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My Mussar Story by Alan Morinis
Alan Morinis has become a leading contemporary interpreter of the venerable Jewish spiritual tradition of Mussar. He talks about what sent him on the search that led him to discover Mussar, what he found that changed his life, and is now changing the lives of so many others.
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The Path of Spheres | An Excerpt from Kabbalah
Since the Middle Ages the cosmic tree of life with its ten spheres, or divine attributes, has been the central image of kabbalistic meditation. Though some masters adapted the “seven heavens” of the first century Merkabah mystics, equating them with the seven lower branches of the tree, most Kabbalists focused their attention on the symbolic tree alone. With its inner “lights,” corresponding colors, metals, and divine names, the tree itself was complicated enough. The mystic’s attitude as he approached meditation on the spheres proved him to be as certain of his ultimate goal as he was reverential.
Climbing Jacob's Ladder by Alan Morinis, pages 138–139
This might sound like a fatalistic attitude, but actually having this sort of trust still doesn’t relieve us of our obligation to act. It doesn’t mean we just sit back and wait to see what God has in store for us, because it is still important that we make an effort—and, in fact, in most instances effort is required, because the Jewish tradition prohibits reliance on miracles. It’s a bit of a paradox, because everything is decreed from on high, and yet we still have free will and an obligation to act on our own behalf. The rabbis don’t resolve this paradox, they just affirm the truth of both propositions. Rabbi Akiva puts it succinctly: “Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is given.”
A kabbalah (plural, kabbalot) is a small act you take on to facilitate growth in a particular soul trait. For example, if you are working on generosity, a classic kabbalah is to give a small amount of money as many times as possible during the day to build the generosity muscle. A kabbalah needs to be small, measurable, and easily achievable.
It has two purposes—to create a positive habit through regular repetition, and to bring unconscious resistance regarding a certain middah into conscious awareness. The word kabbalah comes from the Hebrew root for “accept/receive”; one “accepts” a kabbalah upon oneself.
—David Jaffe, Changing the World from the Inside Out: A Jewish Approach to Personal and Social Change, page 108