Rededication to What?
By Herb Levine, Vice-Chair
Most of us have been taught that Chanukah means dedication. We usually speak of Chanukah in terms of rededication – a return to questing for holiness after a period of degradation and desecration.
My question as a Mussar student, teacher and Board member of CCM is to what am I going to dedicate myself this Chanukah?
A few lines from a poem I recently wrote capture one potential answer:
Now I sit and watch the tiny candles
burning in my deepest diaspora,
competing with their small light
against the giant blaze of Christmas
and feel grateful that we have a festival
of small lights, because only from small deeds —
giving a soft answer, turning away anger, increasing
peace at home — is the world sustained.
These words suggest to me that I have to keep focusing my Mussar practice on my closest others – that Mussar is about my individual efforts to bear the other as my loving burden – that I build the world I want to live in by how I behave toward them.
But then I remember that the story of Chanukah is about a collective struggle. It wasn’t a reassertion of one person’s or one family’s desire for purity, but rather a communal effort to reclaim the holy. So, if I’m going to fully internalize the message of the holiday, I must also look for a collective aspect to my Mussar practice.
The Center for Contemporary Mussar is the organizational framework we’ve created to preserve and promote the Mussar teachings of Rabbi Ira Stone and the practices his students developed in response to those teachings. A good example of the collective dimension of CCM is the Zoom program we recently offered to help students harness Mussar teachings and practices to cope with the turbulent aftermath of the 2020 Presidential election. How we participate in the larger political sphere is also an expression of our Mussar practice. Rabbi Salanter called such efforts Zikkui haRabbim – “bringing merit to the many.”
One message of Chanukah is that we should not succumb to the idea of our own powerlessness. Through Mussar, we learn that we can transform our relationships as well as help to shape our responses to forces that often seem too large and impersonal for us to affect. Let us now rededicate ourselves to spreading goodness and kindness in the world.
You recently received from us a letter asking you to contribute to CCM. By contributing, you are affirming that Mussar is a transformative force for good in your life, enabling you to invoke your highest self in service both to your closest others and to repairing injustice in the world. By joining together with others in our Center, you can help build the world in which you want to live and thrive. Click here to donate.
Herb Levine, a student of Mussar since 2011, is one of the founding members of CCM’s Board. He has published two books of b-lingual Jewish poetry: Words for Blessing the World (2017) and An Added Soul: Poems for a New Old Religion (2020). Both are part of Ben Yehuda Press’s “Jewish Poetry Project.”