I recently emailed a few questions to Modya Silver, the founder of madrega.com , “The online community for the Soul-full Jew”. His answers will give you a little insight into why I think his website is unique and fills a big void for those who are looking to grow in character development.
1. How did the idea of Madrega.com come into being?
A number of years ago I developed my life goal to bring together 1,000 people in some meaningful way so that I can provide a conduit for their measured growth. I have worked in technology and also have a passion for middot (character trait) development. Finding a way to combine the two was a natural fit for my passions.
I then thought about how every Jew around the world, learns/reads the same Torah portion each week (except sometimes in Israel where they are off by a week, or maybe the rest of the world is off and Israel is on). I thought about daf yomi, the schedule by which everyone in the world learns the same page of Talmud every day. It made me think of the power of community and collective learning. A light bulb went on that if we all explore the same middah at the same time, there would be a tremendous opportunity to share ideas and experiences and, through that, grow more than if we worked in isolation. Imagine for example that 1,000 people are all working on developing lovingkindness for two weeks at the same time – all over the world. Imagine if 10,000 are doing that, or a million people. Wow, that would shake the world off its axis.
2. You mention “middot” development and not Mussar. Is madrega.com not a Mussar site?
I learned from my uncle a long time ago that “’ism’ isn’t any good”. So, I’ve always been reluctant to hook onto one school, one ideology for risk of devaluing other ideas and ideologies. When I set out, I thought that madrega.com would be a Mussar site since my middot teachers are within the Mussar tradition. Then I started to learn with a Slonimer Chassid. I also would meet frum Jewish men who, when they heard that I was into Mussar, would literally cringe. They had gone through a yeshiva system and for them Mussar was simply rebuke for doing something wrong, not a path for spiritual growth. It became obvious that the Mussar focus was fraught with potholes and so I broadened the scope to include all authentic Jewish paths that have something to say about middot. In this week’s reading on generosity for example, I quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. Other times I have quoted the Chofetz Chaim, the Malbim, the Netivot Shalom. Any number of sources, provided they offer useful and authentic teachings that are rooted in Torah.
3. How have you grown as a Jew since the web community started?
I’ve always had a strong sense of spirit and find it easy to do daily exercises that open my heart and soul to G-d. My difficulty has been in staying focused and staying the course in Jewish learning. I found that there are so many paths to travel down and often for me, those paths didn’t seem related to each other. I would lose my focus and stop learning. Writing a weekly piece for the madrega.com community and then thinking through all the comments that people post makes me traverse the many paths of Judaism and look for common threads. Last week for example, I was learning a piece of gemorra about when you reject myrtle for a lulav set. It seems like a remote teaching, because in practice, I buy my myrtle in a plastic sealed bag and to me it all looks the same. However, I asked myself how the teaching relates to me today and I found that the answer came through a middot view. There was something about whether I can affect change or whether it’s out of my hands and I need to “reject” my drive to affect change. That made me think hard about effort (hishtadlut) and when I have done all I can and need to let go and trust. I think that without the discipline of daily and weekly learning and reflection on madrega.com, I wouldn’t have seen the gemorra as a lesson for my life.
4. What obstacles have gotten in your way and how did you overcome them in creating the web community?
The middah that comes to mind here is anavah (humility). I had so many technical problems in building the site. I went through three development teams before we got it working. In the middle of all that I took on development myself (thank goodness I stopped that quickly). My question to myself all along was what was my role. I leaned on the way Alan Morinis so adeptly defines anavah as occupying the space that Hashem wants you to occupy. Nothing more, nothing less. My space was to create content and help build awareness of the community to increase our size and success. However, I kept wanting to step outside that role and do everything else. I overcame my drive to take it all on by constantly asking myself the question until I finally listened to the answer. It wasn’t easy to listen.
The second challenge which I still have is in community leadership. I know that in its early days I need to be the catalyst for activity and so I write and post and blog and discuss and create chants etc. However, I never wanted this to be the Modya Silver community. I wanted a more distributive, democratic community where everyone becomes equal participants and everyone’s voice is heard equally. I trust that we’ll get there within the next 12 months, but this remains an obstacle for me now and I find I bump up against my issues with anavah all the time because of it.
