middot

Educational Resources for Teaching Mussar & Middot

Curricula

Mussar curriculum for young children - From the Mussar Institute

Middot:  A Stairway of Virtues - Curriculum (25 lessons) for grades 6-9

American Presidents & Jewish Values - Downloadable lesson plan with texts and other resources analyzing speeches of American Presidents through the lens of Jewish values.  Adaptable for Grades 5-10.

Study Leads to Action: Understanding and Living Jewish Values Curriculum - for Middle School Students - Jewish Values curriculum for middle schoolers from Jewish Education Center, Cleveland.

IJS Project on Middot includes curriculum and supplemental materials

Under the Same Sky:  “The Earth is Full of Your Creations” - Curricular framework for young children and families, learning values related to our world and nature, including 3 units:

  • Do Not Destroy (Bal Tashchit):  The Importance of Conserving and Protecting Nature
  • indness to Animals (Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim)
  • ppreciating the Wonders of Nature (Le’He’arich at Pelei HaTeva)

Values-based lesson plans and programs from PJ Library - For young children: Various PJ Library books with lesson plans and programs, categorized by value and age. Some programs are adaptable for multi-age programming
 

 

Online Resource for Families

http://imcomingclean.weebly.com/ - Days of Awe resource for families – parents & children – from Jewish Educational Center of Cleveland

For Teens:

Getting to Know Your Values & Middot

Identity Cafe

Character Day Resources:

Making of a Mensch Video

Character Day Discussion Kits

Periodic Table of Being a Mensch –  Table of Middot developed by Rabbi Avi Orlow

Other Resources

Middot-opoly – Jewish Values Board Game

Downloadable Chart of Middot

Tikkun Middot Materials from institute for Jewish Spirituality

Embodied Middot

Resources: Middot (Virtues), Mussar, and Preparing for the Days of Awe

Lists of Middot

Pirke Avot:
“The Torah is greater than the priesthood and greater than royalty, seeing that royalty is acquired through 30 virtues, the priesthood twenty-four, while the Torah is acquired through 48 virtues.”

These 48 Middot are listed here on the URJ website: http://www.reformjudaism.org/study-48-middot

Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh
Rabbi Mendel Menachem Lefin of Satanov identified 13 Middot in Cheshbon HaNefesh (Accounting of the Soul), published 200 years ago in Lithuania.

Benjamin Franklin
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lefin was influenced by reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography.  Franklin listed these 13 virtues, along with a rigorous method for self-improvement.  Franklin’s methods may have had an influence on subsequently developed Mussar practice.

A comparison of Franklin’s list of virtues with the 13 Middot in Cheshbon Ha0Nefesh, and the 13 Middot listed by Rabbi Israel Salanter, the founder of the modern Mussar movement, can be found here.

National Mussar Resources

The two leading centers of Mussar learning in North America are The Mussar Institute and the Mussar Leadership Program.

Local Mussar Resources

http://bayareamussar.org/ - aggregates information about Mussar classes and events across the Bay Area.

Cheshbon HaNefesh (Accounting of the Soul) Preparing for the Days of Awe


Personal Improving through Personal Accounting
Cheshbon Hanefesh (from shortvort.com) 
10 Tools for Cheshbon HaNefesh
Accounting of the Soul template/worksheet

Embodying Middot - Endurance / Netzach

Netzach - Endurance

On the map of the Sefirot, Netzach, often translated as endurance, perseverance, or eternity, is one of the Ten Measurements or Emanations of divine energy, and when mapped on the body appears at the right hip or right thigh, opposite to Hod, often translated as surrender, gratitude, glory, or present moment. The image of the map functions as a mirror, and the right and left sides balance one another, with a central pillar offering qualities that appear at the crown, heart, pelvis, and feet. Generally, the right side of the body is forward moving, expansive energy and the left side of the body is retreating, containing energy. So Netzach, located at the right leg or hip, can be expressed in movement as stepping forward, and Hod, located at the left leg or hip, can be expressed as stepping back. In addition, the triad of Netzach, Hod and Yesod are connected with action and activity in the world, how we walk and move in our lives.

