- Mussar: The Basics
- A Kohenet Influenced Approach to Mussar
- Kesharim K’doshim Practice
- Kesharim K’doshim Yearly Spiral
Mussar: The Basics
Mussar or Musar (מוסר) is an authentic Jewish spiritual development system that dates back nearly 1000 years, but came into its best known form in in 19th Century Lithuanian. It explains each person has a unique “soul curriculum” and our lives are fulfilled when we understand and explore it. Moments life are where we have the opportunity to test ourselves and grow are called bechirah (בררה) or choice point moments. Bechirah moments are where you have to make a real choice in life, and you get to discover your spiritual growth (or not).
The practice works to change us spiritually by changing behavior. The practice consists of soul-inventory of any number of lists of soul-traits, middot (מידות) in Hebrew, to see how balanced they are within you. Then each day, week, or month, track how a single one is working in your life. Then look for bechirah or choice point moments and what choice you make. That’s how you grow. It’s only when we’re forced to make active choices that we are growing spiritually. And sometimes — that super sucks. And sometimes we realize that what we’re learning isn’t something we want to or would chose to — and this is the last thing we want to hear is that it’s our “soul’s curriculum.”
Recommended Mussar Books:
- Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar
- Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar
- With Heart in Mind: Mussar Teachings to Transform Your Life
- Mussar Yoga: Blending an Ancient Jewish Spiritual Practice with Yoga to Transform Body and Soul
- Ethics of the Sages (Pirkei Avot translated and noted by R’Rami Shapiro)
- In Search of the Holy Life: Rediscovering the Kabbalistic Roots of Mussar
- Duties of the Heart (Chovot haLevanot)
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A Kohenet Influenced Approach to Mussar
As a Kohenet, I experience Judaism through the constructs of that community and especially the Netivot — 13 pathways of Divine Femme Presence that have appeared in Judaism. The Kesharim K’doshim (קשרים קדושים) / Sacred Connections Mussar aligns 13 middot or soul-traits with each of the Netivot and the months of the year. This approach to mussar, not only engages intellectually but also pairs that with embodied and metaphysical practices and awareness of spiralinear time.
There are several aspects of inherited practice of Mussar that Kesharim K’doshim Mussar utilizes including not trying to “fix” a middah (מידה) or soul-trait works by always going at it directly. For example, it is rarely effective to yell “calm down” at someone that is angry or “be happy” at someone that is sad. If you struggle with any given soul-trait, look first to the soul-trait for the Netivah that is its polarity on the wheel of the year. For example on the other side of the wheel of the year from the G’virah (Queen/Matriarch), whose soul-trait is responsibility, is the Na’arah (Maiden) — whose soul-trait is joy. Those interconnections are the heart of this approach.
For more on the Netivot, I recommend The Hebrew Priestess by Rav Kohenet Jill Hammer & Taya Shere or the companion book to Eht/Aht: a netivot wisdom oracle (by yours truly).
Kesharim K’doshim Practice
Begin by reviewing all the soul-traits in the deck, and exploring how they sit with you. Which ones feel easy, which feel hard. Which are confusing? Which make you happy, angry or sad. Remember that no soul-trait is inherently good or bad — Mussar teaches us balance. Create a soul-connections journal and document this in the way that works best for you – written, audio, or through art or photography.
Then each month, begin by taking the card for that month and placing it somewhere you can see it. Maybe create a Kesharim K’doshim altar. Explore what the soul-trait means to you and what you wrote about in your soul-connections journal. Choose one of the phrases each week to use as an affirmation.
Each day explore how the soul-trait each month manifests in your life, and make note of it in your journal that night or weekly. Look for connections between the soul-trait, your life, the season, the holidays, and the world around you. Especially look for bechirah () or choice point moments where you are forced to grow or step back spiritually.
Explore each middah intellectually, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, and make entries in your soul-connections journal of your experiences. Try chanting, altar making, candle work, offering practices — whatever helps you engage with this soul-trait along with your journal.
Kesharim K’doshim Yearly Spiral
- Tishrei | Responsibility | G’virah (🔑)
- Cheshvan | Honor | Mekonenet (🔐)
- Kislev | Awe/Radical Amazement | Baalat Ov (🔐)
- Tevet | Curiosity | Seeker (🔐)
- Sh’vat | Love/Beloved | Ohevet (🔐)
- Leap Year: Adar א | Tzavta | Connection | Oreget (🔐)
- Adar | Illuminated Awareness | Leitzanit (🔐)
- Nisan | Joy | Na’arah (🔐)
- Iyyar | Patience | Meyaledet (🔐)
- Sivan | Truth | Neviah (🔐)
- Tammuz | Wholehearted | Immah (🔐)
- Av | Courage | Chachamah (🔐)
- Elul | Hineni | Presence | Tzovah (🔐)