Friday, August 21, 2009

189 - Shoftim (Elul)

"Tamim ti'hiyeh im Hashem Elokecha" (Devarim 18, 13). This, in essence, is the mitzvah of reaching shleimus (perfection) in avodas Hashem, as Unkelos translates, "Be complete in your fear of Hashem." Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 57) quotes a Medrash (Bereishis Raba 1, 1) which refers to the Torah as a pedagogue. The purpose of an educator is to bring the pupil to perfection in the area studied. Hence, the purpose of the Torah and mitzvos is to bring a person to shleimus. If so, shleimus can be defined as the adherence to the laws of the Torah as they are set down in the Shulchan Aruch, along with good middos.

While the adherence to the laws of the Torah can be accomplished through studying the Shulchan Aruch, what is the way to polish our middos to produce a sterling character? Rav Wolbe (ibid. vol. I pg. 46) in explaining the way to take advantage of the days of Elul, quotes a letter from Rav Yisroel Salanter which sheds light on the area of character perfection.

"It is known and has been proven that even without the study of mussar it is possible to serve Hashem on a lofty level. However, one who desires to change his character from bad to good without the study of mussar, is like one who desires to see without eyes or hear without ears." Since preparation for the Yamim Noraim must obviously include the desire to change one's negative character traits, therefore, the study of mussar is especially crucial during the days of Elul.

What is the proper method of mussar study? Rabbeinu Yonah (Avos 1, 14) writes that one who does not arouse himself will not be aroused through mussar. One can quickly learn through many mussar seforim and still not gain anything. A superficial perusal does not penetrate the recesses of the heart and will not effect a serious change. A person must first digest the idea stated in the mussar sefer and then evaluate himself in light of what he has learned. Can he relate to the topic of discussion? If he feels that he is deficient in this specific area, what is the reason behind his deficiency? Can he find a practical means to apply the mussar?

Five minutes of serious mussar study a day during this Elul can change you for the better forever!

No comments: