Tikkun Middot

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Transcript of Tikkun Middot

  • Tikkun MiddotProject

    Curriculum

    This program was made possible through the support of a grant from the

    Rabbi David Jaffe

  • TIKKUN MIDDOT PROJECT CURRICULUM Rabbi David Jaffe

    The Tikkun Middot Project is an innovative, national program to promote character development through mindfulness and tikkun middot practice in targeted Jewish communities led by Institute for Jewish Spirituality-trained rabbis, cantors, educators, mindfulness teachers, and community leaders.

    The project engages 28 Jewish organizations over two years, to develop individuals moral character through the mindfulness practice of tikkun middot: the cultivation of moral character traits. Cultivating community-wide attention to moral traits will transform the community by helping individuals acknowledge and reduce negative behavioral patterns and change challenging situations into opportunities to strengthen their character by responding with greater wisdom and compassion.

    In addition to working on their own character development, participants engage in the practice of tikkun middot for the purpose of strategically infusing middot practice throughout as many facets of congregational and organizational culture as possible in a sustainable manner. For example, community members can focus on bringing the practice into worship, adult and childrens education, committee and board meetings, social justice work, and even cultural programming. We are delighted to present this project and embark on a journey of mindfulness with our selected communities.

  • TIKKUN MIDDOT PROJECT CURRICULUM

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    Introduction 1

    Hitlamdut: A Stance of Learning 13

    The Bechirah/Choice Point 31

    Anavah/Humility 49

    Savlanut/Forbearance, Patience 67

    Chesed/Lovingkindness 81

    Kavod/Respect, Dignity, Honor 97

    Shtikah and Shmirat HaLashon/ Silence and Mindful Speech

    111

    Bitachon/Trust in God 125

    Emunah/Trustworthiness 143

    Seder/Order 157

  • INTRODUCTION

    Tikkun Middot is the practice of cultivating certain soul traits in your life. It is related to Mussar, an

    ancient form of Jewish spirituality which focuses on the development of middot or soul traits to attain

    personal and communal holiness1. Mussar means instruction and discipline. It also implies turning

    oneself in a positive direction ( /sur mei-ra turn away from the wrong path, Psalm 34).2 In

    some ways, Mussar is as old as the Torah itself (kedoshim tihiyu you shall be holy, Leviticus 19:2).

    Mussar developed as a distinct genre of Jewish ethical literature and practice starting in the 11th

    century. Maimonides, the Kabbalists of Safed, Hassidim and 19th century Lithuanian Talmudists all

    produced Mussar literature. In the Chassidic world, Mussar is sometimes called Haalat Hamiddot/The

    Elevation of the Middot or Tikkun HaYetzer/Transformation of the Inclinations. Rabbi Israel Salanter,

    a leading 19th century Lithuanian Torah scholar, developed the Mussar movement to systematize and

    popularize Mussar teachings and practices.

    In the past two decades there has been a Mussar renaissance in North American liberal Jewish

    communities, driven primarily by the work of Dr. Alan Morinis of The Mussar Institute and Rabbi Ira

    Stone of The Mussar Leadership Institute. This curriculum is based on traditional Mussar sources,

    including the work of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (d. 2005), one of the greatest Mussar teachers of the past

    generation, and is influenced by TMIs work in communicating this ancient tradition to modern

    audiences3.

    The Tikkun Middot Project of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality is an initiative to integrate mindfulness

    practice (as understood through a Jewish lens) with the spiritual technology of Mussar. The Institute

    roots traditional Jewish spiritual practices in a foundation of mindfulness practice, by which we seek to

    maximize our awareness of what is happening in and around usin other words, to be fully awake and

    present in the moment. Enhanced awareness fosters conditions which enabled us to see more clearly

    the obstacles and opportunities present in each moment, and to wisely select options which are more

    wholesome or godly.

    This introduction provides an overview of the key ideas, modalities and practices that make up Tikkun

    Middot, as well as specific information about this curriculum and how to lead it well. Please read the

    introduction in its entirety and refer back to it as you prepare to lead your sessions.

    1 Soul traits are character traits such as patience, humility, trust and courage.

    2 Rabbi Micha Berger, AishDas Society

    3 See www.mussarinstitute.org for more information about The Mussar Institute

    http://www.mussarinstitute.org/

  • INTRODUCTION TO KEY IDEAS, MODALITIES AND PRACTICES

    KEY IDEAS

    Tikkun Middot is a spiritual technology designed to help us, as individuals and as a community, embody

    the highest ideals of the Torah in service of the ultimate repair of the world. The following ideas are

    central to Mussar and Tikkun Middot practice:

    We are souls4. The inner, spiritual life is real. The compelling purpose of creation is to integrate

    physical matter with spirituality, thus endowing creation with holiness. Tikkun Middot is the

    practice of increasing our capacity to serve as vessels for holiness by bringing soulfulness to our

    engagement with the world. We build ourselves as vessels by mobilizing our innate yearning for

    holiness, and our character traits, ego and imagination to live in closer alignment with God,

    ourselves and others.

    The yetzer hara is poorly translated as the evil inclination because it is not necessarily

    negative. It is our teacher. The yetzer hara is generally experienced as the critical voice that

    weakens our resolve, or the impulse that pushes us to do things we know are not good for us or

    others. When seen from the right perspective, the yetzer hara is constantly teaching us exactly

    where and how we can grow closer to God, ourselves and others. It is an invaluable resource.

    Tikkun Middot practice teaches us how to understand the yetzer hara s potential as an engine

    for growth and service.

    In the words of Dr. Alan Morinis, founder of The Mussar Institute, each person has a unique soul

    curriculum that will guide him/her on a path of growth. Our role is to discern our personal

    curriculum, and utilize every opportunity for growth.

    The middot/soul traits are our levers for growth. Mussar teacher Rabbi David Lapin uses the

    following analogy to explain the role of the middot. An airplane has instruments and controls.

    The pilot uses the instruments, like the altimeter, to tell how high or low the plane is flying.

    Similarly, we have instruments to tell us how we are doing. These instruments are our emotional

    and physical state, the quality of our relationships with others and the quality of our spiritual

    lives. Our body is constantly giving us information about how we are doing. Likewise, our

    relationships with our children, partners, community and colleagues are sources of information.

    When the plane is flying too low, the pilot does not bang on the altimeter to get it to fly higher.

    4 I first heard this idea from Rabbi Avraham Sutton

  • Rather, the pilot uses the controls. Similarly with us, if a relationship is not going well it is not

    helpful to bang on the other person. Rather, we need to use our controls. Our controls are our

    middot. Tikkun Middot is the practice of manipulating our middot so we can live in a soulful way

    aligned with our values.

    Tikkun Middot is intimately connected to Tikkun Olam. Much of the suffering, injustice and

    overall dysfunction in human societies is a result of middot being out of balance. While one

    individual being out of balance may not have much of an impact, an imbalance multiplied

    millions of times across a population will lead to policies and social structures that do not reflect

    the holiness and dignity of human life. Injustice is only effectively addressed by dealing with

    both the structural and internal middot levels of imbalance.

    Tikkun Middot is a practical discipline built on the experiences of daily life. It is highly accessible

    to anyone willing to be reflective.

    FEATURES AND MODALITIES OF TIKKUN MIDDOT PRACTICE

    Tikkun Middot practice is:

    Systematic and structured: it provides practical tools for taking charge of ones spiritual growth

    through structured personal practice

    Holistic: it engages the mind, heart and body

    Social: it involves others in the growth process

    Spiritual: it provides an opportunity to invite God, as one understands God, into the growth

    process

    Tikkun Middot practice takes place in three modalities:

    1. vaad (the periodic group meeting)

    2. chevruta (partner meeting in between vaad meetings)

    3. personal practice (including meditations, kabbalot small challenges we give ourselves, and

    reflection)

    TIKKUN MIDDOT PRACTICES

    These practices for spiritual growth draw from Mussar and Chassidic traditions as developed over the

    past several centuries. The structure for the practices that you will find at the end of each session is

    adapted from the structure for Mussar practice designed by Dr. Alan Morinis and Dr. Shirah Bell of the

  • Mussar institute. Please refer back to the descriptions of each practice below as needed when you are

    leading your sessions.

