Browsed by
Category: Judaism

Mussar Musings: Trust & Faith

Mussar Musings: Trust & Faith

This past week’s Mussar practice was to work on developing the Middah of Trust. For those who use Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar as their daily text, our phrase this past week has been “I rest in the hands of my Maker,” and our practice has been “When you feel worried, recite the phrase, ‘My life is in the hands of the One who made me.”

This is one of the harder Middot on my soul curriculum to work on, because it challenges me to give up control, to not be the leader, to not be the one in charge. However, by leaning into this Middah specifically, what I allow myself to do is to be present, to be mindful, to remove burdens and stressors from my shoulders and my life, and to rely on my community, my colleagues, my family, and my friends instead of believing that I have to be a superhuman who does everything on his own.

It means trusting that things are going to work out okay, so long as I do what I’m supposed to. It means not wasting time worrying about whether so-and-so got my email, and whether they’re going to do what they need to do once they receive it…because I have trust that My life is in the hands of the One who made me, and things will work out as they should, in their time and order.

By working on developing my Middah of Trust, I free myself to work on things that are much more important than the smaller minutiae that so often take up our time during the week.

And, with much thanks to the Eternal Mystery, this past week things worked out exactly as they should have! Everyone was professional as they always are, almost everything that needed to get done did, and the world moved forward and continued to turn on its axis.

The only difference between this week, and weeks when I can’t practice this specific Middah, is that when I can practice this incredibly critical Middah, I feel better, I think more clearly, and my life is far more full, far more rich, because I can be more mindful, and more present, and I can enjoy every flavor, scent, sound, and experience that the day has in store for me.

This coming week we are practicing the Middah of Faith. So our phrase for this week is “Cleave to the One and be whole” and our practice shall be to say the phrase “God willing” before undertaking any action, large or small.

So tomorrow, I will be starting my first day at my new job as a Mental Health Counselor (God willing), and I look forward to continuing to practice the Middah of Trust this week, as well (God willing)!

Blessing For The Open of a Refugee Sanctuary

Blessing For The Open of a Refugee Sanctuary

Blessed are You oh God! God of our fathers and mothers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, God of Sarah, God of Rebecca, God of Rachel, and God of Leah!

God who wrestled with Jacob and was overcome by him, and so had it proclaimed “Jacob your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans, and you have overcome!”

You, God, who in Your infinite wisdom gave Abraham the morning, and Issac the afternoon, that you choose the one who struggled – Jacob – to give control of the night to, this most precious and sacred time…

This time where we are invited to enter into the realm of our deepest truths and dreams, to dance with the Hosts of Heavens, with the music that fills our souls, and where all those who journey can find cover and safety in your blanket of darkness, and reassurance in your stars.

Mighty and awesome God, transcendent god who bestows lovingkindness and creates everything out of love: bless and protect this space, hide it from all who seek to do it harm, and yet may it shine as brightly as the Pillar of Fire that brought your people out of Egypt and into freedom, so that all those who are seeking refuge and are in need may find there way to it.

May it serve for as long as it is needed, and may we reach a time soon where we will no longer need to transport people in secret or in cover of darkness, and where nation shall not turn upon nation, but where we can accept each other as brothers and sisters as one.

– Matthew L. Schwartz
Written in Honor of the work of Rev. Justo Gonzalez II

Mussar Musings

Mussar Musings

הכרת הטוב
Recognizing the Good / Gratitude

What are you feeling grateful for today?

Have you noticed a difference in yourself through your gratitude practice?

Have any blessings recently come your way in disguise?


What situations might be difficult for you to show honor to someone? How do those situations make you feel?

Have you noticed a change in how you ‘see’ people that you do not know?  Are you less likely now to make snap judgements?

Did you find this Middah to be more difficult than others we have studied?

Are you able to honor and show respect to those who you do not agree with or who do not honor or respect you? Are there other middot you could use to help you do this?


In what area of your life do you struggle with patience the most?

Do you consider yourself to be a patient person? Would others say the same?

What happens when you lose your patience?

What will you do differently this week to enhance your practice of patience?

How can your patience phrase help you when you’re feeling impatient?

Have you struggled with this middah? Have you found it easier than others we’ve studied?


Pay attention to how many opportunities you have throughout the day to do an act of chesed.

How will you focus on your chesed practice over the weekend? How can your concept of Shabbat enhance your practice?

