Day 6: Mussar+Halachah=A Powerful Antidote
Let's now turn towards the writings of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, whose wise counsel will map out a means for mastering our eyes. Rabbi Salanter was the founder of the Mussar Movement, which in many ways revolutionized modern Jewish thought. In the classic work, Ohr Yisrael (the writings of Rabbi Salanter and his disciple, Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer), he wrote, "Without Mussar study, Avodat Hashem cannot be established" (Letter Three).
What does that mean? In a nutshell, Mussar is intended to achieve character refinement and illuminate one's personal spiritual growth. It is an exploration of our relationship with others, with our own self and with Hashem. With its sharp focus on elements of Torah that uplift and encourage, it has the strength to literally change your life. Avodat Hashem begins with a person who is inspired to improve himself and is aware of his potential to be closer to Hashem.
Rabbi Salanter speaks of the healing powers of Torah when you are facing a particular challenge. He assures you that not only can Torah reverse the negatives in your life; it can build an entirely new person. In Igeret HaMussar, he writes:
The way to utilize the healing powers of Torah is to continually study the laws relevant to the particular transgression...
We know that transformation of human nature is generated by Torah study and the repeated practice of a desired good conduct or character trait.
This method of study causes a strong alteration within one's soul. ...
One's character will gradually change so that the transgression is naturally distant from him.