Tishrei 5-6 5776  – September 18-19 2015


“On the Jewish spiritual path, taking and keeping your place as a pilgrim on the way of ascent is much more important than reaching the peak. This is why students of Mussar have traditionally been called b’nei aliyah, those who ascend. Holiness in this world arises in the process of becoming whole (hishtalmut), not in the state of wholeness itself (sh’lemut).”

Alan Morinis, ‘Everyday Holiness’

The work of self improvement can be overwhelming and even deflating at times. What is all this self reflection navel gazing worth?? Many of us are suspicious of therapy and such either because we’ve went and spent and tried and failed to feel better or because denial of the hope of change is sometimes deeper than the root of our pain.

These Days of Awe, almost over, whether we prepent, repent, show up at shul to really delve into the process of return or none at all or all of the above together, offer a precious time sensitive deadline to at least improve one thing or two in our often way too clogged to-do and to do-be lists. My recipe is to focus on less as a way to get to more. Nothing too ambitious, baby steps to better self, spiced with humility and a sense of urgency as time and life slips by. Fatigue is part of the process of this pilgrimage. But the goal is greater yet.

imgresToday my fabulous friend Tiffany Shlain comes to the rescue. This is the second annual  Character Day  – a fantastic opportunity to watch and talk about a few short films that she and her amazing team created about the art of building character. As part of this special day, today celebrates the launch and world premiere of two such great new shorts. One of them, Making of a Mensch, is about the Jewish way of character improvement and ethical living. I’m honored be briefly featured in it.  This 11 minute film (comes with dazzling discussion kit) takes The Science of Character and reframes it through the lens of the ancient Jewish teachings of Mussar. “The film and discussion materials are a wonderful opportunity to revitalize these teachings around character development that date back to the 10th century, and re-engage us all in how these Jewish tools are applicable to our 21st century lives.”

What’s great about this film and the others that come with it is that we are reminded to be aware of what is already within us and what we most need to pay attention to in our inner work. Character traits, like DNA, are particles we all share but some of us have in different distribution and dosages than others. We each have strengths and weaknesses and special gifts that call on us to cultivate towards our greater joy and help to others. The task is to identify the ones that really work for me and define who I am – and what kind of better Mensch I want to yet become.

What’s one character I choose to focus on and work on in the days ahead? Perhaps this coming year?

I go back to empathy and persistence. Two of the characters highlighted in these shorts and found on every list of ethical and moral failings and portals for flourishing.

What’s yours? Check out this table of strengths to get some inspiration: periodic table of character strengths

Want to see the new films and talk about it? Join me and Lab/Shul on the night of Kol Nidrei for the NY premiere: Making of Mensch at Lab/Shul Yom Kippur!

On the eve of this last Shabbat of these days of prepent, I wish us all a Sabbath of rest, with focus on return to center, better balance, priorities that place the sacred and the soul and needs of others above the mundane and the meager.

Shabbat Shalom


PREPENT DAY 33: Reconcile a rift today with advice from a Zen Master on how to hug + a tip from one new friend with a knack for special Cupcakes.
PREPENT DAY 36: What’s in your wallet? Take time today to organize your means of sustenance and recommit to how, how much + when we sustain others.