    Torah Learning: One of the things that separate Tikkun Middot practice from secular approaches to

    growth is its grounding in traditional Jewish ideas about the middot. We draw on thousands of years of

    Jewish wisdom regarding human behavior, relationships and spirituality in thinking about how we want

    to behave. The first step in TMP is to understand the Torah perspectives on a particular middah. These

    often become aspirations and directions for our growth. We do not need to necessarily agree with

    everything we read in our literature about the middot, but these ideas are the starting point for our

    inquiry.

    Focus phrase: The focus phrase is one or two sentences that direct the mind of the practitioner towards

    awareness of the middah. For example, a focus phrase for working on thoughtful speech/Shmirat

    HaLashon could be, Death and life are in the power of the tongue/ (Shaarei

    Teshuvah, Rabbeinu Yonah). Focus phrases are repeated for a minute or two every morning when one is

    working on a particular middah. It works well to write the focus phrase on an index card and put it

    somewhere you will see it at least once each day. Some people tape them to their car dashboard, others

    on their computer. Focus phrases from traditional sources have a particular power, but they can come

    from any source. Some of the best focus phrases are made up by the practitioner. Most importantly, the

    focus phrase is repeated each morning and raises awareness of the middah throughout the day.

    Kabbalah/ (plural, Kabbalot): A small act taken upon oneself to facilitate growth in a particular

    middah. For example, if one is working on generosity, a classic Kabbalah is to give a little more money to

    people asking on the street than one is used to giving each day. Kabbalot have two purposes: creating a

    positive habit through regular repetition, and bringing unconscious resistance regarding a certain

    middah into conscious awareness. The word Kabbalah comes from the Hebrew root K.B.L for

    accept/receive. One accepts a Kabbalah upon oneself. Kabbalot need to be small and easily

    achievable.

    Cheshbon Hanefesh/ : Cheshbon Hanefesh (accounting of the soul) is a core Tikkun Middot

    practice dating back to the time of the sages of the Mishnah. This curriculum proposes two different

    ways of doing Cheshbon Hanefesh: journaling and hitbodedut.

    Journaling: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin, in his book Cheshbon Hanefesh (1810), proposes keeping a

    record of ones success and failures with a particular middah in a chart form. Each success or failure gets

    a check mark in the chart and after a period of time one can see a record of practice. Dr. Alan Morinis in

    Climbing Jacobs Ladder (2002) proposes writing a narrative journal for each day of practice with a

    middah. I personally find this form of Cheshbon Hanefesh journaling, as Morinis calls it, more effective

    and rewarding. The first stage of Mussar practice is building awareness and greater sensitivity to our

  • inner worlds and the world around us. Regular journaling is a time-tested method for building this

    sensitivity. The practice is called Cheshbon Hanefesh journaling because Cheshbon Hanefesh, literally

    Soul Accounting, means keeping track of your soul growth. The yetzer hara makes us forget those

    small, but significant moments of growth that happen all the time. See the practice sheet in the Bechirah

    Point session for tips about this type of journaling.

    Rebbe Nachman of Breslovs Hitbodedut: Hitbodedut literally means solitude. It refers to setting time to

    oneself for meditation and/or reflection, and is an essential part of any spiritual practice. For Chassidic

    master Rebbe Nachman, Hitbodedut is a particular practice of speaking out ones thoughts to God

    spontaneously, in ones native language, as a regular and even daily practice. While Rebbe Nachman

    extolled the virtues of Hitbodedut in nature, any private place works. Hitbodedut is a powerful practice

    for developing ones relationship with God, and can be an alternative Cheshbon Hanefesh practice for

    those who find journaling challenging.

    Note: The value in journaling is that one can return months later and review their experience with the

    middot. This is particularly valuable before the High Holidays when one reviews the year as part of

    teshuvah. Personally, I have found my journal to be one of the most powerful mirrors I have on my life.

    That said, some people find journaling more difficult and prefer alternative modes of Cheshbon

    Hanefesh.

    Sichat chaverim/chevruta/ : A discussion between friends. From Breslov Chassidut, a sichat

    chaverim (plural, sichot) is a discussion between friends in which each person talks about his spiritual life

    and practice. While a chevruta is typically a relationship for learning traditional Jewish texts, in Tikkun

    Middot practice, we use the chevruta relationship for both text learning and spiritual support.

    MINDFULNESS AND TIKKUN MIDDOT PRACTICE

    Tikkun Middot practice is consonant with the Institute for Jewish Spiritualitys approach to integrating

    mindfulness with Jewish spiritual practice, cultivating awareness and waking up on a moment-to-

    moment basis. The deep experience with mindfulness practice that Institute alumni bring to Tikkun

    Middot can deeply enhance these practices. Mindfulness is essential to many aspects of Tikkun Middot

    practice. For example, the first stage of Tikkun Middot and Mussar is /sensitivity. Mindful

    awareness of our surroundings and our inner landscape enhances our consciousness of choices

    available to us and thereby our freedom to wisely apply middot in our decision-making. This curriculum

    encourages participants to ground classic Mussar practices in an ongoing practice of mindfulness,

    growing in awareness of ourselves and others.

  • INTRODUCTION TO THIS TIKKUN MIDDOT CURRICULUM

    This curriculum is designed for use by adults in self-facilitated, small group learning settings. The

    curriculum starts with two perspectives that are the foundation of all middot-based spiritual practice

    adopting a stance of learning/Hitlamdut and awareness of choice/Bechirah points. The following eight

    sessions focus on a different middah, or soul trait. Each session includes a facilitators guide, a

    traditional source for study and practices. The curriculum includes the following sessions:

    1. Hitlamdut

    2. Bechira Points

    3. Anavah

    4. Savlanut and Kaas

    5. Chesed

    6. Kavod

    7. Shtikah-Shmirat HaLashon

    8. Bitachon

    9. Emunah

    10. Seder

    RATIONALE

    We chose these particular middot because they will not only help your community members grow

    spiritually as individuals, but also will strengthen the human relationships that are the bedrock of a

    healthy religious community.

    The first two topics are not actually middot, but are perspectives and practices foundational to Mussar.

    Hitlamdut is the practice of cultivating a stance of non-judgmental curiosity towards our experiences,

    and making what we learn deeply impact our lives. The mitlamed/et adopts the stance of a learner,

    constantly asking, what is happening right now? How can I learn from this and how does this relate to

    my life? One of the dangers of Mussar is that the practitioner can become overly judgmental of herself

    and others who are not working as actively on self-improvement. Adopting a stance of learner towards

    ones own character development softens this judgment and turns all our practice into growth

    opportunities. Hitlamdut practice relies on awareness and thus is a good place to start for Institute-

    trained rabbis.

    The Bechirah Point, or Choice Point, according to Mussar master Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, is that point at

    which what we know to be right meets our temptations and appetites. Our growing edge is at our

    Bechirah points. The more aware we become of these points the better chance we have to act in

    growthful, life-affirming ways with others and ourselves. We will use the language and practice of

    Bechirah points with each of our middot throughout the curriculum.

  • We start our study of middot with Anavah/Humility because more than any other middah, it goes to the

    essence of our self-concept. Anavah is a sense of healthy self-esteem, where one can accurately

    perceive how much space to take or give in any particular situation. Communities function well when

    members have appropriate Anavah and are challenged when even one person consistently takes more

    or less than their space.

    Savlanut/Patience follows Anavah because it is a building block for healthy interpersonal relations and

    communities. If we live in close contact with other people, this middah is challenged often. The inner

    capacities we develop by working on Savlanut, such as observing our own reactions, will be employed in

    all of our other middot practice. We will also explore the role of anger in spiritual life.

    The next three middot, Chesed/Lovingkindness, Kavod/Respect and Shtika-Shmirat HaLashon/Silence

    and Mindful Speech are essential for infusing communities with purpose and warmth. While Savlanut

    often involves holding oneself back from reacting, Chesed/Loving Kindness calls on us to notice the

    needs of others and give. How people practice Chesed can make the difference whether a community

    feels warm and inclusive or formal and distant.

    When Chesed is done well it, it enhances Kavod/Respect for individuals and in the community as a

    whole. Kavod means respect, honor and dignity and derives from the Hebrew root K.V.D./ ...

    meaning heavy. To treat another with Kavod is to accord them weight and significance. The opposite is

    to treat someone as /Kal, meaning light or insignificant; the Hebrew word for curse, Klalah/

    derives from the same root. We honor someone by treating them with due significance and we curse

    them when we treat them lightly. When we treat others with Kavod, we recognize the holy, divine

    image within them.

