Saturday morning, I figured it would be just a one sefer service. So I walked off to shul with only Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis in my sinful little hand.
The book didn’t look too exciting but I figured it would be morally improving.
As I moved through the first chapters, impatience began to take hold of me. There was nothing in here that was new. There was nothing that I hadn’t heard a dozen times from the pulpit. Why do people bother to write books if they don’t have something to say? Is it just for the ego trip of publishing a book?
I thought about the first two books of Rabbi Daniel Gordis. The guy is supposed to be brilliant but his first books contributed nothing. (Though I didn’t bother with his book on raising Jewish kids, I was thrilled by his work on Israel — If A Place Can Make You Cry. I say that if it took suicide bombers to explode Gordis out of his somnolent state, then that was a small price to pay for great writing. We’re talking art here, pal.)
I came home Saturday night in my typical mood of everyday hatred, but in tribute to the book on mussar I had just read, I put my feelings on hold and before I blogged anything, I emailed author Alan Morinis some questions.
I print them here:
* Why did you write it?
I wrote "Everyday Holiness" because the Mussar tradition is little known today, but it has a history of a millennium of exploration of human life that I believe is an enormously valuable resource to people living today. Underlying that motive is the fact that I became involved in learning and practicing Mussar myself as a spiritual path and practice, and I have seen the positive impact it has had on my life. I felt moved to make that same resource available to others.
* Where does it break new ground?
Though Mussar has a long history and is recorded in many books, many already translated into English, it is little known. So my book breaks new ground by opening the door to Mussar, a door that few have found before. Although it isn’t my perspective, but rather the paradigm of the tradition, it will be new to people to encounter how the Mussar teachers invite them to see their lives as a spiritual curriculum, already encountered and there to be mastered.
* Anything surprise you in the course of writing it?
Yes, how difficult it was to come up with a title. I have been learning and teaching the material for years, so that wasn’t much of a stretch, but the title! The thing about a title is that it is so brief that until you have it, you don’t have anything. I could spend hours listing possible titles and at the end of the period have nothing to show for it except names that I had eliminated. My publisher, wife and friends were all making lists. In the end, it just came to me as I sat in an office waiting to get a visa for a trip and there it was. I knew right away that it was right.
* What’s been the most interesting feedback you’ve received on it?
It’s a little too early for the kind of feedback I am looking for. Because Mussar is a practice, what I hope (and expect) is that people will read the book, undertake the practice, and then find that they have grown and changed in ways that make them want to get in touch with me. That change doesn’t happen overnight, and the book has been out for less than 2 months now.