From this month’s Yashar (The Mussar Institute‘s newsletter), “How Mussar Affected My Life — Student Profile” by By Dorit Golan Cullen. (I wrote the majority of this entry in an email to The Mussar Institute’s list. It therefore was designed for people with less Jewish education but more commitment to a Mussar personal orientation than this blog’s usual target audience.)
I suggest reading the column now, if you haven’t yet, because the following is just the conclusion. Without the context and background, the point will be somewhat denuded:
Two and one-half years later, I’ve attracted wonderful people both in my personal and professional world because of the transformation of my character and my freedom to be open and honest in a different way with people.
Mussar has given me the voice to my inner feelings about my self and the people I dearly love. Mussar has also given me permission to select the people I want in my inner circle. As I write, I am feeling at peace, balance and purer than I was in the summer of 2004. Thank you for taking me on this wonderful ride called life.
Mussar can be a very freeing experience.
I think it’s no coincidence that the traditional seder is a precise 15 step program. It reminds me of one of the “ladders” found in many of the mussar texts — most famously, in the structure of Mesilas Yesharim. (Available for free in English and the original Hebrew.) We start with Zehirus – Caution, move on to Zerizus – Zeal, to Neqi’us – moral Spotlessness, to Perishus – Separation from challenges we can’t yet master, and so on. Step by step, a path from wherever we were when reading page 1 to the heights of Qedushah-Holiness.
And so too the seder. Qadeish – committing ourselves to the journey. And immediately, even with an “u-” prefix as a conjunctive, we have “uRchatz – AND Wash”. Chapter 1 — commitment. But before that commitment can cool, immediately, start washing away the unholiness of the past. And so on, step by step, from study to living through the Exodus to the point where we can partake of a meal and it be a sacred meal, to Nirtzah (from the root /רצה/, desire), where we are as G-d desires us to be.
The seder is a mussar ladder. We not only recall the Exodus from Egyptian bondage 3319 or so years ago, but also the Exodus from the spiritual degradation. The Exodus is not merely a one time event, but an interruption of history designed to show us what is constantly occurring in our own lives.
In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is Mitzrayim. Translated: a pair of troubles. Everyone recalls a time when they got their lives back after being stuck between a pair of troubles, between a rock and a hard place. The assistance that G-d sent our way is our own “Exodus from Mitzrayim“. Each one not only freedom from physical or emotional bondage, but an opening for spirituality. If we only choose to climb that Mussar Ladder…
In less poetic, nitty-gritty life, to me, the big mussar challenge I will be facing this evening is giving my chlidren the seder that want and need, rather than the one I want to give. Being able to balance my duty to teach them with what it is they are ready to receive. Taking into account the differences between their world view and mine, their priorities and mine. To be empathetic enough to see how that changed with their growth over the past year. For me, that is my “uRchatz“, my taking that commitment to holiness of Qaddeish, of making qiddush on that first cup of wine, and running with it to wash away my habitual errors.