    Speech is one of our most powerful tools for creating or destroying relationships. Through the middah of

    Shtika-Shmirat HaLashon/Silence and Mindful Speech, we will explore how to listen and hear deeply

    before speaking.

    The next two middot, Bitachon/Trust, Emunah/Trustworthiness center around the idea of trust and

    security. Bitachon generally refers to trust in God and is related to Bitachon Atzmi, trust in oneself.

    Anxiety and insecurity can be major issues in our communities. Bitachon addresses how to live with a

    sense of trust. Emunah is usually translated as Faith but also means Trustworthiness. While Bitachon

    is a more general sense of trust in God and/or someone or something beyond ourselves, Emunah is the

    trust we create through acting with integrity. Do we keep our word, follow-through and show up when

    we say we will? These are Emunah questions.

    Our final middah is Seder/Order, which is compared to the clasp on a necklace on which all the other

    middot are pearls. While the clasp has little inherent value, without it all the pearls would scatter. Seder

  • helps us express all our other good middot. After a season of character development, Seder helps us

    summarize what we learned and how we want to organize and direct our practice for the future.

    USE OF SOURCES

    This curriculum draws upon classic and contemporary Mussar and Hassidic sources as well as primary

    texts from Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and rabbinic tradition. For example: the unit on Savlanut/Forbearance

    draws on the first chapter of Tomer Devorah; Anavah/Humility on Talmudic discussions and an excerpt

    from Chovot Halevavot/Duties of the Heart; and, Seder/Organization on excerpts from Sefer Cheshbon

    Hanefesh and Daat Chochmah UMussar.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Tikkun Middot and Mussar are deeply personal practices. Over many years, Ive heard from students

    that personal examples from the facilitator are extremely helpful for their own practice. For this reason I

    include anecdotes from my own life in many of the essays about the middot. I came to this practice from

    the world of Jewish social justice. As a spiritually and psychologically-inclined young adult, I was looking

    for something in Judaism that would connect the inner-life with right, ethical behavior on the

    interpersonal and societal levels.

    I was excited and pleased when I was introduced to Tikkun Middot, Mussar and the teachings of Rebbe

    Nachman of Breslov all in my first year of yeshiva studies. I completed my studies in a Breslov-based

    Yeshiva while continuing to learn the writings of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (d. 2005, Jerusalem), the greatest

    Mussar teacher of the past generation. Over the past fourteen years I have woven these various

    traditions into a nourishing personal spiritual practice. As an educator and rabbi, my goal is to bring

    these rich teachings and practices to the wider Jewish community as tools to help us fulfill our ancient

    mission of being a holy people who bring blessing and transformation to the entire world.

    GUIDELINES FOR THE FACILITATOR:

    The following guidelines are derived from the authors years of Mussar vaad facilitation experience:

    Establish a safe container: This is not a typical Jewish learning environment of debate and

    disagreement. There will be space for analysis and discussion, but the most important work that

    happens is the individuals exploration of his/her inner life in the company of fellow seekers. We

    establish safety by agreeing to certain group boundaries such as confidentiality, and through the

    facilitator modeling safe behavior and ensuring accountability to boundaries. It is critical for the

    facilitator to intervene at the first violation of the agreed-upon boundaries, such as advice giving.

    Share personal examples: Students learn a lot through the personal examples of the facilitator. You are

    most likely the most experienced person in the room. In the spirit of Hitlamdut, it is helpful for you to

  • share that you are also a student and always growing. Share specific examples from your own life with

    the different middot. Rabbis working with congregants or teachers with young students will need to

    figure out appropriate boundaries. However, it is crucial to find something you can share from your

    experiences. These will most likely be the things your students remember and what gives them chizuk

    (encouragement) to stick with the practices.

    Soften the critical voice: One of the challenges of middot development is that our critical voice can take

    hold of our efforts at growth and use any imperfection to be even more critical! This is not helpful to our

    growth. As facilitator, it is very important that you affirm each participants basic goodness. We are all

    holy souls with a pure neshamah. Tikkun Middot is aimed at removing obstacles to letting this holy soul

    shine. The more a student can connect with this essential goodness and holiness, the more success he or

    she will have with Tikkun Middot techniques.

    It is okay to say, I dont know: If you dont know an answer to a question, your students will respect

    you saying you dont know and will get back to them (again, this will depend on the boundaries of your

    relationship if you are in a rabbi/congregant situation). Then do your research and get back to them. You

    can also turn to other members of the group in the moment and ask if they know the answer. This

    models appropriate humility because we are all learning.

    Model every assignment: When you introduce a practice like journaling or Kabbalot, it works best to

    demonstrate the practice, and then have them practice it during class. While you may not be able to

    demonstrate an actual Kabbalah (like giving money to the poor) you can have people brainstorm

    Kabbalot together.

    Set sichot chaverim meeting times before leaving the room: Have chaverim set their times before they

    leave the room at the end of the session.

    Long-term chaverim develop greater trust: I recommend having the pairs stay together for the course.

    Time boundaries: Do your best to start and end on time. I like using a timer during the sharing period to

    give everyone a firm time boundary. I find that this increases safety. However, if it seems too rigid for

    your group you may want to reevaluate.

    Balance sharing/listening with discussion: It is important for groups to be able to openly discuss the

    middot or questions about practices. These open discussions are an important counterpoint to the

    heavily boundaried sharing time.

    Time and flow: Be thoughtful about the flow of activities. The facilitators guide has estimated times.

    Groups appreciate a session that flows crisply from one activity to the next.

  • A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON TIKKUN MIDDOT PRACTICE

    RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

    In the Tikkun Middot Project there is an intention to integrate insights and practices from mindfulness

    into the development of middot. Mindfulness has been central to the work of the Institute for Jewish

    Spirituality since its formation. It shares with Mussar the intention to cultivate ones inner life through

    awareness and to train ones heart and mind in order to bring greater goodness to the world.

    In the rush and bustle of daily life, it is very difficult to learn to be connected to ones inner life. We all

    tend to react to situations based on our habits. We are all conditioned to protect ourselves from pain

    and to seek the pleasant and the known. This becomes our automatic reactions to circumstances that

    stimulate or trigger us. In mindfulness practice, through paying careful attention, we begin to observe

    these patterns and gain the space and freedom from them to evaluate how well they are serving our

    most sincere values and goals.

    Mindfulness practice is the art of discrimination. It is the cultivation of wisdom. We learn to distinguish

    between habits, thoughts, behaviors and patterns that are helpful and those that are habitual and may

    not serve our deeper values. We might say we are distinguishing the false self or the separate self

    from the more authentic self or soul. The process of discrimination depends on the development of

    awareness or the ability to see clearly how our minds work, how our habitual minds are triggered by

    circumstances and how our thoughts lead us to speech and action.

    In order to accomplish this, it is enormously helpful to have some silent time and gentle instruction. This

    has been a central feature of Institute for Jewish Spirituality retreats. We simply sit and learn to observe

    the movement of our bodies, feelings and thoughts. This is the formal sitting practice of mindfulness

    meditation. It is also valuable to be able to ask questions about ones inner experience in a safe setting

    (either in a group of people practicing or one on one with the teacher). The silence minimizes outside

    distraction and helps develop concentration. In the early stages of practice we return again and again to

    the felt sense of our body in this moment, often resting our attention on the breath as it comes and

    goes. This allows the mind to settle down because we do not add stimulation and we resist following our

    thoughts. The settled or clear mind is not empty, however. It is rather more stable and able to perceive

    its own content and process.

    Instruction and dialogue give language to the inner experience. We come to understand universal

    patterns as they play themselves out in our own lives. We see how tension and constriction (including

    fear, judgment, anger, blame, shame) arise naturally. They are a product of our conditioning. They seem

    to offer protection but often increase suffering. They come with full blown narratives, analyses and

    explanations. We have a strong tendency to follow their lead and to believe them.

  • In mindfulness practice we dont punish ourselves for these reactions. We dont push them away. We

    acknowledge that they are themselves unpleasant. We practice softening and allowing ourselves to be

    with the truth of this moment in whatever way it is appearing. We resist following every thought that

    appears in the mind. We begin to see that a lot of the thoughts are fanciful, dream like, repetitive,

    habitual, flimsy. We breathe into the physical area where we feel the most tension. We wait and rest

    back in what is true right now. We allow space to open. In that space is more freedom. Response is

    spacious. Reactivity tends to be constricted or less free.

