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Rabbi Israel Salanter - Mussar

Seeking the Torah of Truth

Publication Information: Book Title: Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement: Seeking the Torah of Truth. Contributors: Jonathan Chipman - transltr, Immanuel Etkes - author. Publisher: Jewish Publication Society. Place of Publication: Philadelphia. Publication Year: 1993. Page Number: 2.

The lifework of Rabbi Israel Salanter, 1 who, in the 1840s, began to disseminate the message of his Mussar movement. While the term Mussar has had a variety of meanings in Hebrew literature and historical periods, 2 in Salanter's writings the term is used to denote both the effort and the means employed to attain religio-ethical self-perfection and self-restraint. Through this movement, Salanter hoped to foster a spiritual and ethical renewal within Lithuanian Jewry. His message had three components: the demand that ethical self-perfection be a priority of the Jew, the identification of the ethical weak point in the realm of human relations, and the creation of a new and promising system of religioethical improvement.

ISRAEL SALANTER was raised and worked within the Lithuanian sociocultural context of Mitnaggedic society, which is generally portrayed in terms of its negative message -- that is, the negation of the Hasidic movement -- and as no more than that. This image calls for certain qualifications and additions. One may distinguish two main stages in the history of Mitnaggedism. During the first stage, which began in 1772, the phenomenon was indeed "Mitnaggedism" in the literal sense of the word -- that is, "opposition" to Hasidism. This response was primarily articulated in the organized struggle led by Rabbi Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, and carried out by the community organization. Explanation and analysis of the motivations of the Mitnaggedim during this stage would take us too far afield in our present discussion. Let it suffice to say that they were not interested at that point in conducting a polemic with Hasidism. From their point of view, Hasidism was understood as a deviant sect, whose heretical nature was to be publicly exposed and uprooted by use of all available means -- at least within the borders of Lithuania.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, it became clear that the Mitnaggedim had suffered a decisive defeat in their struggle with Hasidism. Not only was their hope of completely eliminating Hasidism not realized, but during the latter third of the eighteenth century the Hasidic movement continued to gather strength and to grow. Indeed, many young men from the ranks of the learned elite were swept up by the influence of the new movement, so much so that the persecuted sect became a threat to its persecutors.
The transition to the second stage in the history of Mitnaggedism came about against the background of that development. At that point, Mitnaggedic society in Lithuania became crystallized as a movement with a positive self-image, in which the all-out war against Hasidism was supplanted by intellectual confrontation and social competition with the rival movement.
The central figure in the formulation of Mitnaggedism as a constructive and creative movement was Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin, the leading disciple of the Gaon of Vilna. In his well-known work, Nefesh ha-hayyim ( 1824), Rabbi Hayyim offered not only an articulate and profound polemic against the Hasidic approach, but he created a systematic doctrine that may be construed as a response to that of Hasidism. Alongside his theoretical work, at the beginning of the nineteenth century Rabbi Hayyim founded a yeshiva in the Lithuanian town of Volozhin, which he headed until his death in 1821. He thereby laid the foundations for the reconstruction and renewal of the institutions of Torah study in Lithuania.
It was in this milieu of Mitnaggedic Lithuanian Jewry that Rabbi Israel Salanter grew up and toward which he directed the major part of his public activity. Moreover, in the person of his teacher, Rabbi Zundel of Salant, Rabbi Israel had a direct connection with the school of the Gaon of Vilna and of Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin -- the two most important figures in shaping the image and path of Mitnaggedism. For this reason, I have chosen to devote the opening chapters of this book to a description of the teaching and path of these three personalities -the Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Hayyim, and Rabbi Zundel -- and to Rabbi Salanter's relationship with them. By this means, we shall attempt to determine whether and in what sense the teaching and activity of Rabbi Israel Salanter was a natural continuation of his Mitnaggedic roots, and in what respects they reflected elements of innovation and change that went beyond the influence of those roots.
SEVERAL chapters of this book are devoted to the description and characterization of Rabbi Israel Salanter's ethical teaching, known as the "Mussar system." This system of thought revolves around two main focii: the relationship between Torah (that is, the study of Jewish religious law, or halakhah) and yir'ah (the fear of God), 3 and the individual's psychological motivation in Divine service.
The problem of the relationship between Torah and yir'ah -- that is, between the value of religious study in the intellectual-scholastic sense, and that of religio-ethical perfection -- is one that appears repeatedly throughout the history of Jewish thought. The dialectical tension between these two values already appears in the classical Rabbinic tradition. On the one hand, the Sages were unsparing in their praise of the unique importance of Torah study. On the other hand, they qualified this central value by saying that the study of Torah cannot be separated from the desire for ethical perfection. This tension raises the question of the relative weight to be attached to each of these two values: whether, and in what sense, a reciprocal relation exists between the effort invested in Torah study, on the one hand, and that devoted toward ethical improvement, on the other.
In addressing these questions, Rabbi Israel Salanter expressed his own opposition to what he saw as the neglect of yir'ah, joining a long line of individuals and movements, including Hasidism itself, that protested against such phenomena in earlier ages. The criticism lodged by the leaders of Hasidism against the learned elite included complaints against the conspicuous gap between its accomplishments in the scholarly realm and its failures as far as fostering yir'ah were concerned. In reacting to the Hasidic critique, Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin attempted to formulate an approach that would, in his view, present a balanced and proper combination of the values of Torah and yir'ah. Salanter, however, did not find this approach, which was extremely influential within Lithuanian Mitnaggedic Jewry, satisfactory. His call for a reevaluation of the relationship between Torah and yir'ah therefore expressed a challenge to the accepted view and a call for a new way.
More than any other question, that of the role of psychological motivation within religious life drew the interest and study of Rabbi Israel. While this subject is addressed in historical Mussar literature with varying degrees of attention and emphasis, the discussions devoted to it in Salanter's thought differed from that of his predecessors in two respects. First, he attributed such crucial importance to the question of motivation in human ethical improvement that, in effect, he transferred the discussion of Mussar from the theological to the psychological plane. Second, his analysis and explanations concerning this question were based upon a model of the human psyche that may be characterized as modern, within the conceptual framework and language of his time and place. Thus, in those chapters dealing with Rabbi Israel's theories regarding ethical education, I attempt to note primarily those features that are unique to this line of thinking, as against those that are characteristic of Jewish ethical literature generally. I likewise attempt to identify the source of inspiration for Salanter's new doctrine of the psyche.
Salanter did not leave a comprehensive, systematic work on ethics. His views were primarily expressed in sermons delivered in public, in letters addressed to individuals and to groups, and in some isolated published writings. The various articulations of his views concerning matters of ethical education are spread over a period of forty years. Moreover, even when he did express his views on these matters, he did not primarily function as a thinker who wished to impart a systematic body of thought. Salanter was first and foremost an educator, all of whose expressions in the realm of ethics, whether verbal or written, were intended to accomplish an educational mission within a certain specific context. All of these factors prompted me to organize the presentation of Rabbi Israel's thought chronologically, thereby enabling us to trace the developments that took place in his thinking over many years of activity. Moreover, this approach assists us in taking note of the interaction between developments on the theoretical plane and Salanter's concrete activity as leader and educator.