Netzach as Eternity
Netzach is often translated as “eternity.” The first, most obvious way Netzach applies to the asana practice is the way in which we can bring stamina to our practice and build strength by holding poses for an extended period of time. But there is a gentle and surrendered aspect to endurance that is important as it relates to embodying this middah. When we employ endurance with the aspect of eternity in mind, we realize we cannot “power through” and give our all-out effort every moment throughout the practice, firing every muscle in a forceful way, or we will quickly burn out. If we approach embodying Netzach with the idea that we will live and breathe into the pose for ‘eternity’, building a sustainable and sustained practice over time, we must bring a softness of efforting, and find a way in which we can rely upon our bones, our breath, the spaciousness inside and around us in order to maintain the pose. 

For example, in Warrior II (Figure 7), when holding the pose for an extended period of time (which for some practitioners may feel like an eternity!), one way to find Netzach, Endurance, in the pose is to lift the torso up off of the hips, and unbend the front leg slightly so we are not relying too heavily upon the quadriceps muscles to support us. For the same pose, if we are holding the arms up out to the side from the muscles in the arms only, we can easily become tired. But if we consider the idea that the arms are extending all the way from the center of the spine behind the heart, and imagine that the arms lift with the support of the air underneath them (as if they are wings), energy extending outward, we can maintain the pose with endurance for a much longer time.

We are able to practice more easily and in a more sustainable way- for eternity! - with Netzach if we take the focus off of one particular muscle group in any given posture and allow other parts of the body or draw upon other sources of life energy (hiyyut) for the asana.

Netzach as the Part that Stays
In a vinyasa or flow practice Netzach can beautifully support us in moving through the poses with a quality of stability, steadiness and consistency. If we place our attention while moving from pose to pose on the parts of the body that stay in a relatively fixed position, we can find balance and strength.

For example, when moving from Warrior I (Figure 8)  to Warrior III (Figure 9) to Tree Pose (Figure 10), if we focus on the front standing leg as Netzach, or the part that stays, throughout the sequence, we can move the second leg through the postures - first in back for Warrior I (Figure 8), then it lifts for Warrior III (Figure 9), then it comes up bent to meet the standing leg for Tree (Figure 10) - around the steadfastness of the leg that stays put.

Similarly, if we move from Triangle (Figure 2) to Side Angle (Figure 11) to Warrior II (Figure 8), we can focus on the back leg as Netzach, grounding us, keeping us steady, and as the part that stays strong as we move the upper body and front leg through the changing shapes.

By focusing on the quality of Netzach in these types of flow sequences, we experience a sense of calm, steadiness, and solidity. The Netzach of a standing leg serves as an unwavering support, a source of strength - the part that stays when all else is moving.

This physical practice of maintaining a focus on the ‘staying’ part of the body can translate to our lives in the most helpful way. When there is turmoil, either within ourselves or in relationship with others, our ability to stay calm and focus on the quality of steadiness can be strengthened by this physical practice (Thich Nhat Hanh offers the image of being the mountain in the storm, or the rock in the rushing stream).

Netzach as Waiting
Netzach comes into play most helpfully for an asana practice with sitting forward bends. In poses such as Head to Knee Forward Bend (Figure 12) or Seated Forward Bend(Figure 13), there is an aspect of Netzach that relates to waiting and watching that can be extremely helpful. When approaching a forward bend from a seated position, it is most important to lift the hips so that the pelvis and torso can turn over the legs as one unit, so as not to take the pose into the lower back. The next step is to lengthen and lift the front of the spine and stay in the pose for a long time with an extended long back. When we sit and breathe and wait, watching with patience the small openings in the body, the pose itself begins to take on the waiting and watching with patience aspect of Netzach. Staying with these forward bend poses for a minute, two or three, before even beginning to release the spine into a rounded position, allows us to move into the pose much more deeply.

In practicing Netzach as waiting with patience, not pushing beyond our limits or trying to change what is true, we are practicing for all the ways in which we can do this in our lives. In his description of patience (Savlanut) in Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis correlates patience with a kind of endurance or tolerance of circumstances, be they difficult or uncomfortable. “Patience is here depicted as a tool we can call on to help us endure when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances we did not choose or could not avoid.”[1]  By practicing more challenging poses with this quality of Netzach, we can prepare ourselves to meet other challenges in our lives with an aspect of waiting and watching that builds our capacity to respond, rather than react, no matter what comes our way.

