There’s simply no comparison between regular, lengthy, in-depth study and
the occasional, quick, superficial kind. Of course, sometimes we don’t have
a choice, as reality always beckons and we often have to settle for the
less-than-ideal. Nevertheless, R’ Salanter emphasized that we would have to
set aside a specific amount of time to delve seriously into Mussar works if
we’re to really benefit from it.
Many of us set aside specific times -- early in the morning, perhaps, before
the day begins, in the course of the day here and there, or at the end of
day -- to delve into Talmud, Halacha, Tanach, Jewish Thought, and more. R’
Salanter’s innovation was to suggest that we set aside regular times for
serious and prolonged Mussar study, too.
That hadn’t been done until his time: some who’d be inclined would pick up a
Mussar work at random when they were unable to study anything else, others
would delve into favorite Mussar books in the course of the month of Elul or
the Days of Atonement, others would be moved to delve into them when
approaching milestones in their lives (like marriage, childbirth, or the
like), or just on a whim. But R’ Salanter’s point was that if we’re ever to
grow we’d need to delve into such works regularly, seriously, and at length.
There are a couple instances when we’re resistant to Mussar study, R’ Blazer
pointed out, citing R’ Salanter’s teaching. Sometimes we lapse into certain
sins so often and with such abandon that the sins themselves “numb the heart
and turn it to stone”. That’s to say that our growing blasé about the sin on
one level, but also knowing only too well how wrong it is in our hearts,
throws us into such a state of inner conflict that we just close ourselves
off to what we’re doing in self-defense.
Here’s what someone in that state would have to do even before approaching
the Mussar works that would help, R’ Salanter points out. He’d have to delve
into regular Torah study beforehand and pray to G-d for help “in a spirit of
humility and submission”. That will “soften one’s heart and enable him to be
touched” by what the Mussar works he’d then delve into would teach him, R’
Salanter assures us.
The other instance in which we’d be resistant to serious Mussar study would
be when we’re so consumed by business or professional interests that we’d
imagine we simply haven’t the time to study Mussar. Such a person should set
aside time on Shabbos for Mussar study, R’ Salanter suggests, when he’d
already be away from the pressures of work. And he should take some time --
even not a lot of it -- in the course of the week to review what he’d
concentrated on the previous Shabbos. That would solidify the ideas he’d
dwelt on already and implant them in his heart.