    The practice of mindfulness has as its intention to continue to observe what is arising from moment to

    moment in ones experience. It is a practice of telling ourselves the truth. In this process we observe or

    witness the nature of mind, we see how conflict occurs, how illusion is born and grows, how connected

    each moment is to the next and how transient is every thought, experience, conclusion, sense of

    completion and perfection. We also practice setting an intention for ourselves, such as the paying

    attention to each breath, and then we notice how distracted we become. We notice the possibility and

    effort it takes to return once again to our intention. This practice allows us to appreciate the power of

    intention and the power of teshuvah, returning again and again without remorse or recrimination to the

    task we have set.

    In mindfulness practice, we seek to bring sustained attention to our inner lives. We affirm through our

    own experience that the act of pausing, listening and paying attention serves to reveal the One that

    eternally dwells within as well as the obstacles that obscure our sense of connection to the One. We

    create communities and engage in practices to align ourselves with the unity and patiently reveal the

    insubstantiality of the obstacles that separate us from it. We work carefully, with great compassion for

    ourselves and each other and the process itself.

    Mindfulness is a mode of careful attentiveness to the whole of ones experience. It emphasizes telling

    the truth, respecting ones experience, responding rather than reacting, and gently returning ones

    attention again and again to the initial intention of the practice. It involves an awareness of

    impermanence, and the interconnection of all that is and a deep appreciation of the fact that every act

    has an intention and a consequence.

    WHAT IS SUCCESS?

    In mindfulness or any spiritual practice we seek an inner success that differs greatly from the usual

    sense of the word. We are seeking to understand spiritual principles. Mindfulness is conducive to this

    learning because there is no content to master. Rather it is about awakening to the truth of ones own

    experience. Ones own experience will be unique and constantly changing. In the process one is

    confronted with how frightening it is to let go of control that comes from the mastery of content.

  • When we simply rest in the awareness of what is arising and passing from moment to moment we often

    assume that something is supposed to happen that will show us we are on the right track. We expect a

    particular kind of experience. However, this is not the case. Rather we are encouraged to be accepting

    and trusting of whatever arises. Because everyone is having their own interior experience, there is no

    way to judge success or failure by comparing or competing as we are accustomed to doing in school and

    in life. Rather, by setting an intention, losing and regaining attention, and falling asleep and waking up

    again and again we are cultivating patience, tolerance, compassion and love.

    THE RELATION BETWEEN MINDFULNESS AND MIDDOT

    Mindfulness and the cultivation of awakened attention are central to all the middot work which asks us

    to pay attention to the inner life. We set as an intention, for instance, the cultivation of generosity. We

    use mindfulness to notice the experience of generosity or its absence. Rather than judge or attack

    ourselves when we fall short, the quality of mindfulness allows us to simply know our experience,

    pleasant or unpleasant, as it is revealed to us. We might notice that when we are generous our mind is

    more relaxed; we are less fearful, less tense. With the steadiness of mindfulness we acquire inner

    knowledge of how our lives work. We see how the development of the middot strengthens our hearts,

    adds clarity to our minds and supports the emergence of wise decisions and caring actions.

    Mindfulness itself is a factor potentially present in each moment we show up in our lives. All the middot

    are our inheritance and our potential. They all exist within us and are called forth as we practice and

    work together in sacred, intimate and intentional community. Mindfulness like generosity, gratitude,

    humility and all the other middot exists only in this present moment. Indeed, part of the practice of

    middot and mindfulness is to recognize how rare and challenging it is to be in this moment. Likewise,

    each of the middot shares with mindfulness a sense of ease, spaciousness and non-constriction.

    Mindfulness and our soul qualities are not fear based. They are not worried about having enough,

    knowing enough or doing enough. They are not grasping. They arise from contentment with this

    moment rather than the habitual pursuit of what is coming next or regretting what just happened.

  • HITLAMDUT: A STANCE OF LEARNING INTRODUCTORY SESSION

    KEY IDEAS

    Tikkun Middot practice offers a structured way to grow and bring more holiness into ones life

    and the life of a community.

    Adopting a stance of learning is a key first step in Tikkun Middot practice.

    Tikkun Middot practice involves group and partner meetings as well as personal practice.

    PRACTICE

    The curriculum introduces various practices over the course of the first several sessions. We start with

    the practice called Kabbalot.

    1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (1015 MINUTES)

    Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

    in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

    OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

    open the affective, spiritual part of their being. The activity shouldnt take more than five minutes.

    DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each persons attention towards

    the present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention from the other

    before switching.

    SESSION SCHEDULE

    Contemplative Opening 1015 minutes

    Introduction to the Tikkun Middot Project 15 minutes

    Vaad check-in 30 minutes

    Break 5 minutes

    Learning: Hitlamdut 3540 minutes

    Practice: Kabbalot 15 minutes

  • Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

    something as small as enjoying a meal.

    Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

    of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

    something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

    The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

    listener can ask questions as appropriate.

    After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

    Note: If this is the first time this group is meeting, you may decide to skip these opening exercises and

    start with the introduction and guidelines below. Use your discretion.

    2. INTRODUCTION TO THE TIKKUN MIDDOT PROJECT (15 MINUTES)

    This is the time to introduce your group to the key features of the program. To prepare, it will be helpful

    for you to read over the introduction chapter. Main points include:

    Tikkun Middot practice offers a structured way to grow and bring more holiness into ones life and the

    life of the community. The middot are soul traits like trust, patience, courage and humility.

    You may want to share this metaphor from Mussar teacher, Rabbi David Lapin, to explain the role of the

    middot. An airplane has instruments and controls. The pilot uses the instruments, like the altimeter, to

    tell how high or low the plane is flying. Similarly, we have instruments to tell us how we are doing. These

    instruments are our emotional and physical state, the quality of our relationships with others and the

    quality of our spiritual lives. Our body is constantly giving us information about how we are doing.

    Likewise, our relationships with our children, partners, and colleagues are sources of information. When

    the plane is flying too low, the pilot does not bang on the altimeter to get it to fly higher. Rather, the

    pilot uses the controls. Similarly with us, if a relationship is not going well, it is not helpful to bang on the

    other person. Rather, we need to use our controls. Our controls are our middot. Tikkun Middot is the

    practice of becoming aware of our capacity to choose to apply middot which enable us to live in a

    soulful way, aligned with our values.

    Tikkun Middot practice draws heavily from the Mussar tradition. Mussar means instruction/discipline

    and implies turning oneself in a positive direction (sur mei-ra turn away from the wrong path, Psalms

    34). In some ways, Mussar is as old as the Torah itself (kedoshim thiyu you shall be holy, Leviticus

    19:2). Mussar developed as a distinct genre of Jewish ethical literature and practice starting in the 11th

    century. Maimonides, the Kabbalists of Safed, Hassidim and 19th century Lithuanian talmudists all

    produced Mussar literature. Rabbi Israel Salanter, a leading 19th century Lithuanian Torah scholar,

  • developed the Mussar movement to systematize and popularize Mussar teachings and practices. In the

    past two decades there has been a Mussar renaissance in North American liberal Jewish communities,

    driven primarily by the work of Dr. Alan Morinis of The Mussar Institute (TMI) and Rabbi Ira Stone of The

    Mussar Leadership Institute. This curriculum is based on traditional Mussar sources and is influenced by

    TMIs work in communicating this ancient tradition to modern audiences.

    Tikkun Middot practice takes place in three modalities: the vaad (the periodic group meeting), the

    chevruta (the partner meeting in between vaad meetings) and personal practice (including meditations,

    small challenges we give ourselves, and reflection).

    GUIDELINES

    Tikkun Middot vaadim and chevruta work best when participants feel safe enough to share with each

    other about their personal journeys and practice with the middot. To create a container that encourages

    such sharing, we ask that vaad participants read and agree to the following guidelines, which can also

    be found in the format of a handout at the end of this chapter. Please photocopy and distribute the

    handout to vaad participants.

    Know that there is genuine freedom in the vaad. We do not engage in forced sharing. Every

    invitation to speak and participate is just that: an invitation. Passing or staying quiet is perfectly

    acceptable.

    We do not engage in fixing, advising, saving or setting straight (Parker J. Palmer). Each of us is

    here to refine our ability to listen to the still, small voice inside. We are working to trust that we

    will each find our own way and refrain from acting on the desire to give advice. Open questions

    that help the speaker probe deeper into his or her inner life are welcome at designated times.