[1] Morinis, Everyday Holiness, 57.

POSTURE GUIDE

Throughout this guide, we will refer to the following poses:

Forward Bend - Uttanasana  (Fig. 1)
Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana (Fig. 2)
Mountain Pose - Tadasana (Fig. 3)
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana (Fig. 4)
Seated Twist - Marichyasana III (Fig. 5)
Hand to Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana (Fig. 6)
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II (Fig. 7)
Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I (Fig. 8)
Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III (Fig. 9)
Tree Pose - Vrksasana (Fig. 10)
Side Angle - Parsvakonasana (Fig. 11)
Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana (Fig. 12)
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana (Fig. 13)

By opening these pages, I acknowledge that this material is owned by Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative.  I understand that I am prohibited from reproducing, distributing, or selling the material - in full or in part -without attributing ownership to Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative. It was created by Julie Emden, Director of Embodied Jewish Learning - Julie offers workshops, classes and a Yoga and Jewish Wisdom Teacher Training.  She can be reached at jemden@jewishlearningworks.org

Embodying Middot - Perspective / Menuchat Hanefesh

Menuchat Hanefesh - Perspective, Equanimity or Resting of the Body-Soul

How can we bring Menuchat Hanefesh to an Embodied Practice?
The phrase Menuchat Hanefesh can be literally translated as “resting the part of the soul that is closely associated with the body.” In our mystical tradition, there are five levels or aspects of the human soul, and Nefesh refers to that aspect that is closest to the world of action, Assiyah, and to the physical/embodied plane of existence. Whenever we are talking about Nefesh we are emphasizing the level of soul that is closest to the body, addressing the deepest connection between the physical and spiritual as it manifests in the form and matter of the body itself.  We take the phrase Menuchat Hanefesh into a physical practice in a few ways.

Menuchat Hanefesh as Resting, Finding our Foundation
With every breath we experience a filling and emptying of the lungs.  We also experience a rhythm of lifting and settling of the sternum and upper chest, and a corresponding rhythm of descent and ascent of the diaphragm. If throughout a movement practice, at the end of every exhale, we can accentuate the descent of the body to meet the earth, we are able to feel the part of the body that contacts the earth as a source of rest, grounding and foundation.  For example, we can feel the weight of the sit bones a little more deeply if sitting, or we can feel the full contact of our entire torso onto a mat or blanket if lying down, or we can feel the softening of the soles of our feet, with the base of the toes and the circumference of the heel capturing our weight evenly if standing in Mountain Pose / Tadasana  (Figure 3).  By connecting the balance of ascent and descent in the body, we can experience the way in which the breath assists us in resting more deeply into the earth.

Similarly, in every position, there is a foundation or resting place - a place where our physical body contacts the earth. In Forward Bend (Figure 1), and Triangle Pose (Figure 2) and Mountain Pose (Figure 3), our feet are the resting place/ foundation for all of these poses. In Downward Facing Dog (Figure 4), our hands and our feet are the resting place/ foundation. In handstand our hands are the resting place/foundation; and in complicated twists like Marichyasana III (Figure 5), our sit bone and lower calf/heel on one leg, and our foot on the opposite side are the resting place/ foundation.

In every case, if we bring our attention to the natural way in which gravity assists the deepening of contact between that resting point/foundation in the body and the earth, we experience Menuchat Hanefesh.

Menuchat Hanefesh as Moving from a Place of Rest
Here is one place where the concept of Menuchat Hanefesh also exists in our interpretation of a verse from Torah.  There is a beautiful teaching about a line in Torah about Jacob when he flees for his life. The text reads, he “left from Be’er-Sheva and went to Haran” (Genesis 28:10).  Be’er Sheva is the name of a town. The word Be’er Sheva can also be translated as “The Well of Seven,” which according to many teachings is Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, when we dip into a deep well of rest, divine connection and inspiration. The Hebrew word Haran also has the root, Hara, which is anger. So there is a teaching that the line “Jacob left from Be’er Sheva to Haran” as “Jacob left his place of deep rest and went toward anger.”  Some sages teach that Jacob, when he went toward Haran or anger, did not leave Be’er Sheva but actually kept one part of himself tied to Be’er Sheva at all times. He kept himself connected within, to a place of deep rest and connection to the divine. This is the place from which he was able to dream his dream. So, this line from Torah offers for us an instruction for how to meet challenges in our lives from a place of rest, perspective, or witnessing:  When you feel yourself moving toward an unsettling emotion, stay connected to the place of calm, rest, equanimity or perspective.