DURING the 1860s and '70s, Rabbi Israel Salanter's thinking took on a new dimension of profundity and complexity, due to his recently found awareness of the phenomenon of the unconscious. Salanter also exhibited a certain literary efflorescence during this period, expressed in letters 6, 7, and 8 in Sefer or yisra'el, which were in effect Mussar sermons from the end'50s; in the derushim published in the periodical Tevunah during the early'60s; in various letters from the '60s and '70s; and in Salanter final literary work, the "Treatise for the Strengthening of Those Who Study Our Holy Torah," published in Sefer 'ez peri in 1880. These writings, while extending over a period of about twenty years, are all characterized by the idea that left the strongest impression on Rabbi Salanter's thought from this period -- namely, the distinction between the conscious and the unconscious.

Tikkun ha-middot . The Improvement of Character Traits
One of the central themes of Salanter's thought throughout the period under discussion was tikkun ha-middot (character training), with most of the sermons published in Tevunah in 1861 being devoted to this subject. To begin with, Rabbi Israel attempts to disabuse his readers of the deterministic view of human nature, replacing it with a more optimistic approach:

Do not say that what God has made cannot be altered, and that because He, may He be blessed, has planted within me an evil force I cannot hope to uproot it. This is not so, for the powers of a human being may be subdued, and even transformed. Just as we see regarding [the nature of animals, that man is able to tame them and bend their will to his will . . . and also to domesticate them . . . so has man the power to subdue his own evil nature . . . and to change his nature toward the good through exercise and practice (see Heshbon ha-nefesh). 1

At the base of Salanter's remarks concerning tikkun ha-middot is the assumption that we are able to alter our personality traits for the better. The analogy with animal training, borrowed from Rabbi Mendel Lefin's Sefer heshbon ha-nefiesh, 2 is intended not only to demonstrate the truth of this axiom, but also to provide a hint of the means that can be utilized in order to train character.

