The Women of Rodef Sholom sponsored Chai Mitzvah class last week was inspiring! Our lovely teacher, Claire Mikowski, is an amazing Jewish Educator. Claire is so informed, but insists she learns just as much from us, her students. The topic for our most recent class was Patience. Other topics include: Generosity, Wisdom, Gratitude, Trust and Spiritual Friendship.
What is Chai Mitzvah? Chai Mitzvah is a program designed for adults to explore and expand their Jewish life through study, spirituality, and social action. The Women of Rodef Sholom Sisterhood sponsors several Chai Mitzvah classes a year. The basis of the WRS Chai Mitzvah program has a special focus of Mussar.
, has an excellent explanation of Mussar:
Mussar, Leonard Felson explains, is a Jewish practice for self-improvement “which focuses on living a more conscientious life and heightening awareness of the world and one’s responsibilities; in short, becoming more of a mensch.” Another way to put it is that Mussar aims to help us become more holy, and more whole.
Because Jewish tradition sets such high standards for human behavior, leading thinkers in previous generations took it upon themselves to help us identify the areas in which we personally excel and fall short, and guide us in making strengths out of our weaknesses. This strand of Jewish thought and practice began to emerge in the 10th century and became a full-fledged movement in the Jewish world of 19th-century Lithuania. Until recently, Mussar existed only in the Orthodox community, which explains why members of other denominations have been little exposed to its teachings and practices.
Although the focus of Mussar is on personal spiritual development, it is not a selfish or self-interested activity. Mussar teachers insist that we are assigned our spiritual curriculum in life—addressing those inner traits (middot) that need balancing—so we can struggle to become more whole: but not just for our own sake. If you are habitually impatient, then developing patience will not only improve your own life; it is your assignment to make the world a more patient place. If you are more often stingy than generous, then generosity is your assignment on behalf of your soul and the world. And so on, through the full range of traits.
For this week’s study, we began with a quote from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book
Patience: Formulas, Stories and Insights.
“The essence of patience is to live in the present. We are impatient because we want to be in the future faster than reality will take us there…Since we will generally be in the exact same place whether we will experience patience or impatience, it makes it easier to choose to be patient.”
Patience – Savlanut
“Woe to the pampered person who has never been trained to be patient. Either today or in the future he is destined to sip from the cup of affliction.” – Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin, Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh
As RJ magazine author Gary Shaffer describes, rush-hour commuting can easily ignite impatience. You need to be somewhere and the person in front of you is moving too slowly, or the traffic is jammed. Or it’s just your luck to arrive at the one ticket counter staffed by a trainee.
Actually, the cause of our impatience is never the situation itself, though that is how it appears to us. A situation that infuriates us might not cause the slightest bit of concern to another person who doesn’t approach it brandishing the same fuse as we do. We experience impatience only when we strain against a situation we cannot control.
The Hebrew term for patience, savlanut, is made from the three-letter root samech-lamed-nun [S-L-N ] shared by the following words:
(burden or load)
(a porter or carrier)
Seeking out the common element in all these words teaches us a fundamental lesson about patience, as Jewish tradition would have us understand it. Being patient does not mean that you are in a completely calm and unruffled state of mind, but rather that you are able to bear the burden of your hostile and explosive feelings without reacting. Think of your emotional load as a heavy suitcase, and you as the porter who can take it on his shoulder to bear the burden.
Claire led our small class through readings, questions, and discussions. Via our study guide we explored Learning to Wait, Responding with Anger, The Results of Patience, Maintaining Patience Through Trials and Tribulations, Cultivating Patience with Oneself, and A Gift of Patience. In just two hours, I felt our time together filled me with learning and wonderful ideas to begin a better practice of Patience.
I hope you’ll join us for our final Chai Mitzvah class of the season, on Thursday, May 9 from 7-9pm, in the Temple Inner Conference Room. Claire will lead us in learning about Teshuvah, which means Turning or Returning.