Creating Spaces of Awe

Creating Spaces of Awe

So from today’s Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar (by Alan Morinis) we are given the following to ponder:

“Once it has become clear to one that wherever he may be, he is standing before the presence of the Holy One, there will come to him of itself, the awe and fear of going astray in his actions so that they do not accord with the majesty of the Blessed One.” – Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746)

The phrase that we’ve been using as our reminder phrase (for those who follow along with this book as part of their Mussar Practice) is “the beginning of wisdom is awe” and our practice this week has been to “put yourself in places that bring out the experience of awe in you.”

One of the things I admire most about Judaism is that it – generally speaking – starts in our homes (wherever that home may be, and whatever kind of tent it may look like). Judaism doesn’t entreat us to go to far off lands to change the world. Instead – through practices like Mussar and Tikkun Olam, we are taught to transform the world starting in our very own homes, our own neighborhoods, our own yards, and streets, through thousands and millions of tiny, small, wonderful acts.

This is very similar to what we talk with clients about in Solutions-Focused Brief Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy: to change others, sometimes it’s necessary to change yourself (through behavioral changes)…we can only control our own actions, but what is beautiful about that is that our actions have consequences, and sometimes those consequences are truly meaningful, and truly wonderful.

I have been feeling very overwhelmed recently (summer classes can do that, especially four of them, alongside learning to live with a new, very pesky, disability), and a bit dysthymic (more so than usual, but I think that’s probable due to a lack of sunlight as I stare at books and papers instead of the great outdoors).

Because of this, my home office (which I usually love and treasure) and my bedroom (which is usually my sanctuary) have fallen into a spot where they don’t produce awe, but rather a bit of dread…and what a shame, especially in light of this week’s Mussar practice!

So tonight, my Shabbat experience will be to create a space where I can once again find awe, so that I can have the beginning of wisdom once more (in that I can finish writing some papers, and then start on some other homework assignments, so my stress will go down, and I will be underwhelmed instead of overwhelmed).

These are those Mussar moments: the real, the tangible, the small, the pragmatic.

I’ll count on the best resource I have ever found for anyone (especially those with disabilities, or mental health conditions) to organize, clean, and get one’s life back in order: Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess by Rachel Hoffman, to get me through this process…and probably a good dose of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on Audible while I work.

Catching Up on Mussar

Catching Up on Mussar

So in between everything that’s been going on, I have had the distinct privilege of beginning my Mussar journey. Simply put, Mussar is a 1,000 year old, Jewish, Post-Modern Social Work Practice (though I’m sure the sages and Rabbis that developed it didn’t necessarily put it into those words)…though as I have dived into the texts and the readings, I have sat in shock as I have read paragraph after paragraph that have been almost word for word what I have read in my Solutions Focused Brief Therapy and Motivational Interviewing training.

Mussar is also a miracle, because it (and its writings) managed to survive the Holocaust…and so for this we give thanks.

Part of Mussar is daily journaling (which I have been behind on) and part of my goal for this site has also been daily journaling; and since I find it much easier to sit down with my computer or cell phone, than I do with pen or paper these days, I am going to catch up on some of the prompts that our Va’ad leaders have sent us, and then endeavor to continue forward with daily Mussar reflections (at a minimum, my hope is to – of course – include my Social Work observations, Instagram posts, etc.).

That said, my responses to our daily prompts:


How did you step outside of your comfort zone today and occupy a different amount of space?

I made a few decisions that I had been waffling on, where I had been questioning (without yet having the mussar vocabulary) my space.

I had been holding back sharing some important information and achievements, fearing that it would make me appear arrogant, or that it would be inappropriate to share…fearing that it would exceed the boundaries of my space.

When I made the decision to share them, however, I was glad to find that I didn’t cross any boundaries, rather I was able to spread out my arms and legs, and stretch a bit, and occupy space that was in fact rightfully mine to occupy, and the news was received warmly and with pride by those with whom I shared it.

In this case, in this specific situation, I was a bit too far left on the scale, and in fact, I needed to move a bit farther right, and take up what was my rightful space to occupy.

How will you aim to maximize your humility practice this week?

I have been repeating the mantra “no more than my space, no less than my place” througout the day to remind me to be more aware whenever I am in a social situation. It is very similar – for me – to Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit: “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” which is something I had been working on as an area of personal growth in Field Placement this year, to better develop my clinical practice.

