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Concrete Methods to Study Mussar

Published on Wednesday October 13th, 2021

Here are some concrete methods to effectively study Mussar:

1. Memorizing Verses

The constant repetition of Mussar verses can really help a person gain awareness on the truth of the Torah. For example, before entering the home of a rich person, repeat the Mishnah: "Jealousy, lust and the pursuit of honors remove a person from this world".

Do not just read verses, repeat them until they become imbued in your heart. Do not read these words absent-mindedly. Read them aloud and, if possible, accompanied by a melody.

It is advisable to carry a notebook wherever you go, where you will copy quotes from our Sages or words of Torah that have impacted you.

Search the book of Psalms, Tanakh or Pirkei Avot for verses that challenge you. It is important that these verses have some meaning to you and that they reinforce your sense of responsibility for Divine Service.

2. Exercise the Imagination

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev ironically evoked the difficulty that a person may have internalizing the concept of punishment and reward, in the following words:

"A man suffers because Gehinnom is in the books of Mussar but the evil inclination is outside, running free. Now, if the Yetzer Hara were in the books of Mussar and Gehinnom was outside, it is clear every man would be a tzaddik! For our hearts to integrate the writings of Mussar, we must make use of our imagination.


"Know what is above you, an eye that sees, an ear that listens and all your deeds are being inscribed in a book. "

We cannot integrate the idea of ​​this verse if we read it quickly. But if we stop to reflect upon it for a moment, when we are on the brink of transgressing a prohibition, we may become aware that Hashem is watching. Try to make this real with the help of your imagination and "perceive" Hashem observing you. When we gossip, we do it before Hashem who is listening to us. When we are about to commit a transgression, we may imagine our soul accounting for it before God.  And that transgression will be indelibly inscribed in "the book of our life".

It is said that Rav Avramsky used to say to his pupils: "We all write a book. On the first page, is the day of our birth, on the last, the day of our death and between the two, each page corresponds to one day. If we are all authors of a book, a personal biography, then we might as well write a delightful book! "

Reading the Zohar Hakadosh

Reading the Zohar Hakadosh allows us to become aware of the impact of our mistakes in the higher worlds. It also contains many stories about reincarnations and the immortality of the soul according to our Sages' Midrashim.

Reading stories about the life of tzaddikim

The Ramchal writes: "The best remedy against the Yetzer Hara is quite simple and its effects are far reaching. Let man spend one hour each day with no other thoughts than what I have just mentioned and question his heart about our patriarchs' deeds which led them to such awesome aspirations towards Godliness. "

Rav Yitzchak Levinstein writes: "When a man sees or remembers the acts of the righteous and pictures the deeds and behavior of the tzaddikim, his spirit is moved, and he is able to defeat the Yetzer Hara. This is the meaning of the words of our Sages (Sota, 37) related to Yosef who pictured his father in a vision. He imagined how Ya’akov overcame his evil inclination and it gave him the strength and courage to overcome his ordeal with Potiphar's wife.

The Chazon Ish writes:' The life stories of Israel's tzaddikim are the best books of Mussar. "

3. Mussar's Speeches

After listening to a Mussar lecture, it is important to reflect upon each of its points and apply them to oneself, rather than projecting them unto a friend or spouse while "absolving" oneself. It is said that one day someone informed Rav Aryeh Levine that a certain man was behaving badly toward his wife. The Rabbi went on Shabbos Day to the synagogue where this man was praying and gave a speech on the Shalom Bayit. Among the faithful was Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer who came to meet Rav Aryeh Levine at the end of the prayer and said: "Your address inspired me to review my behavior towards my wife!" However, the man to whom the words of Rav Aryeh Levine were addressed did not necessarily resonate with the sermon!

Rav Israel Salanter wrote in his book Or Israel: "When a man studies Mussar, he is influenced by his study, but a moment later he forgets everything. He resumes his study, is again impacted and forgets everything again. Despite his repetitive absent-mindedness, if he keeps going back to his studies, he will be able to transform himself and his evil inclination will diminish or disappear; he will be victorious in overcoming the shortcomings of his human heart. "

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