The possibility of activity deliberately aimed at changing a human being's nature is already discussed in Iggeret ha-mussar, as we have seen. 3 However, the discussion of tikkun ha-middot in the periodical Tevunah differs from that which preceded it in a number of respects. First, it is the most detailed and systematic discussion that Salanter devoted to the subject. Moreover, even though in Iggeret ha-mussar Salanter also considered the possibility of changing patterns of natural behavior, he did not deal there with tikkun ha-middot in the precise sense of the concept, as the discussion there was conducted within the framework of the concepts of commandment and transgression. What he proposed there was a system of studying and repeating halakhot, intended to bring about the observance of mitzvot and the avoidance of sins by the use of one's natural inclination. He speaks here of tikkun ha-middot in terms of reshaping the fundamental contents of the soul, by uprooting such negative qualities as anger, severity, and pride, and by developing such good qualities as patience and modesty. Finally, it is notable that the first time the subject of character training was mentioned in Salanter's writings was after he came to know about the phenomenon of the unconscious, and was in relation to it.

By transferring his discussion from the realm of mitzvah and transgression to that of character training, Salanter moved the focus from isolated, external manifestations of behavior to their underlying psychological motivations. This change raises the question of the theological meaning given by Rabbi Israel to tikkun ha-middot. How did he picture the role of character training within the overall scheme of the service of God? I will attempt to explicate Salanter's stance concerning the theological meaning of tikkun ha-middot in comparison with the characteristic outlooks of philosophical Mussar literature, on the one hand, and kabbalistic Mussar literature, on the other.

In philosophical Mussar literature, the problem of tikkun ha-middot is discussed in terms of the assumption that a given combination of psychological traits embodies the ethical good. Thus, for example, Rabbi Saadyah Gaon thought that the ethical good is embodied in the proper harmony among the thirteen functions of the soul. Following Plato, Rabbi Saadyah Gaon thought that intellectual cognition is the element of the psyche whose task it is to fix the appropriate place in the life of the soul of each of the thirteen qualities. Intellectual cognition is meant to judge these matters in terms of the benefit or harm inherent in each of the tendencies of the soul. 4 This approach, which sees the embodiment of the ethical good in a certain balance of the traits of the soul, likewise underlies the Aristotelian doctrine of the golden mean adopted by Maimonides. According to this doctrine,

Good deeds are such as are equibalanced, maintaining the mean between two equally bad extremes, the too much and the too little. Virtues are psychic conditions and dispositions which are midway between two reprehensible extremes, one of which is characterized by an exaggeration, the other by a deficiency. 5

Thus, the ethical good is itself embodied in the very balance between the two extremes. Maimonides tries to demonstrate that the principle of mediation is consistent with the ethics of the Torah, 6 although he does not argue that the Aristotelian ethical principle and the system of the commandments are identical in contents. In the Fifth Chapter of his Shemonah perakim he gives the religious justification for his own ethical theory, portraying ethical perfection as a necessary precondition for the pure knowledge of God, which is the ultimate goal of Divine worship. 7

There seems to be a certain degree of resemblance, with regard to the religious significance of tikkun ha-middot, between the stance characteristic of kabbalistic Mussar literature and that of philosophic Mussar literature. Like the latter, kabbalistic Mussar literature also tends to see the embodiment of the ethical good in a certain quality of the tendencies of the soul. But unlike the utilitarian harmony of Rabbi Saadyah Gaon, or the principle of the Golden Mean advocated by Maimonides, kabbalistic Mussar encouraged the quality of asceticism and maximal apathy toward the values of worldliness and its acquisitions. 8 Moreover, just as for Maimonides ethical perfection is a necessary precondition for the achievement of the ultimate goal of Divine service -- namely, philosophical knowledge of God -- in kabbalistic Mussar ethical perfection is understood as needed for the attainment of what it regarded as the highest level: devekut, or mystical attachment to God. 9

But along with the points of similarity, there are also striking dif- ferences. While in philosophical Mussar literature the middot are presented as a separate and distinct system from that of the mitzvot, kabbalistic Mussar tends to bring out the strong connections between the two. Thus, for example, in Sefer sha'arei kedushah, by Hayyim Vital ( sixteenth-century Safed Kabbalist, leading disciple of Rabbi Isaac Luria), the connection between the mitzvot and the middot is explained in light of the structure of the soul. The human body is composed of 248 limbs and 365 sinews, totaling 613 organs, corresponding to the 613 mitzvot. There are 613 spiritual organs of the intellective soul, each one of which is embodied in the corresponding bodily organ. The activity of the bodily organs is controlled by the power of the organs of the soul. But between the intellective soul and the body is the "lowly soul," in which the middot dwell. On the basis of this schema, Rabbi Vital defines the relationship between the mitzvot and the middot as follows:

Therefore the middot are not included in the 613 mitzvot, but they are essential preparations for the 613 mitzvot, in their performance or negation, because the intellective soul is unable to fulfill the mitzvot by means of the 613 organs of the body save by means of the intermediate [that is, lowly] soul, which is joined to the body itself.... 10

That being so, the middot are a kind of a vessel, by whose means alone the soul can cause the organs of the body to fulfill the mitzvot.

In addition to this structural explanation, Sha'arei kedushah contains detailed discussions of the relation between specific evil traits and the complex of transgressions likely to stem from them; the evil trait is depicted in these discussions as the spiritual source of specific sins. 11 Moreover, alongside the discussion of the evil traits, the author of Sha'arei kedushah describes a separate category, which he calls "forbidden traits," 12 which are essentially sins. Their inclusion under the rubric of middot leads to a certain blurring of the line distinguishing between middot, on the one hand, and transgressions, on the other.

Although Salanter's writings contain no explicit discussion of the religious meaning of tikkun ha-middot, his views on the subject may be inferred from the overall context of his discussion of other subjects. First, it is clear that he did not see the ethical good as embodied in a harmony of the functions of the soul -- as found, for example, in Rabbi Saadyah Gaon and Maimonides. Nor does he think that ethical perfection need be expressed in apathy toward worldly things, as is the position of kabbalistic Mussar. In Salanter's writings generally, and in his discussions of tikkun ha-middot in particular, there is no indication that any normative meaning is attached to an ethical principle independent of the concepts of mitzvah and transgression. Therefore, one ought to return to a definition proposed earlier in this book: In Rabbi Salanter's opinion, ethical perfection is expressed in the maximal response to the commandments of the Torah. That being so, what religious significance is there to tikkun ha-middot? How does he justify transferring one's attention from acts of omission and commission -that is, the rubric of commandments and transgressions -- to the characteristics of the soul, which are not directly subject to the discussions and rulings of the halakhah? It seems that this is dealt with in two ways. First, there is an attempt within Salanter's writings to subsume various character traits under the categories of mitzvah and 'averah (sin). Thus, for example, he writes: "A bad trait is a very great transgression, for the sages greatly stressed the punishment for it; and a good trait is a great mitzvah, for the sages dwelt long on its high value." 13 In referring to the position of the Sages with regard to character traits, he quotes such sayings as: "Whoever is angry is subjected to all kinds of [punishment in] Gehinnom [Hell]. . . ." 14 That and similar sayings are not intended as categorical halakhic rulings, but rather as ethical guidelines or advice. Thus, even though it is doubtful whether Salanter would have included the various character traits within the formal enumeration of the 613 mitzvot, he nevertheless clearly wished to invoke the authority of the Sages in this matter, to the extent that he makes it into a subject of reward and punishment, like other mitzvot. This tendency is strikingly seen in remarks cited in his name by his disciple, Rabbi Naphtali Amsterdam:

.... We heard from him once, when he [discussed] at length the obligation incumbent upon a person not to stand [too much] on his rights, saying that this is a positive commandment of the Torah. When a person hears another insult and embarrass him, he is required at that very moment to love him and to do him good, in place of the evil which his fellow did to him. As it is spoken in the Torah, "to Him you shall cling" [ Deut. 10:20], which the Sages interpreted, "that is -- to cling to His ways. Just as He does not stand upon his rights, so shall you do, etc." As is written in [ Moses Cordovero] Sefer tomer devorah, that we have found regarding the traits of the Holy One, blessed be He, that [even] at the moment that a man sins before God, He does much good for him, for even at the moment of sin He causes life to flow to him. For [were he to be] without His flow for even a moment, he would be destroyed and lost, Heaven forbid.... And a man is required to do thus, for if not he violates a positive precept of the Torah, like tefillin and zizit and the like. 15

