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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

This Time of Year is Always a Special One

by Josh Wallach

For me, this time of year is always a special one. There are memories of many years at Shaare Emeth, attending High Holy Day services with loved ones, some now departed and dearly missed, and there are memories being made here with my own growing family, whether it be attending an event directed towards my children, Shabbat services, or teaching them that Shaare Emeth can be a second home to them. I am thankful for the ability to be so actively engaged and participate not only in lay leadership opportunities, but to be given so many opportunities to choose from.

Earlier this year I was invited to be a participant in Shaare Emeth's inaugural Tikkun Middot class, and therefore an ambassador for what I've discovered is a powerful "thing". Tikkun Middot is a combination of Mussar (a traditional form of ethical study and practice) and Mindfulness practices. Initially, Rabbi Goldstein introduced our class to the broad concept of Hitlamdut, or study of self. By engaging ourselves in this study of self, we give ourselves the ability to deeply internalize what we are learning.

At our first meeting, we were asked to focus on one specific daily activity that we could then look at and notice how we do this activity, how it affects us, and what we can learn from it. I chose to look at driving. One of the aspects of driving I focused on was how I behaved when seeing the driver of a nearby vehicle texting or paying more attention to their phone than the 4000 lb machine they were piloting. I found that my old habit of honking at such drivers, motioning for them to put their phones down, or just internally uttering dissatisfaction did absolutely no good, for anyone. It simply raised my stress level, took my focus off of the road (not to mention the three little ones in car seats), and, for a minute, made me feel like I had to control the actions of other drivers (impossible to do). After studying this for several weeks, I quickly learned that turning my attention to steering my ship away from unsafe drivers was a more appropriate solution, one that did not necessitate 100% control in a situation that I couldn't control. All of the sudden, my horn was being used less, my stress level was down, and my focus was 100% where it needed to be. While this is only one example, it illustrates that even the most mundane and repetitive activity can be considered for Hitlamdut practice, and that within this activity there is room for learning.

During the month of Elul, I am grateful to be part of a congregation that actively highlights our ability to reflect on our lives and learn. For me, it is not enough to simply say I can be a better person by "doing" this. Tikkun Middot practice allows us to ask deeper questions, like why are we doing it this way, what happens if we do it this way instead, how are others affected if I continue doing something a certain way, and why should we do it this way? There are learning opportunities around every corner if the desire to learn exists.

Since our initial class, each successive session has become more specific in its nature, honing in on a particular character trait, for example "Patience". Over the next year, our entire congregation will be introduced to this practice thanks to a grant awarded to Shaare Emeth through the continued diligent work of Rabbi Goldstein. It is my hope as a participant, as a representative of our board of directors, and as a fellow congregant, that you too can say I am a better person because I am involved at Shaare Emeth.

Shanah Tova.

Josh Wallach has been a member of Shaare Emeth since his days attending the Shirlee Green Preschool. He is married to Stacey and they have three children, Gabriel 6, Vivian 3, and Benjamin 2. Josh currently serves as an officer on the Shaare Emeth Board of Trustees.

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