Similarly, if during any active movement practice we focus on staying connected to a place of rest energetically, we can create a balance of effort and rest in a way that deeply acknowledges all parts of our being, avoiding any injury which often comes from overexertion or pushing too hard. The practice of maintaining awareness of the resting place brings us perspective to our endeavors at every moment - a perspective that we can bring to our practice and off the mat into life, as well. By focusing on the resting place in any given active pose, and staying connected to that place, we are able to stay grounded and cultivate disidentification from the challenges that may come to us.

For example, when lying on the floor supine in Hand to Big Toe Pose / Supta Padangusthasana (Figure 6),  if we place our attention on the back of the torso resting into the earth as we take one leg up to the sky, we can lengthen down the side waist from upper chest to hips evenly on both sides and let gravity assist in the resting of the organs, lungs, and kidneys into the support of the earth beneath us. If we focus upon this place of rest/Beer Sheva as we effort/Haran to lift the leg, we can experience the way in which the place of rest can always serve as a resource to us in our physical practice. Furthermore, we notice it takes even less effort to lift the leg when we take the opposite leg and arm long onto the floor, with a focus on the upper thigh bone (femur) resting down into the earth, and the entire length of the body resting, as the abdominals engage to lift the leg.  The more we place our attention to a place of calm or rest in the body during the actions of a physical practice, the less effort it takes.

Menuchat Hanefesh in our Anatomy
This balance of Haran/Effort and Be’er Sheva/no effort is perfectly mirrored in our anatomy as well, in the agonist/antagonist muscle pairs. Certain muscles in the body contract when other muscles relax, and vice versa, and this allows us to move with more freedom. For example, in the aforementioned Supta Padangusthasana (Figure 6), energizing or contracting the quadriceps muscle on the top of lifted leg allows us to support the hamstring muscle at the back of the leg to reach to it full length and softness. The contraction of one muscle group corresponds to the relaxation of another partner muscle group in order for the body to function optimally.  Similarly, if we raise our arms above our head and contract the pectoralis muscle at the front of the chest, we restrict the stretch of the trapezius and find restriction in the shoulder joint for Downward Facing Dog (Figure 4). But if we soften the pectoralis, we are able to find much more freedom of movement in the joint, and the arms lift higher, in greater alignment with the upper arm closer to the ear, etc. The kinesthesiology of the workings of the muscles themselves reflect the teaching in this text.

Thus, we can cultivate the quality of Menuchat Hanefesh by balancing effort with rest, by staying connected at all times to the part of ourselves that is in contact with the earth, and by paying close attention to the natural ways in which our muscular system functions. All of these approaches can support us in having perspective in our lives. From this place of perspective, we are able to respond rather than react, to move through our practice and our days with equanimity and perspective - an ability to be present with a “calmness of soul,” Menuchat Hanefesh as described by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin in his book Chesbon Hanefesh.[1]

[1] Morinis, Everyday Holiness, 100.

POSTURE GUIDE

Throughout this guide, we will refer to the following poses:

Forward Bend - Uttanasana  (Fig. 1)
Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana (Fig. 2)
Mountain Pose - Tadasana (Fig. 3)
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana (Fig. 4)
Seated Twist - Marichyasana III (Fig. 5)
Hand to Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana (Fig. 6)
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II (Fig. 7)
Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I (Fig. 8)
Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III (Fig. 9)
Tree Pose - Vrksasana (Fig. 10)
Side Angle - Parsvakonasana (Fig. 11)
Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana (Fig. 12)
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana (Fig. 13)

By opening these pages, I acknowledge that this material is owned by Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative.  I understand that I am prohibited from reproducing, distributing, or selling the material - in full or in part -without attributing ownership to Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative. It was created by Julie Emden, Director of Embodied Jewish Learning - Julie offers workshops, classes and a Yoga and Jewish Wisdom Teacher Training.  She can be reached at jemden@jewishlearningworks.org

 

Embodying Middot Introduction

Explore three qualities through your physical body!  Read below for an introduction and click the buttons below for a deeper dive into specific qualities.

