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Mussar & Mentor: A Wonderful Combination

In Masechtas Yoma [38b], the Gemora tells us that when

we come before the Heavenly tribunal for the final judgment,

each one of us will offer excuses. The poor man

will say that he was desperately preoccupied with eking

out a living. The rich person will say that he was overwhelmed

by the pressures of his financial holdings and

just couldn’t find a moment for spiritual improvement.

The sensual man will defend himself with the claim that

it wasn’t his fault that Hashem gave him such virility. Indeed,

each of us in turn will say to Hashem, ‘It isn’t my

fault that You gave me such a temper, that I had such a

jealous nature. Hashem, if You had made me with a more

balanced temperament, everything would have been very


Rav Segal, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, Zt”l, Zy”a, advises

us that Hashem will parry these protestations with

the simple question of why we didn’t study mussar, i.e.,

works such as the Chovos HaLevovos or the Orchos Ha-

Chaim, or Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato’s Mesilas Yesharim,

which train a person how to spot his or her own character

flaws and how to correct them. To this Divine question

we will have no answer. Rav Segal therefore recommends

that especially before the Day of Judgment and Yom Kippur,

we accept upon ourselves a course of study in one of

the great mussar works.

A question was posed: If a person has only a half an hour

per day to study, what should he learn? Should he learn

Chumash, the actual Word of Hashem? Or, perhaps, he

should pursue Halachah in order to know how to live

correctly? The famous answer given is that he should

learn mussar for, when he learns mussar, he will realize

that he really has more time to learn daily than a half an


Mussar will first of all sensitize us to

make us more aware of the severity of

the crimes in daily life that we might

take too lightly. If we sit down and

peruse carefully the writings of the

Chofetz Chaim, we will become more

sensitized to the horrific crime of talking

about others. In Mesilas Yesharim,

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato will open

our eyes to the folly of such sins as

lying and the like, while the Chovos

HaLevovos will force us to take a

hard look at how much of a part does

Hashem have in the decision making

process of our life. Another great

sefer for this time of the year is the

Shaarei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah.

It is a veritable syllabus of how, and on

what, we should do teshuvah.

I have the pleasure to occasionally speak during the summer

in the Monticello Shul in Monticello, New York. The

rabbi there is a wonderful man by the name of Rabbi

Chanowitz, Shlit”a. He is a follower of Chabad Chassidus.

I had an occasion recently to speak to him about

certain practices of a segment of Chabad that I find troubling.

He shared with me something beautiful about

Chabad that I think we can all learn from and I want to

share it with you. Rabbi Chanowitz told me that every

devotee of Chabad, every man, every woman, and every

child, is trained to have a personal mashpiah, a mentor, to

whom they can go to for advice and for mussar. What a

beautiful thing! How much better life would be if, when

someone has a fight with their sibling, they would go to

their respective mentor and ask what the Torah way is

to deal with the problem. Remember, the mentor has

the advantage of not being personally involved and can

therefore see the matter much more clearly.

This wonderful practice is really the advice of the Mishnah

in Pirkei Avos, “Asei lecha Rav – Make for yourself a

Rebbe,” which, if everyone would adhere to, many of our

problems in shul, in the business place, and in the home,

would not escalate into crises. I believe that this is another

question that the Heavenly tribunal will ask us: Did

you have a mashpiah, did you have a

mentor. These are two improvements

that we can accept upon ourselves in

the coming year. In the merit of our

attempting to improve, may Hashem

bless us with long life, good health,

and everything wonderful.

Please learn, give tzedaka, and daven

l’iluy nishmas of Miriam Liba bas Aharon.