This week I watched one of the most loving and connecting Torah study videos I have ever seen. It is a conversation between Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz and Rabbi Uri Topolosky. They are two liberal Orthodox Rabbis who are focusing on Religious plurality. There are Mussar lessons for all of us who wish to be more inclusive.
The key to religious plurality is a healthy dose of balance across multiple soul traits. And it stems from What Rabbi Uri calls The Torah of Uncertainty. Here are Five Mussar Practice Lessons I gleaned from the video.
- The Torah of Uncertainty comes from the first of the Ten Commandments, which reads “I am the Lord your God.” The Hebrew word for “I” is unusual in this case, and includes an extra letter that introduces uncertainty. The lesson for us is to remember that only the Divine One knows everything. When we practice the soul trait of Truth (EMET) we cannot be too certain. We need to leave room for the perspective of others.
- When we practice Awe of the Divine, we need to stay to the middle way. We should not be so uncertain that we believe that anything goes. At the same time, we need to be mindful that we can’t be so certain of our view of what the Divine wants or teaches. Rather, we need to be mindful of our own path. Late in video, they return to this idea in a wonderful conversation about the burning bush. As you may recall, Moses sees a bush that burns but is not consumed. Rav Shmuly relates that we don’t want to have no fire, and equally we don’t want to be so on fire with a zeal for the Divine that we burn burn everyone around us. This is a Mussar practice of we can enbrace – to act with a fire that does not consume us.
- Rabbi Uri shared a Midrash (story) about crossing the Red Sea (8:30). When the waters parted, there were 12 paths that split in the sea, one for each of the 12 tribes. This suggests there are multiple paths to the same destination. Moreover, the Midrash teaches there were windows in the walls. When you walk your path, recognize that others are walking a path that is different but equally valid as yours. This reminds us to practice Honor (Kavod), to respect the ideas of others.
- Rabbi Uri shared a personal story of a time when he was leading an Orthodox service on Rosh Hashanah in a chapel of a Reform synagogue after their space was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. . During a silent moment of the Orthodox service, the woman Cantor hit a high note in the Reform service. While his first reaction was “This isn’t proper for an Orthodox service,” the smiles of everyone in the room reminded him that they all felt grateful for the love in the Reform Jewish community for giving them a space of their own. When we are less certain of our Truth, we are more open to the Mussar practice of Gratitude.
- This beautiful teaching closes talking about learning from everyone, and the practice of Hitlamdut. “an attitude of engaged curiosity and openness to learning throughout our lives.” The less certain we are of what we know, the more we will be able to learn from others. This is the essence of Mussar practice.
Ben Zoma said, “What is wise? One who learns from anyone.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1). While it may not be a stretch to learn from a Rabbi, it is an absolute pleasure to learn from Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz and Rabbi Uri Topolosky. I can say with certainty that this lesson of the Torah of Uncertainty will stay with me for a long time.
How does the Torah of Uncertainty apply in your life? Which Mussar Practice resonates with you? Please share below.