But while Salanter wished to lend the normative status of mitzvot and transgressions to the character traits, there is no doubt that the significance attached to tikkun ha-middot went beyond that. It would seem that in principle he understood tikkun ha-middot as the shaping of the personality in a manner appropriate to the commandments of the Torah. By creating harmony between the characteristics of the soul and the demands of the halakhah, the psychological obstacles hindering man from serving God are removed, thereby paving the way for the maximal response to God's commandments. This approach forms the background for the following statement by Salanter:

There are two kinds of [character] transmutation: one, in which man turns the powers of his soul to the good, so that the power of evil is totally uprooted and not seen at all. To accomplish this, it is insufficient for man to improve his general will, to long for the good and to despise evil, but he must seek the means of correcting each individual trait of his soul. This is required in the case of the rational [ethically self-evident] commandments, pertaining to man and his fellow.... The second way involves the "transmutation" of his general will, to love and to heed that which comes out from the mouth of God in the traditional commandments [ritual or ceremonial law reflecting arbitrary, Divine will] known to us by revelation, and to seek out and reduce the power of the appetite in each detail.... 16

From the distinction drawn between"two kinds of transmutation," it is clear that tikkun ha-middot relates to the realm of mitzvot between people, and not to those between a person and God, as it is in the interpersonal realm that such traits as arrogance or humility, anger or patience -- which are the objects of tikkun ha-middot -- are expressed. At the same time, it is clear that Salanter does not simply wish to identify the middot with the realm of mitzvot between people; rather, the relationship between these two distinct systems is one of interdependence. Tikkun ha-middot creates the psychological framework that fosters and makes possible the observance of the mitzvot between people. On the other hand, there are no specific traits of the soul whose correction as such will assure the fulfillment of the mitzvot between a person and God. It is nevertheless both possible and desirable that one work at correcting one's soul so as to fit the commandments of the Torah in this area, and by means of "correction of his general will to love and to observe that which emanates from the mouth of God," or, to use our language, by cultivating a psychological tendency to wish to fulfill all of the mitzvot.

To summarize, one may say that, in Salanter's view, the theological significance of tikkun ha-middot is anchored in the concepts of mitzvah and transgression in two different ways: the tendency to define the middot themselves within the framework of these concepts, and the attribution of instrumental significance to the middot -- that is, that tikkun ha-middot prepares the soul to fulfill the entirety of the mitzvot between one person and another. We thus find that Salanter's outlook on this question approximates that of Sefer sha'arei kedushah.

Rabbi Israel explained the instrumental nature of tikkun ha-middot by means of a distinction between two concepts: the subjugation of the Evil Impulse (kibbush ha-yezer) and the correction or transmutation of the Evil Impulse (tikkun ha-yezer). The former denotes the reining in and curbing of the appetites by the power of the will, while the latter concept is used in a parallel sense to tikkun ha-middot. The uniqueness of Salanter's approach to this question may be seen by means of comparison with the positions taken, respectively, by Maimonides and the author of Sha'arei kedushah. Maimonides deals with this question in his Shemonah perakim, 17 where he attempts to overcome the contradiction between the position of the philosophers and that of the classical talmudic Sages. According to the philosophers, the "saintly individual [that is, one whose character is refined to begin with] who does good, and who [naturally] desires and longs for it," is preferable to the "man of self-restraint," who overcomes his Evil Impulse and performs "praiseworthy deeds" even though he "desires iniquity and longs for it." The Sages, on the other hand, hold that:

He who desires iniquity and craves for it [but does not do it] is more praiseworthy and perfect than the one who feels no torment at refraining from evil.... Furthermore, they command that man should conquer his desires.... Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel summed up this thought in the words, "Man should not say, 'I do not want to eat meat together with milk'...but he should say, 'I do indeed want to, yet I must not, for my Father in Heaven has forbidden it.'" 18

Maimonides resolved this contradiction by means of the famous distinction between the rational and the traditional commandments. The position of the philosophers, which prefers the "saintly person" whose character is innately good over the individual who exercises selfrestraint, refers to the rational commandments. It is clear in such a case that "a soul which has the desire for and lusts after such misdeeds, is imperfect; that a noble soul has absolutely no desire for any such crimes and experiences no struggle in refraining from them..." The approach of the Sages, which sees the one who "overcomes his spirit" -- that is, he who controls his longing in the face of God's commandmentb -- as superior, refers to the revealed commandments, "since were it not for the Law, they would not at all be considered transgressions. Therefore, the rabbis say, that a person should permit his soul to entertain the natural inclination for these things, but that the Law alone should restrain him from them." 19