    Give your full attention to the person speaking. Do not engage in side conversations. Use I

    statements when speaking. Be aware of how much space you are taking up.

    Respect difference. Remind yourself that other people are not failed attempts at being you!

    Cultivate curiosity.

    Each person in the vaad commits to both conventional and double confidentiality. Conventional

    confidentiality means that we do not speak to anyone outside the group about what is shared in

    this group. Double confidentiality means that when a person shares a confidence that we sense

    makes them vulnerable, we do not raise the issue again with that person or anyone else in the

    group, without the invitation of the person in question.

  • AGENDA

    Each vaad meeting is structured as follows:

    1. Contemplative opening

    2. Check-in about our experiences with the middah

    3. Learn Torah about the next middah

    4. Review and decide on practices for the next period of time

    Since tonight is the opening session, the agenda is slightly different in that we will start with sharing

    about our spiritual journeys rather that talking about experiences with a middah.

    3. VAAD CHECK-IN (30 MINUTES)

    For the first session of the series, this is the time for people to make extended introductions. Give the

    group a minute of silence to think of an important spiritual moment from any time in their life. Give

    everyone three minutes to share this moment and how it factors into what brings them to participate in

    this group. You can invite them to include other details from their spiritual journey.

    Note: this is not a time for advice giving, making comments or any other type of cross talk. Each

    member of the group will get his or her turn to speak. It is very important for establishing trust

    and safety that the facilitator uphold the guidelines and interrupt any advice giving or criticism

    of each others comments during the vaad sharing. It is the facilitators responsibility to make

    sure that people stay to the agreed time boundary. Allow for at least one minute of silence

    after the check-in.

    4. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

    5. LEARNING: HITLAMDUT (3540 MINUTES)

    The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the practice or middah.

    INTRODUCTION TO HITLAMDUT (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Hitlamdut based on your

    own study and practice. Then introduce the text, e.g. give context if it is a Torah story or a passage from

    the Talmud. This curriculum provides three options for study during the vaad.

    1. Introductory Essay: A short one-two page essay about the middah or topic. It includes personal

    anecdotes, the authors interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written

    in a conversational tone and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in

  • classic Beit Midrash style text study. The essay is also useful for the facilitator to get a quick

    overview of the middah or topic as background for leading the vaad.

    2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet. It includes a brief introduction to the text, primary

    sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary sources in

    Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

    3. For Further Study: Short primary sources with study questions that can serve as extensions

    during the vaad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study outside of the

    vaad, or can be substituted for the Learn the Sources text if time is very limited.

    Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

    of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

    materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

    though they used different source sheets.

    CHEVRUTA (15-20 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

    everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

    answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

    together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

    modalities including full group discussion, pair work and individual contemplation.

    DISCUSSION (10-15 minutes): Discuss the main points in the text.

    6. PRACTICE: KABBALOT (15 MINUTES)

    Now is the time to introduce the first Tikkun Middot practice Kabbalot. A Kabbalah is a small and

    attainable challenge that a practitioner takes on to develop a middah. Please see the introduction for

    more information. Kabbalot, a traditional Mussar practice, are designed to bring the unconscious into

    the light of awareness by creating inner tension. They are also designed to habituate oneself to positive

    behaviors.

    It is essential that Kabbalot are easy to do. A Kabbalah that is difficult will backfire by arousing all the

    negative messages of the inner critic (e.g. I am a failure, I can never stick with these types of practices,

    this is not worth the effort, etc.) These practices are called Kabbalot (from the Hebrew root for receive)

    because one accepts them upon oneself and one receives understanding from them.

    REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): Review the practice sheet with the group and offer examples of

    your own experience with Kabbalot.

  • DECIDE ON A KABBALAH (5 minutes): In pairs or in silent contemplation, each member decides on a

    personal Kabbalah, suggested in the practice sheet or made up by the participant.

    CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each participant shares the Kabbalah that they will practice this month.

    Note: Before they leave, have chevruta pairs set a time to meet before the next group session.

  • HITLAMDUT

    The term Hitlamdut/ means to cultivate a stance of curiosity and openness towards all of lifes

    experiences, and to internalize what we learn. A Mitlamed or mitlamedet/ is someone who can

    see how any particular situation or learning applies to her life. The word is the reflexive form of the

    verb, To Learn or , in Hebrew. Maimonides, in his Laws of Torah Study, writes that Hitlamdut is the

    essence of Torah learning. Torah learning is not just for the sake of gaining information. Rather, its

    purpose is to impact and transform our lives. Hitlamdut is the quality that makes our learning

    transformative. When we practice Hitlamdut:

    1. Our learning comes alive: Habit and learning by rote undermine spiritual growth. When we read

    the Torah portion of the week for the umpteenth time and think, Ive read this story about

    Abraham before, and feel nothing new, we are not practicing hitlamdut. You are a mitlamed/et

    when you hear the Abraham story again and see something you never saw before. You see the

    story with new eyes and realize how a certain detail relates to your life. Such realizations

    energize us, make the texts come alive, and keep us growing. This is one type of hitlamdut.

    2. We grow from our experiences: We experience all kinds of things, good and bad, all day long

    our children dont do what we ask them, we get an award at work, a storm knocks out our

    electricity for a week. These experiences may not impact us at all. We may take them in stride or

    we may explode in anger and then move on. The mitlamed/et looks for the learnings in these

    experiences. Hmm, my children are still not listening when I ask them to set the table. What

    can I learn about myself from this? Maybe I dont speak to them in the right tone? Maybe I need

    to play with them more before dinner time? The mitlamed/et reads life as learning

    opportunities.

    Hitlamdut is not a middah. It is a stance of learning and growth with which we approach life.

    Hitlamdut is the first step in Mussar practice. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zl, the late 20th century Mussar

    master, warned of two dangers when beginning to work on middot. The first is arrogance. Whenever we

    work to improve ourselves we are in danger of thinking we are better than others who arent trying to

    become more kind, generous or patient. Ive experienced this most starkly in my eating practice.

    Because of health reasons, my wife and I eat primarily a raw-vegan diet. Many times in my workplace

    during lunch I feel superior with my salad to those people eating pizza and fries. Such an attitude is

    obviously bad for relationships, but it is also bad for your own spiritual growth. The other danger is self-

    criticism and despair. Our efforts at self-improvement usually start with enthusiasm and energy. I

    remember a time I wanted to become more organized. I committed to keeping track of my activities

    every 20 minutes of the day. I kept a detailed journal for about four days. I then couldnt keep it up and I

    got sick. I think my body was telling me that I took on too much. This is what Rav Wolbe calls the

    the force of inner rebellion. Similarly Ive heard from many Mussar students over the years

  • that their practice is just giving fodder to their inner critic. When they cant journal every day or

    remember to focus on the middot, they feel like failures.

    Hitlamdut is an antidote to these two challenges. When we practice Hitlamdut we are just practicing

    something, not claiming that we can do it well. When I want to work on the middah of

    Savlanut/Patience while standing in a long check-out line at the supermarket, I will say to myself, What

    would a patient person feel like now? rather than force myself to actually be patient1. The difference in

    these approaches is profound. If everything is just practice, than there is nothing for me to be arrogant

    about. Im not claiming to be patient, Im just practicing patience. Similarly, this approach undermines

    the critical and rebellious voice. What is there to criticize or rebel against? Im just practicing something.

    At a gathering of his students in North America, Rav Wolbe asked, What is the main thing you learned

    from me? One student said, Patience, another, Chesed, and another Trust and so on until the

    dozens of students answered. At the end Rav Wolbe exclaimed, I have no students! What are you

    talking about? they asked, We learned so much from you. He answered, My main thing is Hitlamdut.

    That is what I am here to teach! A stance of Hitlamdut is the beginning of all middot growth2.

    We apply a stance of Hitlamdut to all we do in our practice. One aspect is observation. This is a place

    where mindfulness practice dovetails nicely with Tikkun Middot and Mussar. We try to see the familiar

    as new. A classic practice is to take a rote activity like brushing teeth and notice how you brush your

    teeth. Or notice how you say a brachah (blessing) that you say many times a day. See outside of the

    habit and watch yourself or others. Another aspect is an attitude of acceptance towards our

    imperfection. If we feel we need to be perfect, there is no room for learning. When I can accept that I

    am not perfect at Chesed or organization, there is room to learn. Finally, the perspective that life

    continuously presents me with learning opportunities, helps me see my experiences as such. The goal of

    Hitlamdut is to break out of rote living and let the growth begin!

