One reason we count from Passover to Shavuot, from the Exodus from Egypt to the Revelation on Sinai, is to move from a feeling of relief and liberation to a feeling of wonder and elation. The gift of Torah is meant to begin to prepare us for the rest of our lives, as Israelites wandering toward a Promised Land, and as humans, seeking a higher level of thriving.
How might we, re-enacting our ancestors’ journey, move toward a deeper and more intentional level of thriving or flourishing? It is precisely this question that I have grappled with since Rosh Hashanah. Having been introduced to an area of Positive Psychology that encourages us to embrace our character strengths, particularly our signature strengths, I am excited to look at the possibility of blending the study of character strengths with the natural focal points within Judaism.
There is actually a study within Judaism called Mussar, that originates in the 10th century and was revived in the 19th century. It is a path of contemplative practices and exercises that guide us on our journey through life. The ultimate goal of Mussar is to release the light of holiness that lives within each individual soul. Mussar allows us to focus on everything from character to courage to generosity to humility to love, gratitude and so much more, all of a part of the Character Strengths that each of us innately has.
Over the seven weeks of counting from Passover to Shavuot, I will introduce you to the different categories of Character Strengths, as defined by the VIA Institute in Cincinnati, and the specific strengths that fall in each category. I will also partner some Jewish values with these Character Strengths. If you are so inclined, take the free survey (it takes only 10 minutes) by clicking on the link below. There is one link for adults and one for youth (ages 10-18). You will receive back a summary that will rank the 24 character strengths according to your highest ones, so that you can focus on your signature (or highest) strengths. Over the next number of months, we hope many people within our community will take this survey, so that you can identify and learn more about how to flourish, as human beings and as Jews.
The six main categories of Character Strengths are:
- Wisdom and Knowledge – cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
- Courage – emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
- Humanity – interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
- Justice – civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
- Temperance – strengths that protect against excess
- Transcendence – strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
During this time of counting, may we all find ways to move from redemption to revelation, from fulfillment to flourishing.
Rabbi Deborah Bravo