Have you noticed a difference in yourself through your humility practice?

I have definitely been more cognizant of when I take a step back, or when I take a step forward. I have asked myself before sharing anything in a group situation “is this necessary to contribute? Am I contributing it for my ego? Am I contributing it because it’s vital or relevant? Why do I want to share this information? What are my motivations? Do my motivations for speaking or for taking up space align with my thoughts/feelings/beliefs? Do they align with my Jewish values?” This, of course, makes me much more of an active listener, and – I believe – far more present in whatever setting I’m in.

My goal moving forward is to of course bring this practice to one-on-one conversations as well.

What are your thoughts on this quote?
“Humility is the proper estimate of oneself” – Charles Spurgeon

I’m not sure.

How does your concept of Shabbat impact your practice of humility?

Shabbat, for me, is about stepping back entirely into my own internal space: there is no amount of space that is inappropriate to occupy, since I occupy that space within my whole self and my whole being in home, and within my mind (meditation, study), and within my body (yoga, relaxation).

While this may create a vacuum of space in the community because I separate myself from them, and create an absence of presence with the choice of a solitary Shabbat, this self-care is very necessary, and is in fact vital for my continued ability to work and function.

Do you think the amount of space you occupy is the same in your professional life as it is in your personal life?

No. However, I think that the amount of space I occupy changes and fluxes constantly, depending where I am and what my role is at any given time, regardless of whether it is in a professional or personal space…and in fact, it can even change minute-by-minte, or hour-by-hour even within these spaces.

Am I consulting? Am I consulting, but receiving client feedback? Am I presenting? Am I teaching? Am I part of a team? Am I officiating at a wedding? Am I working a case as a case manager? Am I working in a clinical role as part of the Field Placement process? Am I a student? Am I at a family picnic? A funeral? Am I officiating at the funeral (which has also been known to happen)? Are we having a game night? Are we all just enjoying each other’s company while reading or playing video games silently? Are we eating pizza (in which case I’d argue I am far less humble, and far more likely to grab that extra slice…maybe a soul trait to work on…)?

I think that every single situation has to be evaluated on its own merits, in its own time, then and there, because our roles are never so clear cut that we can think this far ahead without being mindful and in the situation as it exists.

הכרת הטוב
Recognizing the Good / Gratitude

Pay attention to the reaction when you thank someone.

Done & Done.

When is it difficult for you to feel gratitude? How can you dig deeper to find something to be grateful for at that time?

This week I had a real Mussar moment. I had the UB Student Remembrance Ceremony on Friday, May 12, 2017 in the morning. Sadly, the day before, a student in the School of Social Work was killed in a horrible accident, so the School of Social Work was coming together to offer support for one another later that same day.

I walked into our gathering tired, and emotionally drained from the UB Student Remembrance Ceremony earlier that day. However, I challenged myself, while sitting in a circle with my professors and with my peers: HaKarat HaTov…recognize the good…what good could possibly come from this situation? Where can we find good in the horrific death of one of our most talented student colleagues?

Well, I was able to recognize how hard our program director was working to send the students body home to the family, and how our school was coming together not as strangers, but as a family. I was able to recognize how much we truly cared for one another, and how validating it was that I chose a program where this kind of behavior reflected our core values. I was able to recognize how much this student inspired others, and how moved others were to change their lives because of her. I was also able to recognize how honest and human the faculty were in their expression of emotions, and of grief, and how much this meant to all of us because there is no one way to express grief…and I was amazed that in this tragedy, how much good I was able to recognize.

Is it easier for you to give or receive gratitude? How do you feel when someone thanks you?

I am actually generally dismissive when I receive gratitude…I try to get it over with as quickly as possible, because it makes me uncomfortable…it doesn’t mean that I don’t want people to show that they’re thankful (very similar to the story of the young man who came back to the Yeshiva during last weeks readings; the Rabbi wanted him to show that he was thankful, but not to say it)…I just don’t really need them to tell me that they’re grateful in so many words.

I find that I can very easily and genuinely express gratitude…so for me it is much easier to give gratitude to others than it is to receive it.

…and with all of that said, it is now 3am, and my cat is meowing at me to come to bed, and I have one more email to send before I can do that, so I’m going to get that done, and then spend the remainder of Jacob’s time with my cat, Akiva.

Icons made by Darius Dan from is licensed by CC 3.0 BY
Privacy Policy | Terms of Service