    Questions for Consideration

    What are one or two areas of your life in which it is easiest for you to show interest? These can

    include an area of your work, family life or hobby. In what ways does your focus in one of these

    areas tend to get rote or routine?

    In what ways can it be difficult or challenging for you to pay attention outside of these areas of

    interest? For example, I am naturally drawn to the inner life and can easily spend hours reading

    1 I heard this technique from Rabbi Avi Fertig, author of Bridging the Gap.

    2 As told by Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe, Rav Wolbes grandson.

  • spiritual texts and meditating. I find it difficult to pay attention to and show interest in home

    repairs, even when these are calling out to me!

    Another aspect of Hitlamdut practice is letting what we learn make a real impact on the way we

    feel and think about the world. What is an example of something you observed recently that

    really had an impact on you, or got inside? How did it feel?

    Imagine applying Hitlamdut to your Torah study. How might this change the way you study?

    What is a recent example of a connection you were able to make in your Torah study?

    In what ways might practicing Hitlamdut make a difference in your roles as a rabbi, friend,

    parent, colleague or spouse?

  • LEARN THE SOURCES

    A STANCE OF LEARNING AND GROWTH: HITLAMDUT

    The Hebrew word Hitlamdut means to adopt a stance of being a learner and have what we learn

    impact us. It is the reflexive form of the Hebrew root for learning L.M.D. .... Our source text is from

    Aley Shur, volume 2, a popular contemporary book of Mussar instruction by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (d.

    2005, Israel) and studied regularly by thousands of people around the world. Rav Wolbe was one of the

    foremost teachers of Mussar in the second half of the 20th century and advocated Hitlamdut, or being a

    mitlamed/et (one who engages everything s/he does as a learner) as the starting point and most

    important aspect of working on our middot. He warns that working on ones middot often can lead to

    arrogance and destructive self-criticism. Hitlamdut serves as an antidote because one who sees himself

    as simply practicing and learning will diffuse negative self-criticism and has nothing to laud over other

    people. Rav Wolbe calls this approach a way of life and can be applied to book learning and learning

    from life in general.

    Rav Wolbe describes the practice of Hitlamdut by quoting from the Mishna (220 CE) and a commentary

    by Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv (d. 1898, Kelm, Lithuania). Rav Simcha Zissel was one of the primary disciples

    of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (d.1883, Konigsberg), the founder of the 19th Century Mussar movement.

    Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? One who learns from every person, as it says, From all my students I

    gained wisdom. Mishnah Avot 4:1

    R. Simcha Zissel Ziv, founder of the Kelm Yeshiva, comments on this famous Mishnaic teaching:

    Every person that has a special feeling for a certain endeavor will be extremely sensitive when

    she sees any little thing having to do with that endeavor. For example: When a tailor meets

    someone he will immediately look at his clothes, the shoemaker at the shoes, the milliner at

    the hat. Similarly a merchant will be very sensitive to any words or actions that will have an

    impact on his merchandise. Another type of person would not see or hear any of these things

    because his heart is not given to inquire and investigate anything from these matters because

    he has no desire for them all of this, if one is not engaged in such activities will not notice

    them when performed by others. If this is the case, then one who learns from every person,

    behold, this is a great merchant, he trades in everything and thus he understands the

    necessity to learn from the other and thus is called Wise.

    R. Simcha Zissels intention is thus: The tailor looks just at the others suit, the shoemaker only at the

    shoes, the milliner only at his hat. Similarly the one who is [careful about performing all the mitzvoth]

    only looks at how the other observes the details of the mitzvoth and the lover of Chesed (acts of

  • kindness) at his acts of loving kindness. But the one who learns from all people, learns from the other

    ALL that she has to teach, even things that until now were outside the realm of his interests he

    understands and learns from the other. The one who learns from all people is open to learning from

    everything that she sees in the world.

    Questions for Consideration:

    In what ways do your natural area(s) of focus tend to get rote or routine?

    In what ways can it be difficult to look for learnings outside of your natural area of focus?

    Another aspect of Hitlamdut practice is letting what we learn make a real impact on the way we

    feel and think about the world. What is an example of something you observed recently that

    really had an impact on you, or got inside. How did it feel?

    Imagine applying Hitlamdut to your Torah study. How might this change the way you study?

    What is a recent example of a connection you were able to make in your Torah study?

    In what ways might practicing Hitlamdut make a difference in your roles as a rabbi, friend,

    parent, colleague or spouse?

  • FOR FURTHER STUDY

    HITLAMDUT SOURCES3

    The following sources from the Babylonian Talmud and a commentary on the Mishnah explore different

    aspects of Hitlamdut.

    SOURCE 1: BABYLONIAN TALMUD ERUVIN 100B

    Rabbi Yochanan said: If the Torah had not been given, we could learn modesty from a cat, not stealing

    from ants, fidelity from a pigeon, and proper sexual relations from a rooster who appeases its partner

    before engaging in sexual relations.

    Questions for Consideration:

    What is something you have learned from animals or the natural world?

    What conditions need to be there for you to engage in this type of learning?

    SOURCE 2: RABBI OVADIA OF BARTENURA (D. CIRCA 1515, JERUSALEM)

    Commentary on Mishnah Avot 4:1 (Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? One who learns from every person)

    " -

    :

    One who learns from all people: Even though the other is of lesser stature. Since he is not concerned for

    his own honor and is willing to learn from those of lesser stature, it is evident that the wisdom he

    acquires is for the sake of heaven and not simply for him to show off and aggrandize himself through it.

    Questions for Consideration:

    Rav Ovadia points out that being overly concerned with our self-image can get in the way of real

    learning. In what ways has this particular obstacle impacted you?

    What are other obstacles do you encounter to learning from others?

    3 These sources are culled from Aley Shur II, Hitlamdut

  • SOURCE 3: BABYLONIAN TALMUD SOTAH 2A

    Rebbi4 says: Why is the Torah portion about the Nazir (the person who vows to refrain from wine and

    having his/her hair cut) put next to the Torah portion about the Sotah (the suspected adulteress who

    was assumed to have engaged in excessive drinking which led to her infidelity)? To teach that all who

    saw the adulteress woman in her degraded state would surely swear off drinking.

    Questions for Consideration:

    Rebbi is teaching us that when we see someone having a hard time, rather than blame them for

    their struggles, we should look at ourselves and know that we are vulnerable to the same

    problems.

    What is your instinctive reaction when you hear about a friend, acquaintance or colleague got

    him or herself into trouble? If blame is in the mix of reactions, why do you think this is?

    Choose an incident where you witnessed or heard about someone struggling with consequences

    of poor decisions. Now apply what they are struggling with to your own life how might you be

    similarly vulnerable?

    Another aspect of Hitlamdut is treating all that we do, including just going through life, as

    practice. We are always just practicing, and should not be so self-righteous or arrogant to think

    that we are perfect or invulnerable. Why is this approach important to Hitlamdut, being a self-

    reflective learner?

    4 Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, or Judah the Prince, redacted the Mishna, the foundational text of Jewish oral law, around

    the beginning of the 3rd

    century C.E.

  • HITLAMDUT PRACTICES

    KABBALOT

    A Kabbalah is a small, concrete practice that you accept on yourself to grow in a particular middah.

    Kabbalot are best if they are limited and concrete and easy to do. The goal of a Kabbalah is to bring

    unconscious thoughts and feelings into awareness, thus making choice possible. If a Kabbalah is

    continued for several weeks it can also serve to habituate the practitioner to a desired behavior.

    Part one: For the first weeks of this time of practice choose a small, routine practice in your life from

    which to learn each dayfor example, brushing teeth. The idea is not to brush your teeth better, but to

    notice what you can learn from the act of brushing your teeth. If you say blessings over food or other

    things regularly, what can you learn from the actual practice of saying the blessing? Again, the goal is

    not to say the blessing with more kavanah (intention), but to glean something from the experience of

    how you say the blessing.

    Part two: For the second weeks of this time of practice notice what you can learn from the small actions

    of others at least 3x/each day. These can be three things from the same person or from different

    people. For example, in synagogue one Shabbat a friend of mine handed me a Bible just before we got

    to the Torah reading. I was just about to go get one for myself. I learned from him about seeing the

    needs of other people and doing something kind for another person. The goal of the practice is to open

    us to noticing others with an eye toward what we can learn.