I’m feel very fortunate to have formed a nice friendship with Moyda thanks to many emails over the past few weeks. Madrega.com allows you to work on a specific character trait for two weeks and post comments regarding the middah and post blogs about your growth. It is “The online community for the Soul-full Jew“.
“Life is very dear to those who discover its value, and very cheap to those who squander it.”- from the sefer GESHER HACHAIM (The Bridge of Life)
I posted this quote about three weeks ago on Facebook. The sefer Gersher HaChaim, by Rav Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, was suggested to me by Micha Berger as a good thing to learn when dealing with the death of a loved one. Micha was kind enough to comment on Facebook, “I’m happy to see it is speaking to you. BTW, contrast that quote to the various perceptions of the size of the yeitzer hara on the day it will be slaughtered.”
The gemara that R Berger was referring to is in Sukka 52a:
“Rabbi Yehuda lectured: In the future, Hashem will take the yetzer and slaughter him in the presence of both the tzaddikim and the reshaim. To the tzaddikim he will appear like a high mountain and to thereshaim he will appear like a thin hair. Both, however, will cry. The tzaddikim will cry “How could we have overpowered such a high mountain?” and the reshaim will cry: “How could we not have subdued such a thin hair?”
Rav Dessler discusses this gemara in Michtav M’Eliyahu. He explains thats that a tzaddikim will view all of their challenges, urges, difficulties in life as a tall mountain. The rashaim will see “that one act of the will which could have taken him to the top in one bound” as that thin little hair. (See Strive for Truth Vol 1 pg 105)
The goals and aspirations of a tzaddik in this world are to get close to Hashem. For the rasha, his only interest is to distance himself from the Creator. I think this is what Micha was alluding to.
The things we have a ratzon, a desire, for will fight for. We’ll climb, to use the gemara’s imagery, the mountain if we have to. We will use all of our energy and might. The tzaddik will fight his yeter hara until the end to get closer to Hashem. Don’t be fooled. The rasha will fight also for what he desires. With just as much strength as the tzaddik. What the Gesher HaChaim is telling us is that those things that the tzaddik values are looked upon as almost worthless to the rasha.
That is why both the tzaddik and the rasha will cry, in the end. Out of joy and awe will the tzaddikim cry when they see the high mountain that was their yetzer hara. All most too difficult to conquer, yet they did conquer it. The tzaddikim will cry tears of joy. The rashaim, on the on other hand, will see their yetzer hara, that they gave into time and time again, as nothing more than a hair. Nothing more than a little thing they could have blown or brushed aside. That is why they will cry tears of regret.
Jewish Action also had a great article a number of year ago, here.
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg writes in his book Between Berlin and Slobodka that R Hutner was one of the first Roshei Yeshiva in America to start giving shiurim in English. I think this is a valuable lesson. An effective teacher is one that uses language in a way that student can understand. It doesn’t mean that you have to know the most current slang or newest entry in the Urban Dictionary, but the message you give over has to in a form that can be received.
You can feel free to read other post of mine that site Rav Hutner here.
R Micha Berger just posted an excellent essay on his blog, Aspaqlaria, on Gratitude.
Here is a quote to give you a taste of this must-print-and-read-on-Shabbos post:
What does “todah” mean? As it stands, it means “thanks”. The same root conjugated as “vidui” means to “confess”. Last, when the mishnah wants to stress that something is outside of a dispute, “hakol modim” — “all agree”. What do thanks, confession and agreement have in common?
To find out, click here.
This video was taken (not by me) inside Cong, Khal Chasidim (in Chicago) Motzei Shabbos at their Hachnosas Sefer Torah. Dancing are HaRav Michel Twerksi, his son (and Rav of the Shul) Rav Efraim Twerski, and HaRav Michel’s oldest son Rav Benzion Twerski. HaRav Michel is doing, what is know as the “Yud-K..dance”. According to my son, who attended, the event was packed with hundreds of people.