and was codified through the ages.  Many other branches of Judaism have experienced great renewal through Mussar. 

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We began to realize we needed to bring it into our community and movement too, and even more so because we have the ultimate Mussar Master - Messiah Yeshua.  We soon realized the enormous potential of giving people the tools to become the people Yeshua calls us to be. Yeshua's invitation to take up his yoke in his Kingdom is established on the foundation of repentance and turning away from our destructive habits.  The lessons he taught us were not just for the world to come but for this world.

R. Pinchas ben Yair once said:

"Torah leads to Watchfulness;
Watchfulness leads to Zeal;
Zeal leads to Cleanliness;
Cleanliness leads to Separa
Separation leads to Purity;
Purity leads to Saintliness;
Saintliness leads to Humility;
Humility leads to Fear of Sin;
Fear of Sin leads to Holiness;
Holiness leads to the Holy Spirit,
and the Holy Spirit leads to the Revival of the Dead.
(Avodah Zara 20b)


The Talmud shows us that our call to be a light of Torah ultimately leads to our living a life everlasting, but many steps of personal transformation must occur along our journey in this life.  This kind of transformation is needed universally by all.  In our vision, Mussar became the perfect paradigm to teach life transformation to Jews and non-Jews alike.  The program would seek to integrate the wisdom of Torah (Hebrew Scriptures), Mesorah (Jewish Tradition), and Besorah ("Good News" - Yeshua's life and teachings) into a life practice that yields long lasting results.  This paradigm has been fundamental to the call of being a follower of Yeshua.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  (James 1:19-21, ESV)

As we contemplated the scale of this program we realized that the true power of Mussar is self-discovery and development of concrete actions that counter our negative character traits.  What if we provided a way for members to share their discoveries and life wisdom with each other?  Mussar is traditionally practiced with a partner (chevrutah) with whom you study and to whom you are accountable.  We then developed the idea of a social network where we all can study with each other and learn from each other's discoveries.  The website would be an open forum for Mussar wisdom and discovery.  I call this approach "open-source," a term applied to software built by a community of devoted authors with a common interest. 

Here are the unique elements Riverton Mussar provides:

  • a way of life transformation approachable by Jewish and non-Jewish followers alike
  • full integration of Yeshua's teachings as the perfect Mussar Master
  • insights, commentary, and advice from a network of leaders in the messianic movement
  • an "open-source" social support network where we can encourage each other in growth and share our discoveries as we realign our own lives
  • community (both physical and virtual) accountability.  The impact of a large group of people working on the same character trait each week is powerful. 

We see ourselves not as Mussar Masters ourselves.  We merely hope to provide the tools and inspiration for growth in our movement beyond the walls of our synagogue.  From those I've already talked to, there is great hunger building for this.  May Hashem bless us together as we aspire to be the human beings worthy to sit at our Master's feet.

Rabbi Rafael
Tishrei 5771

Monday, 12 July 2010 21:17

riverton mussar concept

Written by rebbetzin malkah

The Riverton Mussar concept was formed out of years of questioning how better to be a light of Mashiach Yeshua in a very practical and everyday manner.  Over the course of reading and studying, I stumbled upon the concept of Mussar, or Jewish ethics as it is also known.  As I saw the amazing practicality and profound spiritual connection it provided through honing character traits, I felt like two worlds just harmoniously came together: the world of the Mussar masters and our Mashiach Yeshua.

As it became apparent to me that the best way to emulate the ethical lifestyle that Mashiach Yeshua spoke of was through Mussar, it became my quest to find out how to implement this method on a broad scale for many people within our own Messianic movement.  To me, it was as if I was seeing our Mashiach as the ultimate Mussar master.  Somehow, some way, this needed to be brought out in our communities.  We were sorely lacking this very daily introspective discipline and I didn't understand why no one had brought it to the forefront yet.  Besides that, it would be a beautiful way to get a greater portion of Messianic Judaism to lose their distaste of rabbinic writings, and to realize the beauty and righteousness of so many rabbis who were striving for holiness through self-improvement.