Embodying Middot
We can infuse any embodied practice, including Yoga, with an awareness of qualities which might deepen our spiritual growth.  Each trait can be invoked in any and every pose we do.  Practicing these qualities on the mat helps us integrate these qualities into our being.  This gives us a greater chance of continuing to exude the qualities we’ve cultivated in the world beyond our mat.  There is no ‘perfect pose’ for any given middah. Rather, we can take the same exact sequence any given day and infuse the practice with whatever kavanah (direction or intention) we wish to cultivate within ourselves.

Click-through the buttons above to explore three middot,  AnavaMenuchat Hanefesh, and Netzach, through various postures (images at bottom of page).

Each of these middot must balance with its opposite to work in harmony together.  To cultivate only one quality to its extreme is detrimental to our growth and antithetical to the idea behind cultivating and developing character traits in the first place. In the Mussar tradition, we each have our own life’s curriculum, with our own strengths and our own challenges. The goal is to create balance by engaging with our traits as we grow and change.

When we approach these qualities or middot by strengthening our kinesthetic understanding of each principle, we are able to engage with these middot in our lives from an organic, embodied, grounded place.

Why Yoga?
While we do not have an asana (posture) practice in Judaism, many teachings from the Jewish mystical tradition place great emphasis on the deep connection between body and soul.   According to the Hasidic rebbes, every day-to-day activity is for the purpose of connecting our physical beings to our spirit, and for revealing divinity on the physical plane. In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud are said to have spent the hour before morning prayer in ‘movement’ or ‘meditation.’ (Berachot 30b).

This is where Yoga comes in. The Sanskrit word Yoga means “to merge, join or unite”.  It refers to the unification of the “soul with the eternal truth.”[1] The word Asana means “holding the body in a particular posture with the bhavana or the thought that God is within.”[2]  When we infuse our Yoga practice with teachings from the Jewish tradition, we are not practicing ‘Jewish Yoga,’ rather, we are bringing our whole selves to our practice. 

The popularization of Yoga in the west has awakened a yearning among Jewish Yoga practitioners to connect our physical practice to the spiritual teachings of our own faith. For some practitioners this happens organically, for others, the invitation to connect the two is a long-awaited opportunity to feel at home in a body-based spiritual practice.

The practice of Yoga is one of many physical practices that can support us in bringing our attention to the present. This toe. This breath. This line of energy from the lesser trochanter through to the inner arch of the foot. Our Yoga practice is a means for us to enter more deeply into awareness of all aspects of ourselves. 

We are most joyful and whole when we can bring our whole self to the world. When we connect our personal practices for fitness and well-being with our spiritual practices, we can practice Yoga, dance, run, move, sweat, laugh, learn, meditate, rest and restore without leaving our Jewish selves behind.  We can show up in our Jewish body-souls to our practices for well-being with an integrated sense of presence. 

[1] Geeta Iyengar, Yoga:  A Gem for Women (Timeless Books: Palo Alto, California, 1990), 9.

[2]  Ibid., 25.

POSTURE GUIDE

Throughout this guide, we will refer to the following poses:

Forward Bend - Uttanasana  (Fig. 1)
Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana (Fig. 2)
Mountain Pose - Tadasana (Fig. 3)
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana (Fig. 4)
Seated Twist - Marichyasana III (Fig. 5)
Hand to Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana (Fig. 6)
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II (Fig. 7)
Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I (Fig. 8)
Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III (Fig. 9)
Tree Pose - Vrksasana (Fig. 10)
Side Angle - Parsvakonasana (Fig. 11)
Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana (Fig. 12)
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana (Fig. 13)

 

By opening these pages, I acknowledge that this material is owned by Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative.  I understand that I am prohibited from reproducing, distributing, or selling the material - in full or in part -without attributing ownership to Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative. It was created by Julie Emden, Director of Embodied Jewish Learning - Julie offers workshops, classes and a Yoga and Jewish Wisdom Teacher Training.  She can be reached at jemden@jewishlearningworks.org