Mussar is a 1,100-year-old Jewish tradition – a spiritual discipline, a body of literature, a way of looking at the world, and a practical ethical philosophy all rolled into one.
Mussar takes as its starting point the Torah's mission statement for our lives, where it says: “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:1). The rabbis have asked: How do we transform our inner beings so they come closer to being holy? They established halachah (Jewish law) and mitzvot (commandments) and from the 10th century onward, they also recognized that on the personal journey toward holiness, a path of inner cultivation was needed. Mussar is their answer.
Mussar offers precious guidance to all souls. It provides a step-by-step path to inner growth that can help all people to heal, change, and, ultimately, to blossom with the holiness that is the natural and universal potential of every soul.
Over the centuries, the rabbis put together a map of the inner life, based on the insight that the profound essence of a human being is the soul. It’s not that you have a soul; it’s that you are a soul. Throughout our lives, that deepest essence remains inherently pure and holy. The challenge we face, however, is that the holy light of the soul is veiled and dimmed by those traits of character that are functioning at the extremes. Rage, lust, and cowardice obstruct the light of the soul, but so do meekness, indifference, and rashness. In fact, all the emotions, desires, and ethical qualities work very well for us when they are calibrated at mid-range but are hindrances when they are not.
The Mussar masters innovated Mussar practice to provide effective techniques to bring about transformation. Some Mussar practices are purely contemplative, others more interactive. They help us refine ourselves spiritually as we go about our everyday lives. By following the path of these practices, the miser becomes generous, the hardened heart softens, the judgmental person comes to honor others, rage subsides into kindness, the weak gain firmness. In effect, we are both challenged and empowered to make the dramatic changes that will lead us to attain the spiritual potential with which each of us is born.
The Mussar Institute offers a number of courses designed to make Mussar teachings available to a broader audience. Generosity Week is a project of The Mussar Institute.