The first inclusion of Mussar concepts into our congregation began back in 5767, with the ordering of charts by Rabbi Salanter regarding the 13 Middot.  I introduced our children in our synagogue cheder to the middot which were listed on a large poster, and then over time, my husband introduced the congregants to charts with the middot listed on 8 1/2 x 11"  paper.

In the summer of 5769, my husband, Rav  Rafi, started feeling a deeper need to connect with the middot; he incorporated at a congregational Torah study an explanation of the middot during the month of Elul as a way to hone our character traits for the King in the Field.  However, this only grazed the surface as the Rabbi and I searched for how to incorporate the study of Mussar in a broader, more holistic and ongoing capacity.

As time continued to pass and we entered a new year, 5770, it became more evident that the practice of Mussar was the practical solution for many of the situations the Rabbi and I were facing on a congregational level.  It not only provided introspective analysis of the character traits that were in need of attention, but also the means in which to maintain a healthy balance of all the middot.  It wasn't enough to talk about them—it became apparent that we needed a formalized practice of Mussar within our own congregation at the very least.  We needed it and we owed it to our community to bring Mussar to them in a formalized way. Needless to say, it was incumbent upon us...

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a calling and a task...

During the spring of 5770, I had the opportunity to attend a three day sisterhood board retreat in Washington, D.C. For me, this was a chance to add a few extra days onto my scheduled trip for some personal time. While in D.C., I spent the first three days, in advance of the retreat, on my own at a bed and breakfast, reading and contemplating two different works by Alan Morinis (head of the Mussar Institute).  It was in reading his "Climbing Jacob's Ladder" that I realized that the author and I were kindred spirits; not only did we seek self-improvement for the sake of clarity and a better life, but we also were seeking the practice of Mussar for the sake of refining not only our own but other people's character traits. While my personal experience had not included hitting rock bottom like Alan Morinis, it was still something I felt I couldn't live without.  For years, my husband and I had seen too many people nearly hit rock bottom or lack consistency in their lives.  They needed it: therefore, we needed to bring it to them.

My time of discovering the depth that a disciplined Mussar practice has to offer was a gift that weekend.  In receiving that gift, I realized the immense responsibility that I had in being a recipient of that information.  It was a calling and a task—one that I could not decline or shy away from, no matter how much work it meant in developing a program.  I had seen other Mussar websites out there; however, I did not want to duplicate them.  And even more, my husband and I weren't Mussar masters.  How could we bring anything formidable and honorable?  I wanted something intrinsically Messianic and desirable for people with a multitude of backgrounds.  From that weekend on, it was my task to find out how to bring Mussar into the movement in a collective and collaborative way:  with many voices, with a regiment that would work, and a means to make it sustainable. I knew that in partnership with my bashert, anything was possible.  But what, exactly?

the birth of riverton mussar

The idea behind the name of this project, Riverton Mussar, comes from the very area in which I originally came into contact with Mussar.  Our synagogue in South Seattle, Beit HaShofar, is located in an area called Riverton.  The very area which our synagogue rests on is known as Riverton Springs.  Anyone who has attended our shul for any length of time is well acquainted with the natural springs which lie below our synagogue property—many years and dollars have been spent to tame the water and divert it from our buildings.  For me, the name for a project, whose purpose is to be a wellspring for ethical change, could come from nothing less than a place which is known for one thing: living waters.

It is my hope that through the guidance of the Holy One, blessed be He,  that honor can be given to Mashiach Yeshua and all that he stood for in his teachings, his words, and his inspiration through this application of Mussar.  May the wellspring of Mussar guide us all and bring us to a place where we are a wellspring to others of exceptional character and holiness.  May all of you who come to Riverton Mussar drink deeply and be forever changed.

-Rebbetzin Malkah, Av 5770

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