Ohr Yisrael: R’ Salanter’s Letters (5)
All of G-d’s creations must “hope for His generosity and await His mercy”,
R’ Salanter avers. And they should hope that He’d “grant us merit”, given
how difficult it is to be the sort of people we’re capable of being. What we
should do is “try to emulate His ways as much as possible” -- especially His
loving-kindness, which He exhibits throughout the universe and oftentimes
without reason. And we should do all we can to “help the weak”. This last
letter that R’ Salanter wrote specifically to his greatest disciples, makes
the point that they (and we) should thus “help the weak” of character by
spreading the word about the importance of Mussar study.
But the truth be known, none of us is straightforward, we all lack for
understanding to one degree or another, and few among us truly fear Heaven.
Who is it then that will help prevent the many wrongful who are always
“ready to pursue each and every desire” from following through “on their
schemes”? And even though “the cardinal principle of the Torah is to not be
embarassed in the face of scorners” when we reprimand them and encourage
their better inclinations, we’re conflicted about doing that. So what are we
In order to help them we have to draw upon our own inner and perhaps
inadequate Fear of Heaven, and overcome our inner shyness and hesitance. And
we’re to guide individuals to a Mussar House (see R’ Salanter’s Innovations
9) where they can bask in the light of refection and on the vision of
betterment, study Mussar texts passionately and deeply, and grow.
For, without Mussar study, whatever we might do to better ourselves could
very well not work. Our “character (would) continue to be corrupt”, and
there’d be little success in our onslaughts against the yetzer harah.
Indeed, R’ Salanter asserts, “If we don’t turn to the all-encompassing
remedy of Mussar study, there’s (really) no place for Divine worship”!
The first thing to do is to know oneself -- one’s makeup and tendencies.
Next is to recognize in all honesty how far one is from attaining the lofty
goals we were created to achieve in this world. And we’re to then study
Mussar assiduously enough so as to learn how to control our untoward urges
as best as each one of us can -- taken our personal proclivities that we’d
have come to understand. Then we “can emerge victorious” in the great inner
struggle, and achieve personal perfection.
(Since this is the last of the five letters that R’ Salanter wrote
specifically to his best-known disciples, and his most important letters of
all, we’ll conglomerate and chose from his other correspondences from now
on, and indicate by number which letter we’ll be discussing.)