    SICHAT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA

    A sichat chaverim literally means discussion among friends. In Rebbe Nachmans circle it meant a

    conversation about spiritual matters in which each party shares their experience with spiritual growth.

    The purpose of the conversation is to give support and inspire each other by hearing stories about

    practice.

    Set up a 20-30 minute period of time to talk with your partner as least once between meetings. During

    this meeting you will split the time evenly. Choose one person to talk first. During the first persons time

    the listeners job is to give full attention to the speaker and ask questions that will help the speaker

    understand his or her situation better. Do not give any advice or try to solve a problem. Use a timer to

    insure that the session is split evenly between both partners.

  • A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON HITLAMDUT

    RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

    In middot practice there are many opportunities for reflection in journaling and conversation. This is of

    value in building trust and support and harvesting the wisdom that grows as we practice. However, the

    practice of cultivating middot occurs in the moment, and is based on ones ability to cultivate awareness

    and a relaxed and accepting attitude toward what is present right now.

    Into this spacious place we bring the quality of hitlamdut non-judgmental exploration of the truth of

    my experience, moment to moment. In mindfulness practice this quality is sometimes called curiosity,

    investigation or beginners mind.

    Hitlamdut is the capacity to ask ourselves open ended questions such as: what is true in this moment?

    In mindfulness practice, we tend to move our attention first to the body. We ask ourselves: What am I

    feeling in my body right now? Is there heat? Is there pressure? Where is it? In the stomach? Chest?

    Throat? Is it moving? Or pulsing? Does it seem stuck? Then I might ask myself if this experience is

    pleasant or unpleasant or neither.

    I take a few breaths. I am practicing hitlamdut: can I observe my experience with more precision? Can I

    awaken more interest in this moment? Am I frightened? Am I numb? Am I sad? With greater practice

    and more space I might be able to observe my thoughts. I move to the balcony of my awareness. I

    inhabit the role of witness. There is no agenda except to see the patterns of thought. What is running

    through my mind in this moment? Are these stories true? Can I allow them to pass through the mind like

    clouds in the sky?

  • Vaad Guidelines

    Know that there is genuine freedom in the vaad. We do not engage in forced sharing.

    Every invitation to speak and participate is just that: an invitation. Passing or staying quiet is

    perfectly acceptable.

    We do not engage in fixing, advising, saving or setting straight (Parker J. Palmer). Each of

    us is here to refine our ability to listen to the still, small voice inside. We are working to trust

    that we will each find our own way and refrain from acting on the desire to give advice.

    Open questions that help the speaker probe deeper into his or her inner life are welcome at

    designated times.

    Give your full attention to the person speaking. Do not engage in side conversations. Use I

    statements when speaking. Be aware of how much space you are taking up.

    Respect difference. Remind yourself that other people are not failed attempts at being you!

    Cultivate curiosity.

    Each person in the vaad commits to both conventional and double confidentiality.

    Conventional confidentiality means that we do not speak to anyone outside the group

    about what is shared in this group. Double confidentiality means that when a person shares

    a confidence that we sense makes them vulnerable, we do not raise the issue again with

    that person or anyone else in the group, without the invitation of the person in question.

  • THE BECHIRAH/CHOICE POINT

    KEY IDEAS

    Our choice-points are the growing edge of our soul curriculum

    Each positive choice we make leads to spiritual growth

    The location of our choice points is a matter of nature and nurture

    PRACTICES:

    Learning

    Cheshbon Hanefesh

    Sichat Chaverim/Chevruta

    1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (510 MINUTES)

    Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

    in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

    OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

    open the affective, spiritual part of their being. The activity shouldnt take more than five minutes.

    DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each persons attention towards

    the present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention from the other

    before switching.

    SESSION SCHEDULE

    Contemplative Opening 510 minutes

    Vaad 3540 minutes

    Break 5 minutes

    Learning: The Bechirah/Choice Point 3540 minutes

    Practice: Learning, Cheshbon Hanefesh, 15 minutes and Sichot Chaverim/Chevruta

  • Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

    something as small as enjoying a meal.

    Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

    of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

    something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

    The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

    listener can ask questions as appropriate.

    After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

    2. VAAD (3540 MINUTES)

    The purpose of the vaad is to provide group attention and accountability for each member regarding

    the middah and practices of the past period of time.

    REVIEW (3-5 minutes): Allow some time for people to review their journals and think about what they

    want to say during their time in the vaad. Remind them that the main practices of the last month were

    Kabbalot about Hitlamdut.

    SHARING (3 minutes per person): Try to keep the vaad sharing to no more than 30 minutes. If the

    group is over eight people you may want to break up into small groups of 34 people to save time.

    Note: It is important to observe the time boundary during the sharing. Have a timer with a bell

    that will alert the speaker that his or her time is up. People can finish their thought or sentence,

    but if they go on considerably longer, the facilitator needs to remind them that their time is up.

    It is very important to maintain the time boundary. This helps members feel safe. There is no

    cross-talk during the sharing portion of the vaad. It is ok to say thank you or something

    equally benign after someone speaks. Warm and accepting body language is just as good. If a

    member starts to give advice or comment, it is very important to interrupt and remind the

    group that we dont have cross talk during the vaad because we want to maintain a safe space.

    (You can refer to the guidelines).

    SILENCE (1 minute): One minute of silence is important to give people quiet time to honor what was

    just shared and to process before entering a discussion.

    DISCUSSION (10 minutes): This time allows for open discussion and sharing ideas about the middah.

    Ask people to share insights or questions they have about the middah or the Kabbalot practice. If you

    divided the group into small groups, bring everyone back together for the discussion.

  • Note: This is not the time for advice giving or advice seeking. If someone does advise, direct

    them to talk about their own experience of what was said or about the issue. If someone asks

    for advice, redirect the question to the issue in general and not his/her specific case.

    3. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

    4. LEARNING: BECHIRAH/CHOICE POINT (3540 MINUTES)

    The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the middah or practice.

    JOURNALING (35 minutes): Unlike most learning segments in this curriculum, this session starts with a

    brief exercise. Have participants write for 3-5 minutes about anything noteworthy that happened in

    their day. They can write in full sentences or bullet-points. You will come back to this journal entry later

    for an exercise on identifying Bechirah points.

    INTRODUCTION TO BECHIRAH POINT (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Bechirah points based

    on your own study and practice. Then introduce the text, e.g. give context if it is a Torah story or a

    passage from the Talmud. This curriculum provides three options for study during the vaad.

    1. Introductory Essay: A short one-two page essay about the middah or topic. It includes personal

    anecdotes, the authors interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written

    in a conversational tone and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in

    classic Beit Midrash style text study. The essay is also useful for the facilitator to get a quick

    overview of the middah or topic as background for leading the vaad.

    2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet. It includes a brief introduction to the text, primary

    sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary sources in

    Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

    3. For Further Study: Short primary sources with study questions that can serve as extensions

    during the vaad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study outside of the

    vaad, or can be substituted for the Learn the Sources text if time is very limited.

    Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

    of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

    materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

    though they used different source sheets.

    CHEVRUTA (1015 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

    everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

  • answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

    together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

    modalities including full group discussion, pair work and individual contemplation.

    DISCUSSION (10 minutes): Discuss the main points in the text.

    EXERCISE: IDENTIFYING BECHIRAH POINTS (10 minutes): Send people back to chevruta to review

    their journal entries about their day. Give each person five minutes to identify at least one Bechirah

    point related to an experience they wrote about in their journal entry. Have each person explain why

    his/her experience was a Bechirah point and what middot were involved. After five minutes, ask people

    to switch their focus to the second person.

    FEEDBACK/QUESTIONS (5 minutes): Take feedback and questions from the exercise. Reassure people

    that they will have ample time to practice this technique over the next month, and it is fine if the

    concept does not come naturally yet.

    5. PRACTICE: LEARNING, CHESHBON HANEFESH JOURNALING AND SICHOT

    CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA (15 MINUTES)

    The new practice for this session is Cheshbon Hanefesh (soul accounting). See the glossary of practices in

    the introduction for a longer description of this practice. In short, Cheshbon Hanefesh is a core Tikkun

    Middot practice dating back to the time of the sages of the Mishnah. This curriculum proposes two

    different ways of doing Cheshbon Hanefesh.

