Dear Mussar Friends,

The Zohar expands upon the Rabbinic idea that Shavuot represents the marriage between the Divine and the people of Israel. Our Mussar tradition teaches that the people of Israel represent all human beings who have undertaken to live with ethical responsibility.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai goes further and suggests that his cohort of haverimcan adorn the bride Israel and accompany her to the mystical huppa. The adornments of the bride are defined as divrei Torah. I would suggest these are interpretations of scripture that uncover the obligations we must bear the other as our burden. Rabbi Shimon offers such a dvar. He teaches that anyone who celebrates a festival without providing gifts for the Holy One is consigned to eternal punishment. What are the gifts the Holy One desires?

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The Tragedy In Poway

Dear Mussar Friends,

As I sat down to write these few words, I hesitated. My email inbox was filled with statements and responses from the many Jewish organizations with whom I am associated.

Each one decried the obvious. Each one decried the rise of anti-Semitic violence in America, the increase in hate speech and hate action, the continuing inaction on the crisis of gun proliferation. What could I add that was not a trite repetition of these now standard responses? Is there a Mussar perspective that is somehow different?

Frankly, I am not sure. All I could think of is the difficult truth of the inevitable persistence of the Yetzer Hara. We who have practiced Mussar know that the Yetzer Hara is an integral part of the universe of consciousness. In the early stages of our practice our task is to become familiar with it and to restrain its consequences. However, we learn as we progress that the task of the Yetzer Hara is to awaken us to its presence and to respond to it not with restraint but with transformation. We do this by learning to avoid reacting to Ra from our own Ra, but rather meeting Ra with Tov. We respond to the closed nefesh of the other with our own open nefesh, which allows the flow of Neshama.

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