- Mussar: The Basics
- Mussar Terminology
- A Kohenet Influenced Approach to Mussar
- Kesharim K’doshim Practice
- Kesharim K’doshim Yearly Spiral
Mussar: The Basics
Mussar or Musar (מוסר) is an authentic Jewish spiritual development system that dates back nearly 1000 years, but came into its best known form in in 19th Century Lithuanian. It explains each person has a unique “soul curriculum” and our lives are fulfilled when we understand and explore it. Moments life are where we have the opportunity to test ourselves and grow are called bechirah (בררה) or choice point moments. Bechirah moments are where you have to make a real choice in life, and you get to discover your spiritual growth (or not).
The practice works to change us spiritually by changing behavior. The practice consists of soul-inventory of any number of lists of soul-traits, middot (מידות) in Hebrew, to see how balanced they are within you. Then each day, week, or month, track how a single one is working in your life. Then look for bechirah or choice point moments and what choice you make. That’s how you grow. It’s only when we’re forced to make active choices that we are growing spiritually. And sometimes — that super sucks. And sometimes we realize that what we’re learning isn’t something we want to or would chose to — and this is the last thing we want to hear is that it’s our “soul’s curriculum.”
Recommended Mussar Books:
- Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar
- Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar
- With Heart in Mind: Mussar Teachings to Transform Your Life
- Mussar Yoga: Blending an Ancient Jewish Spiritual Practice with Yoga to Transform Body and Soul
- Ethics of the Sages (Pirkei Avot translated and noted by R’Rami Shapiro)
- In Search of the Holy Life: Rediscovering the Kabbalistic Roots of Mussar
- Duties of the Heart (Chovot haLevanot)
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- bechirah (בררה): choice-point where we are given an opportunity to grow spiritually
- cheshbon hanefesh (חשבון הנפשׁ): account of the soul (soul-inventory) and journal
- kesharim k’doshim (קשרים קדושים): Sacred Connections approach to mussar developed by Kohenet Ketzirah
- mafteyach (מפתח) key: utilizing a correspondence or working with one soul-trait to unlock another soul-trait
- middah/middot (מידה/מידות): soul-trait(s) literal – measure(s); also related to word for garment in biblical Hebrew
- netivah/netivot (נתיבות/נתיבה): pathway(s) of Divine Femme as taught in Kohenet
- soul-curriculum: the spiritual assignment each person is given to master in their lives
- Counterweights (counterpoints): With Kesharim K’doshim sometimes what we need is what lies on the other side of the wheel-of-the-year.
- Keys: soul-traits that may be used to unlock the soul-trait of the month. A side way into a given soul-trait. Keys offered up in this guide are suggestions, you may find that another works better for you.
 Keys, maftechot (מפתחות), is a term coined for this concept by Kohenet Ketzirah in the development of Kesharim K’doshim.
 The term “soul-curriculum” was coined by the modern mussar teacher, Alan Morinis.
 Counterweights/counterpoints are a concept unique to Kesharim K’doshim mussar
A Kohenet Influenced Approach to Mussar
As a Kohenet, I experience Judaism through the constructs of that community and especially the Netivot — 13 pathways of Divine Femme Presence that have appeared in Judaism. The Kesharim K’doshim (קשרים קדושים) / Sacred Connections Mussar aligns 13 middot or soul-traits with each of the Netivot and the months of the year. This approach to mussar, not only engages intellectually but also pairs that with embodied and metaphysical practices and awareness of spiralinear time.
There are several aspects of inherited practice of Mussar that Kesharim K’doshim Mussar utilizes including not trying to “fix” a middah (מידה) or soul-trait works by always going at it directly. For example, it is rarely effective to yell “calm down” at someone that is angry or “be happy” at someone that is sad. If you struggle with any given soul-trait, look first to the soul-trait for the Netivah that is its polarity on the wheel of the year. For example on the other side of the wheel of the year from the G’virah (Queen/Matriarch), whose soul-trait is responsibility, is the Na’arah (Maiden) — whose soul-trait is joy. Those interconnections are the heart of this approach.
For more on the Netivot, I recommend The Hebrew Priestess by Rav Kohenet Jill Hammer & Taya Shere or the companion book to Eht/Aht: a netivot wisdom oracle (by yours truly).
Kesharim K’doshim Practice
What a mussar practice looks like also varies by teacher/school, but in the inherited approaches there are a few things that are fairly universal:
- Daily recitation of a phrase/verse connected to a specific middah that reminds and refreshes the practitioner’s soul to focus on this trait.
- Studying mussar texts that help expand one’s thinking about a soul-trait, on a regular basis.
- Daily soul-trait external exercise – for example, if you are working on the soul-trait of generosity, you may commit to specific acts of generosity each day (time, money, caring).
- Journaling on a committed schedule (daily, weekly, monthly, etc) about how the soul-trait showed up for you and what choices you made.
Start as simply as possible. Don’t worry about reading 10 books or diving into the layer upon layer of symbolism or layer or layer of practice.
