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.
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 Separation;
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.