Return to Your Better Self: Embark on a Journey of Personal Growth With Mussar

stack of books about Mussar

By Jim Salander

Over my nearly 50 years as a vascular surgeon, I learned the importance of a number of traits, including humility, patience, and compassion. Some were taught to me by my peers and mentors in the hospital and during hours-long procedures in the operating room. More were learned from my interactions with patients and their families. But those characteristics, and many more, have been strengthened by  In the mid-19th century, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (no relation) organized the concepts of Mussar into a distinct discipline, giving individuals a structured approach to personal development. Here at Washington Hebrew, a Mussar study and practice group began in January 2018, and has been meeting monthly ever since.

As part of Mussar, you delve into the depths of your character, exploring one trait at a time. Our meetings have evolved from vibrant in-person gatherings at the Temple to engaging one-hour sessions on Zoom. Each month, a specific trait is selected, and we embark on a practical exploration of its essence.

For instance, consider the middah of patience. Throughout the month, we observe our behaviors and reactions in various situations. From waiting at a traffic light to seeking assistance on an 800 number, we navigate these everyday encounters with heightened awareness. By examining the internal emotions of frustration, anxiety, or fear that arise, we gain valuable insights into ourselves.

The Mussar program is not only an academic pursuit — it is a practice encompassing reading from a treasure trove of available information, discussions, and personal reflections. We engage in journaling, meditation, or profound conversations with fellow participants to recognize and overcome inner obstacles to better behavior and improve the way we interact with others and ourselves. This is the basic idea of returning to your better self.

Ultimately, Mussar is about bridging the gap between knowing how to behave and actually embodying those desired behaviors. As Viktor Frankl eloquently put it, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” It’s about rekindling the flame of your true essence and aligning your actions with your higher aspirations.

While Mussar finds its roots in Jewish tradition, it is a philosophy that resonates with our day-to-day experiences, integrating timeless wisdom into the fabric of our lives, and infusing the present with a higher purpose and meaning. By participating in the Mussar program, you join a community of individuals on a spiritual journey toward self-discovery, growth, and making a positive impact on the world around them. 

To learn more about Mussar and join this transformative journey, visit and For further information about the program here at WHC please contact James Salander at or leave a message at 301-518-5529.

Unleash your inner greatness and embark on a path of self-discovery with Mussar. Your journey awaits!

The Salander family have been members of WHC for nearly 35 years. Both children became b’nei mitzvah and confirmands and went on to maintain active involvement in Jewish activities as adults. They have blessed Jim and his wife Mary with eight grandchildren. 

Jim retired last year after nearly 50 years as a surgeon, Mary retired from a 20-year career founding and directing a successful reading and mentoring program for at-risk children here in the metropolitan area called Everybody Wins DC, which is an ongoing success. Jim may best be remembered as a beekeeper sharing his information and honey with many in our congregation.