Alan Morinis is the founder and director of the Mussar Institute (www.mussarinstitute.org), an organization that promotes the study of Mussar thought through study groups, courses, and public talks. He is also the author of Everyday Holiness and Climbing Jacob's Ladder. According to the author, the word Mussar means "correction" or "instruction" and also serves as the simple modern Hebrew word for ethics. But those who begin on this spiritual path find that it turns into a way of life. Alan Morinis explains the purpose and meaning of Mussar:
"Mussar teachers have sought to help transform our lives in the way of holiness. The path they discovered lies not in any esoteric or other-worldly area, but right within the realm of our familiar inner lives — the Mussar path to holiness goes by way of the territory of anger and calmness, generosity and miserliness, trust and worry, laziness and zeal, and all of the traits that live within us. We become holy not by becoming less than we are, but by recognizing which traits we find challenging in the realities of our lives and then mastering them.
"When a person has successfully identified and balanced all his or her inner traits, the Mussar teachers say that person has become whole, or shalem in Hebrew. You'll notice the similarity of the word for 'wholeness' and the word for 'peace,' the familiar shalom. The path of Mussar leads to holiness, wholeness, and peace."
Morinis has chosen twenty-six (including joy, enthusiasm, faith, patience, courage, humility, generosity, equanimity, etc.) of the key traits to explore in this paperback. Every page covers one day of the year and contains the following elements:
• An inspiring or insightful teaching from a Mussar teacher or source
• A phrase that captures the essence of what that trait is about
• A practice
• A space for keeping a daily journal
Here is a sample page from Every Day, Holy Day:
"Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv of Kelm (1824–1898) developed a strategy to never lose his temper. He had a special jacket that he had set aside to wear when he was angry. He said, 'When I feel anger coming on, I know that I have to get my special jacket. But, by the time I do, I am no longer angry.'
"PHRASE Still waters of the heart.
"PRACTICE Set yourself an activity that you must do when you feel anger coming on, such as drinking a glass of water, or changing your shoes, before you permit yourself to respond."
Using this format you can arise in the morning, read the teaching and repeat the phrase of the day so that it resonates in your consciousness. You will find many chances to practice this trait during your activities and interactions with others. Then in the evening you can record in your journal what happened during the day and the lessons learned from your experiences.
The Jewish Mussar Tradition is one of the best means of spiritual practice we have seen. Working with one's soul traits (good and bad) is a perfect way to polish the best in us and correct our character flaws. Spiritual seekers familiar with many different paths may be ready to change their daily behavior and enter the kingdom of "walking the talk." As one of Morinis's teachers said to him: "Mussar is not something you learn, it is something you do." Every Day, Holy Day provides important keys to that kingdom.