We’d need to know where we’ve already done well and where we’ve fallen short
if we’re to achieve spiritual excellence. That’s to say, what to leave aside
and what to go on with. R’ Salanter’s next innovation touches on that and more.
R’ Salanter pointed out that the greatest Mussar texts -- such as “The Path
of the Just”, “The Duties of the Heart”, “The Gates of Repentance”, “The
Ways of the Righteous”, etc. -- brought together all the verses and Talmudic
statements about particular character traits in order to make it easier for
us to know the Torah perspective on each one.
He advised us to take advantage of that fact so as to focus our attention on
a particular trait that we find ourselves not living up to, and to
concentrate on what’s said about it.
What that comes down to us is honing in on a single negative factor in your
being -- egocentrism, perhaps, or anger, laziness, a lack of gratitude, etc.
-- seeing it for what it is from a Torah perspective and how it colors your
personality, and setting out to eliminate it. The same goes, by the way, for
traits you’d need to incorporate or bolster (like the opposite of the
above), R’ Salanter underscores.
In fact, just setting aside time to reflect upon the different sides of your
personality, taking each to heart one by one, and considering what needs to
stay and what should go by the waysides, is half the battle. As only someone
who takes himself seriously enough to faithfully and fully consider his
actions, attitudes, and motivations can ever hope to better himself.
And we’re assured that we’ll come to rectify that trait "by fervently
repeating the statement” about it as enunciated in Mussar texts, R’ Blazer
reports R’ Salanter as saying, and by doing that “until (we) will have
rectified and amended” our failing. His other point, understand, is that
once that fault has been dealt with thoroughly, you’re to move on.
Certain Mussar themes need to be dwelt on again and again, all of one’s
life, though, as they’re so all-encompassing and fundamental to one’s
spiritual well-being. They include the bolstering of one’s fear of heaven,
always taking an account of one’s actions and attitudes, reflecting on our
life’s mission, and the like. Those sorts of “meta-themes” need to be
reflected upon day after day. One can never be sure he’ll have reached his
potential in those areas, so we’re to always reflect on the Traditional
statements about them, and to never consider ourselves as fully successful
as far as they’re concerned.