Mussar means ethics in modern Hebrew, which means ethicism finds its biblical origins in the word for rebuke or reproof, more gently defined as correction. This can be misleading, as the purpose of Mussar is to find spiritual elevation through the practice of Jewish ethics; ethics that have been taught for generations in Torah and Talmud study and interpreted by the sages in classic Jewish texts.
The modern concept of Mussar is rooted in 19th century Lithuania, when Jews found that the Enlightenment presented serious challenges to the beliefs and practices of traditional Judaism. Competing schools of Mussar developed but the Mussar movement is generally recognized as founded by Rabbi Yisrael Salanter and his disciple Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv.
What differentiates Mussar from other meditative traditions is that it asks the individual to work on the self, but for a higher purpose of living in the world and participating in tikkun olam (repairing the world). Once one has transformed the inner life, one is prepared to assist in the transformation of the outer world. This is done by identifying ethical modes of behavior and infusing each with a sense of holiness that leads to a higher spiritual awareness.
Alan Morinis writes beautifully of his personal journey to Mussar after experiencing several setbacks in his life. He shows how Mussar gave him meaning and purpose to pursue a new path. He leads us through various ethical traits such as humility, patience, and compassion, and shows how one can find inner peace and tranquility by the proper practice of these ethical behaviors.
This is a well written guide to a spiritual practice that individuals who are beset by the travails of our modern world would find meaningful and compelling.