tikkun middot

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  • Tikkun MiddotProject


    This program was made possible through the support of a grant from the

    Rabbi David Jaffe


    The Tikkun Middot Project is an innovative, national program to promote character development through mindfulness and tikkun middot practice in targeted Jewish communities led by Institute for Jewish Spirituality-trained rabbis, cantors, educators, mindfulness teachers, and community leaders.

    The project engages 28 Jewish organizations over two years, to develop individuals moral character through the mindfulness practice of tikkun middot: the cultivation of moral character traits. Cultivating community-wide attention to moral traits will transform the community by helping individuals acknowledge and reduce negative behavioral patterns and change challenging situations into opportunities to strengthen their character by responding with greater wisdom and compassion.

    In addition to working on their own character development, participants engage in the practice of tikkun middot for the purpose of strategically infusing middot practice throughout as many facets of congregational and organizational culture as possible in a sustainable manner. For example, community members can focus on bringing the practice into worship, adult and childrens education, committee and board meetings, social justice work, and even cultural programming. We are delighted to present this project and embark on a journey of mindfulness with our selected communities.



    Introduction 1

    Hitlamdut: A Stance of Learning 13

    The Bechirah/Choice Point 31

    Anavah/Humility 49

    Savlanut/Forbearance, Patience 67

    Chesed/Lovingkindness 81

    Kavod/Respect, Dignity, Honor 97

    Shtikah and Shmirat HaLashon/ Silence and Mindful Speech


    Bitachon/Trust in God 125

    Emunah/Trustworthiness 143

    Seder/Order 157


    Tikkun Middot is the practice of cultivating certain soul traits in your life. It is related to Mussar, an

    ancient form of Jewish spirituality which focuses on the development of middot or soul traits to attain

    personal and communal holiness1. Mussar means instruction and discipline. It also implies turning

    oneself in a positive direction ( /sur mei-ra turn away from the wrong path, Psalm 34).2 In

    some ways, Mussar is as old as the Torah itself (kedoshim tihiyu you shall be holy, Leviticus 19:2).

    Mussar developed as a distinct genre of Jewish ethical literature and practice starting in the 11th

    century. Maimonides, the Kabbalists of Safed, Hassidim and 19th century Lithuanian Talmudists all

    produced Mussar literature. In the Chassidic world, Mussar is sometimes called Haalat Hamiddot/The

    Elevation of the Middot or Tikkun HaYetzer/Transformation of the Inclinations. Rabbi Israel Salanter,

    a leading 19th century Lithuanian Torah scholar, developed the Mussar movement to systematize and

    popularize Mussar teachings and practices.

    In the past two decades there has been a Mussar renaissance in North American liberal Jewish

    communities, driven primarily by the work of Dr. Alan Morinis of The Mussar Institute and Rabbi Ira

    Stone of The Mussar Leadership Institute. This curriculum is based on traditional Mussar sources,

    including the work of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (d. 2005), one of the greatest Mussar teachers of the past

    generation, and is influenced by TMIs work in communicating this ancient tradition to modern


    The Tikkun Middot Project of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality is an initiative to integrate mindfulness

    practice (as understood through a Jewish lens) with the spiritual technology of Mussar. The Institute

    roots traditional Jewish spiritual practices in a foundation of mindfulness practice, by which we seek to

    maximize our awareness of what is happening in and around usin other words, to be fully awake and

    present in the moment. Enhanced awareness fosters conditions which enabled us to see more clearly

    the obstacles and opportunities present in each moment, and to wisely select options which are more

    wholesome or godly.

    This introduction provides an overview of the key ideas, modalities and practices that make up Tikkun

    Middot, as well as specific information about this curriculum and how to lead it well. Please read the

    introduction in its entirety and refer back to it as you prepare to lead your sessions.

    1 Soul traits are character traits such as patience, humility, trust and courage.

    2 Rabbi Micha Berger, AishDas Society

    3 See www.mussarinstitute.org for more information about The Mussar Institute




    Tikkun Middot is a spiritual technology designed to help us, as individuals and as a community, embody

    the highest ideals of the Torah in service of the ultimate repair of the world. The following ideas are

    central to Mussar and Tikkun Middot practice:

    We are souls4. The inner, spiritual life is real. The compelling purpose of creation is to integrate

    physical matter with spirituality, thus endowing creation with holiness. Tikkun Middot is the

    practice of increasing our capacity to serve as vessels for holiness by bringing soulfulness to our

    engagement with the world. We build ourselves as vessels by mobilizing our innate yearning for

    holiness, and our character traits, ego and imagination to live in closer alignment with God,

    ourselves and others.

    The yetzer hara is poorly translated as the evil inclination because it is not necessarily

    negative. It is our teacher. The yetzer hara is generally experienced as the critical voice that

    weakens our resolve, or the impulse that pushes us to do things we know are not good for us or

    others. When seen from the right perspective, the yetzer hara is constantly teaching us exactly

    where and how we can grow closer to God, ourselves and others. It is an invaluable resource.

    Tikkun Middot practice teaches us how to understand the yetzer hara s potential as an engine

    for growth and service.

    In the words of Dr. Alan Morinis, founder of The Mussar Institute, each person has a unique soul

    curriculum that will guide him/her on a path of growth. Our role is to discern our personal

    curriculum, and utilize every opportunity for growth.

    The middot/soul traits are our levers for growth. Mussar teacher Rabbi David Lapin uses the

    following analogy to explain the role of the middot. An airplane has instruments and controls.

    The pilot uses the instruments, like the altimeter, to tell how high or low the plane is flying.

    Similarly, we have instruments to tell us how we are doing. These instruments are our emotional

    and physical state, the quality of our relationships with others and the quality of our spiritual

    lives. Our body is constantly giving us information about how we are doing. Likewise, our

    relationships with our children, partners, community and colleagues are sources of information.

    When the plane is flying too low, the pilot does not bang on the altimeter to get it to fly higher.

    4 I first heard this idea from Rabbi Avraham Sutton

  • Rather, the pilot uses the controls. Similarly with us, if a relationship is not going well it is not

    helpful to bang on the other person. Rather, we need to use our controls. Our controls are our

    middot. Tikkun Middot is the practice of manipulating our middot so we can live in a soulful way

    aligned with our values.

    Tikkun Middot is intimately connected to Tikkun Olam. Much of the suffering, injustice and

    overall dysfunction in human societies is a result of middot being out of balance. While one

    individual being out of balance may not have much of an impact, an imbalance multiplied

    millions of times across a population will lead to policies and social structures that do not reflect

    the holiness and dignity of human life. Injustice is only effectively addressed by dealing with

    both the structural and internal middot levels of imbalance.

    Tikkun Middot is a practical discipline built on the experiences of daily life. It is highly accessible

    to anyone willing to be reflective.


    Tikkun Middot practice is:

    Systematic and structured: it provides practical tools for taking charge of ones spiritual growth

    through structured personal practice

    Holistic: it engages the mind, heart and body

    Social: it involves others in the growth process

    Spiritual: it provides an opportunity to invite God, as one understands God, into the growth


    Tikkun Middot practice takes place in three modalities:

    1. vaad (the periodic group meeting)

    2. chevruta (partner meeting in between vaad meetings)

    3. personal practice (including meditations, kabbalot small challenges we give ourselves, and



    These practices for spiritual growth draw from Mussar and Chassidic traditions as developed over the

    past several centuries. The structure for the practices that you will find at the end of each session is

    adapted from the structure for Mussar practice designed by Dr. Alan Morinis and Dr. Shirah Bell of the

  • Mussar institute. Please refer back to the descriptions of e