- Begin by reviewing all the soul-traits for the wheel of the year and explore how they sit with you — before doing any research on what they are “supposed” to mean.
- Take note on which ones feel easy and which feel hard. Which are confusing? Which make you happy, angry or sad. What comes to mind for each month that may or may not be important, such as holidays, seasons, anniversaries, emotions, activities?
- If you finish the list of 13 middot, if any soul-traits seem “missing” make note of it. Once you note those, see if they fit within any of the soul-traits for the year as a counterweight or key.
Remember that no middah is inherently good or bad — mussar teaches us balance and that in any moment we may need more or less of any soul-trait. Also remember that there are soul-traits within soul traits, you may need a different one to work as a key to one in the Kesharim K’doshim cycle. Explore an expanded list of soul-traits: https://jewishcamp.org/making-mensches/ when the time is right for you.
These notes form the beginning of your soul-connections journal. Keeping a journal is a foundation part of mussar, but do this in the way that works best for you – written, audio, or through art or photography. Don’t assume there’s “a way” to do this. Experiment with what works best for you. I have a planner/journal for each year and I put the soul-trait for the month at the top of each week as a reminder and at the end of each week I usually do a true journal entry on the week. If something noticable happens relating to the soul-trait I’m working with on a specific day – I’ll make a little note of that on the day.
Most important to however you practice is to choose set days/times to practice. I have a daily 5 minute practice that I pair with a Shabbat journaling practice. This way it’s habit. I don’t have to “make time” for the basic practice.
When I first began practicing I dedicated 30 minutes each day, focused on reading/study, 5-10 on journaling, and 5-10 on meditation practices.
Developing YOUR Practice
Kesharim K’doshim mussar practice has five key components drawn from a variety of inherited approaches. From there you can add any number of additional elements.
- Study: reading mussar teachings, exploring correspondences between soul-traits and the world around us, and working with a chevruta/partner/small group
- Affirmation: a short phrase that summarizes your work with a soul-trait
- Embodied Practice: physical practices that help reinforce study and engage the senses
- Action: Often called kabalot in mussar teachings, these are external actions that stretch us in a positive way with a soul-trait.
- Reflection: journaling and taking note of affirmations, actions, and study we are doing as well as how the soul-trait is showing up in our life, testing us, choices we’re making – without judgement.
On the month specific pages you’ll find guides for each month that provide offerings for each of the five components. Feel free to use these specific offerings and/or modify them and really make them your own. Think of these as your starter pack, and you can boost it with whatever helps YOU bring your practice to life.
Many texts will be very prescriptive – do this every day, do this every week, etc. Kesharim K’doshim is an invitation into spacious practice that fits YOUR soul. The important thing is to commit and PRACTICE. Here is ONE approach to Kesharim K’doshim that dedicates each week of Jewish month to a specific part of the practice and aligns with the moon phases.
🌒 Week One: Begin by choosing a on reading on a soul-trait and exploring its meaning as well as answer the questions in the Reflections. Check-in with yourself about where you are right now, and where you were at this same time last year. How does the middah (soul-trait) of the month resonate intellectually, emotionally, and/or energetically with you now vs when you think about this time last year? Choose an affirmation to recite daily. Maybe make an altar to begin setting your intention.
🌓 Week Two: Dive into the next layer of understanding by exploring additional teachings or resources and reciting your affirmation. Continue journaling your experience with the middah (soul-trait) of the month. How is it showing up for you? Where do you feel it in your body? What struggles are you finding? What bechirah (choice point) moments are you encountering? What keys or counterweights might help you unlock this soul-trait. Add an embodied element to your practice.
🌕 Week Three: Continue diving into the teaching/reading and unpacking it. Add an action to your practice this week that might include a ritual to power up your practice and add a chant or meditation to the rotation. Continue journaling or checking in with yourself about how this soul-trait is manifesting and what you need to learn about it to better engage with your soul’s curriculum in this life.
🌗 Week Four: Explore how this sits with you at the end of the month vs the beginning of the month. Acknowledge the choice-points you encountered and be honest with whether you stepped up in those moments or stepped back — don’t judge — just be honest with yourself. Recite your affirmation daily and continue your embodied practice and actions.
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Kesharim K’doshim Yearly Spiral
- Tishrei | Responsibility | G’virah
- Cheshvan | Honor | Mekonenet
- Kislev | Awe/Radical Amazement | Baalat Ov
- Tevet | Curiosity | Seeker
- Sh’vat | Love/Beloved | Ohevet
- Leap Year: Adar א | Tzavta | Connection | Oreget
- Adar | Illuminated Awareness | Leitzanit
- Nisan | Joy | Na’arah
- Iyyar | Patience | Meyaledet
- Sivan | Truth | Neviah
- Tammuz | Wholehearted | Immah
- Av | Courage | Chachamah
- Elul | Hineni | Presence | Tzovah
Would you like this and all the months of the year in a convenient download?