By Corey Auerbach
I had never heard of the treasure that is Mussar. Even growing up in the Jewish world, I was never exposed to the Mussar tradition. When I was asked to join a Mussar study group for dads last October, I did what any self-respecting person would do – I Googled it. Little did I know that I was about to embark upon a transformational journey, not only in the benefit I received around improving vital aspects of my character and soul but also in friendship and fraternity.
As described in Alan Moranis’ handbook on Mussar, Everday Holiness, Mussar is most accurately described as a way of life – a path of spiritual self-development. It means working on yourself, but not for the sake of yourself. By refining and elevating your inner life and nourishing the soul, you clarify your inner light and thus become a lamp shedding light into the world.
The starting point for understanding Mussar is the verse in the Torah that tells us: “You shall be holy.” The Torah here reveals, in no uncertain terms, a human being’s job description. In essence, we are here on earth for no other purpose than to grow and blossom spiritually – to become holy.
The purpose of Mussar practice is to help us move in the direction of sh’lemut, literally “wholeness.” From this perspective, all our weaknesses, failings and shortcomings are there for a reason, and it is left to us to bring them to wholeness. Holiness and Wholeness serve as the pillars of Mussar spiritual work.
Led by Rabbi Ori Bergman, a curated group of men – not a single one of whom I knew before starting this experience – met monthly to explore our own spiritual curricula, taking inventory of soul traits including humility, patience, honor, trust, compassion and gratitude. Collectively, we considered questions like “how does a parent help their child honor others” and “how would greater humility help you react more calmly and wisely when your child acts out.” I coveted the time I spent studying the text, and reviewing the source sheets and handouts in preparation for each session. I looked forward to gathering with my study partners to explore our inner qualities through the context of parenting. I’m deeply grateful to have been introduced to this practice and to these men.
We learned from and about one another through an exploration of how we can fulfill the Torah’s injunction to become holy. In the process, we cultivated friendships built on shared experience, enriched by a practice that elevated our Jewish souls. What started with a Google search became a journey of personal change and growth and, in the process, a group of strangers became a group of friends.
Corey Auerbach is a partner at the law firm of Barclay Damon, LLP, where he chairs the firm’s Land Use and Zoning Practice Area and serves as the firm-wide Hiring Partner. Corey also chairs the Buffalo Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Racial Justice Sub-Committee and is a member of the JCRC Executive Committee. He is a member of the Buffalo Jewish Federation Board of Governors and the Campaign for Jewish Buffalo. Corey lives in North Buffalo with his wife and three children.