Ohr Yisrael: R’ Salanter’s Letters (11-12)
We’ll be combining two of R’ Salanter’s letters here (11 and 12), both of
which are short but touch upon themes we’d already addressed in new ways.
The first is unusual in that it was clearly addressed to some of R’
Salanter’s closest “friends and companions”, given that he signed only his
first name to the letter which he never did with his other correspondences.
He asked them to first encourage each other in their efforts to persuade the
masses to study Mussar, and to then seek the support of the great rabbinic
leaders with the assumption that that will clearly pave the way for success.
(The truth be known, while a number of the greatest scholars of the time did
encourage Mussar study, others did not for various reasons that are beyond
the scope of our concerns here, and which partially explains the
difficulties the Mussar Movement encountered.)
He added that they they were to remember that by encouraging others to study
Mussar they were “conferring merit upon the community” by giving them a
chance to improve themselves that way, and that they weren’t to take that
lightly. After all, without the fear of Heaven, which is a major element of
Mussar, one’s Torah studies and mitzvahs are “mechanical and nearly without
any spiritual content”. So they were very fortunate to have had the
“magnificent gift from the Almighty” that is the mitzvah of spreading Mussar
study fall into their laps.
And the second letter was written to elaborate on the topic of bolstering a
community’s Beis Midrash and, in the process, of “support(ing) its
‘neglected little sister’”, the Mussar House. Providing Mussar Houses would
enable a “sensitive soul to be moved enough to enter” one when he’s inclined
to grow and draw close to G-d.
Ever the teacher, R’ Salanter reminds his disciples here to not pressure
others to do everything at once when it comes to all of this. His disciples
were to be “flexible rather than obstinate” -- “easygoing in the demands
(they) make of” others. “Press too hard”, he warns them, “and you will
repulse (those you hope to influence) and turn them away from Mussar”.