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...
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