    Journaling: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin, in his book Cheshbon Hanefesh (1810), proposes keeping a

    record of ones success and failures with a particular middah in a chart form. Each success or failure gets

    a check mark in the chart and after a period of time one can see a record of practice. Dr. Alan Morinis in

    Climbing Jacobs Ladder (2002) proposes writing a narrative journal for each day of practice with a

    middah. I personally find this form of Cheshbon Hanefesh journaling, as Morinis calls it, more effective

    and rewarding. (See the practice sheet for tips about this type of journaling.)

    Rebbe Nachmans Hitbodedut: Hitbodedut literally means solitude or isolation. It can also refer to

    meditation. Hitbodedut, or time to oneself, is an essential part of any spiritual practice. Rebbe

    Nachmans Hitbodedut is a particular practice of speaking aloud ones thoughts to God in a spontaneous

    way in ones native language. Rebbe Nachman advised his followers to practice Hitbodedut daily as a

    form of Cheshbon Hanefesh. Hitbodedut can be effective no matter the length of time a person spends

    on it. It is important to find a place and time for the Hitbodedut in which you will not be interrupted and

    can be guaranteed privacy. Rebbe Nachman extolled the virtues of doing Hitbodedut in nature and,

  • indeed, nature can be an especially good place to practice. But any private place can work. Hitbodedut is

    a powerful practice for developing ones relationship with God. It can also be an alternative Cheshbon

    Hanefesh practice for those who find journaling too difficult.

    Note: The value in journaling is that one can return months later and review their experience

    with the middot. This is particularly valuable before the High Holidays when one reviews the

    year as part of teshuvah. Personally, I have found my journal to be one of the most powerful

    mirrors I have on my life. That said, some people find journaling more difficult and prefer

    alternative modes of Cheshbon Hanefesh.

    REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): Review the practice sheet carefully with the group. Give an

    example of your own experience with Cheshbon Hanefesh. Solicit questions about the practice and ask

    for reflections from participants about their experiences with the practice (this functions as a form of

    mutual support).

    DECIDE ON A TIME AND METHOD FOR DOING CHESHBON HANEFESH (5 minutes): In pairs or in

    silent contemplation, each member decides on a time and method for Chesbhon Hanefesh journaling or

    Hitbodedut. This could be something suggested in the practice sheet or something made up by the

    participant.

    CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each person shares how/when they will do Cheshbon Hanefesh this

    month.

    Note: Have chevruta partners set a time to meet before the next group session. They should set

    up this time before they leave the session.

  • THE BECHIRAH POINT

    RABBI ELIYAHU DESSLER (D. 1953)1

    Free will is a cornerstone of traditional Jewish belief. A defining aspect of humanity is that we choose

    how to behave, think and live and that the course of our lives is not predestined by God. The classic

    Jewish position on free will is represented by Maimonides in his Laws of Repentance, chapter 5 where

    he writes that anyone can be as righteous as Moses or as wicked as the most morally depraved

    characters in the Tanakh/Bible2. The choice is ours and our choice is not limited by anything.3 This can be

    a liberating idea not to be limited by anythingpast decisions, upbringing or current circumstances. This

    idea of unlimited free-will even has a ring of New Age to it.

    We create our own reality by the choices we make and those choices are never limited. If one wants to

    be as righteous as Moshe, go for it. The choice is ours. The dark-side of unlimited free will is that we can

    blame ourselves for our circumstances. Since we create our own reality, if we are sick or not succeeding

    at work, or not as righteous as Moshe, it is our fault because we have free-will. Unfortunately, it is not

    uncommon for people suffering with chronic illnesses be blamed for their illness because of this notion

    of unlimited free-will.

    Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, one of the great Mussar teachers of the 20th century, sharpens this concept of

    free will in a way that accounts for nature and nurture. He writes that all humans have free will only at

    something called a Bechirah/choice point. To explain this idea he offers an example of a man who

    coughs heavily at night and cannot sleep. He promises himself that he will not smoke again the next day.

    The next morning he thinks, Ill have just one. He knows from experience that once he smokes that

    first cigarette he will crave a second and will be unable to stop himself. However, he believes the

    thought, Ill have just one, and lights up. Of course, he ends up smoking a pack and lies awake

    coughing at night only to repeat the whole exercise the next day. His Bechirah point was the moment he

    chose to listen to the voice that said, Ill have just one.

    This may be a familiar situation for many. We are in a Bechirah point when we sense a struggle between

    what we know is the right thing to do and what we feel we want to do. Ideally our feelings align with

    1 This essay is based on Rabbi Desslers idea of The Bechirah Point, See Discourse on Free Will, Miktav MEliyahu,

    Vol. 1 2 Maimonides, Laws of Teshuvah, 5:2

    3 In the words of Maimonides, There is no one who compels him, sentences him, or leads him towards either of

    these two paths. Rather, he, on his own initiative and decision, tends to the path he chooses. (Laws of Teshuvah 5:2, Rabbi Eliyahu Touger translation)

  • whatever is right, but until we reach a high level of spiritual growth, feelings are better taken as

    information and not as guides for action.4

    A mundane example from my own life is my constant battle with late-night snacking. I know that if I

    open the bag of chips as I work at my computer after 10:00PM I will most likely finish the bag (and this is

    a big bag!). I know it will be better for me to have a cup of tea or eat some soup if I am hungry. But I

    want chips! That is one moment of Bechirah/choice. Another comes earlier in the night. I know that if I

    stay up working past 10:00PM I will most likely eat unhealthy food. I have a Bechirah point between

    shutting off the computer and staying up late. I know which will be better but really want to write one

    more email, or see one more Torah commentary.

    Rabbi Desslers innovation is that we only have real free will at one point and anything beyond or before

    that point is outside the realm of our free-will. In my case, once I open that bag of chips and it is past

    1:00PM I lack free-will to stop eating. My mind and body are so conditioned to devour the whole bag

    that I am really on auto-pilot at this point. With greater awareness of what is happening within and

    around usthrough mindfulness practicewe might have the capacity to acknowledge our emotions

    and choose a wiser option than eating. But this is just the point: when we are not aware, when we in the

    zone of conditioned or habitual behavior, we are robots. According to Rabbi Dessler, most of our life is

    lived in the zone of habit. In this way he is aligned with the most contemporary brain research.

    We can be habituated for good or for bad. Many young people at the high school where I work are

    habituated to say thank you to their teachers. They are not really making a free-will choice to thank the

    teacher each time. For them, the Bechirah point is not only to say thank you but to acknowledge one

    thing they thought the teacher did well that day. This would take thought and push them beyond the

    habitual thank you into appreciating the teacher in a deeper and more meaningful way. We can also

    be habituated to negative behaviors and thoughts. A child raised in the Mafia will not think twice about

    stealing gum from a candy store. However, his Bechirah point might be whether he will shoot his way

    out of a police net if he is caught. He is aware that murder is wrong and this awareness creates a

    Bechirah point in his life.

    The Bechirah point is the place or moment where our habits of mind and heart or irrational cravings for

    everything from food to sex meet our awareness of the right thing to do. It is a moment when we wake

    up to what is happening, and become aware of our behavioral options.

    Stop for a minute and think of examples of one or two Bechirah points from your own life.

    4 Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato writes in The Path of the Upright that a goal of spiritual development is to get to

    the point that we feel drawn to goodness and holiness like a piece of iron is drawn to a magnet.

  • The Bechirah point is fluid. The more we choose in the direction of what we know to be right, the easier

    it gets to make similar choices. We thus create new good habits and move more of our behavior within

    the realm of positive habituation. Our Bechirah point is pushed further in the direction of refined

    behavior. According to Rav Dessler, this movement is spiritual growth.

    In considering our example, above, we can notice that choosing not to smoke that first cigarette will be

    a difficult Bechirah. But after making this Bechirah for many months, the next Bechirah point may be

    about exercise or diet. By this point, former smoker will be treating himself as the Divine soul he truly is.

    As we make more positive choices we reveal more and more of our divine soul5. By making these

    positive choices at our Bechirah points we actually grow and become more spiritually actualized beings.

    In other words, we become more holy.

    The opposite is also true. When we make choices in the direction of habit and urges we become more

    and more numb to what we know is the right thing to do in that particular situation. More of our

    behavior comes under the dominion of negative habits. In my own example, the more I stay up late and

    eat chips, the easier it becomes the next time to do the same thin