In this respect, Rabbi Hayyim Vital's position in Sha'arei kedushah is quite different. Unlike Maimonides, who thinks that one does not give absolute preference to either kibbush ha-yezer or tikkun ha-yezer, because each is preferable in its particular realm, Vital establishes a clear and unequivocal hierarchy between the two:

The rule that follows, is that one who fulfills the 613 mitzvot while the Evil Impulse is within man, and he overcomes it, is called a zaddik [a righteous man]; but one who fulfills them through the utter negation of the Evil Impulse, which indicates the acquisition of the good traits as a part of his nature, is called a hasid gamur [a perfect saint]. 20

The author of Sha'arei kedushah expresses an absolute preference for the hasid -- that is, the person whose character is perfect as suchbecause the goal toward which such a person strives is that of asceticism and withdrawal from the world. To this end, an ascetic way of life, based upon a psychological attitude of indifference and equanimity toward this world and its possessions, is clearly superior. From that point of view, there is also no reason to draw a distinction between "rational" and "traditional" mitzvot. From the rationalistic point of view of Maimonides, on the other hand, the correspondence between the tendencies of the soul and that which follows from the intellect -that is, the rational mitzvot -- is extremely important; this correspondence is not at all required in the case of the traditional mitzvot. But despite the difference between the position of Maimonides and that of Rabbi Hayyim Vital, there is nevertheless a common denominator between them: wherever they prefer tikkun ha-middot above kibbush hayezer -- a preference that, according to Maimonides, is confined to the realm of the rational mitzvot, while in Vital it covers the entire spectrum of Divine service -- both of them attribute value to this preference.

Against the background of both the differences and similarities between these positions, the uniqueness of Rabbi Israel Salanter's approach stands out. It differs from the kabbalistic approach in that it does not claim asceticism to be the goal of ethical improvement. On the contrary, Rabbi Israel believes that the deliberate attempt at tikkun ha-middot must be performed in relation to a social-worldly context or, in his language, be-milei de-'alma (in worldly things), as opposed to asceticism. 21 It is precisely in this context that people may anticipate those ethical trials for which, in order to stand up to them properly, they must make efforts to improve their character. On the other hand, Salanter's approach also differs from that of Maimonides in that his point of departure is not philosophical-rationalistic, but psychologicalexistential. Therefore, even if he does agree with Maimonides that tikkun ha-middot pertains specifically to the rational commandments -that is, those pertaining to human beings and their fellows -- he is in no way prepared to forego the attempt to reshape the tendencies of the soul with regard to the realm pertaining to people and God as well. Thus, Salanter's position differs both from that of Maimonides and that of Rabbi Hayyim Vital in that, to the extent that he does prefer tikkun ha-yezer to kibbush ha-yezer, this is not a choice of values, but a functional choice, as explained below. The instrumental character of tikkun ha-middot in Salanter's approach is reflected in the fact that he does not see kibbush ha-yezer and tikkun ha-yezer as two different stages or levels of ethical perfection, but as two systems of ethical education and improvement that complement one another.

At the beginning of his discussion of these two concepts, Salanter notes the superiority of tikkun ha-yezer. While one who has succeeded in subjugating his yezer many times is still liable to fall into sin, one who has transmuted it is no longer exposed to the pull of the appetite because "the spirit of his appetite is given over to his intellect, to love righteousness and not to desire its opposite." Further on in his remarks, Salanter points out to us the exact significance of this preference: "[T]his is the entire [purpose] of man, to uproot every evil attribute and characteristic from his heart, for so long as he is not cleaned from their filth, even if he overcomes his Impulse many times, he will fall into their net...." 22 It must nevertheless be emphasized that the preference of tikkun ha-yezer over kibbush ha-yezer is not a value judgment, because Salanter does not see the presence of the appetites within the human personality as an ethical defect per se. The religio-ethical status of a person is not fixed by the innate inclinations of the soul, but by the manner in which that person confronts them. Rabbi Israel's preference for tikkun ha-yezer is thus a functional, tactical one: One whose negative traits have been transmuted is stronger and more resistant to the temptations of the appetite and the yezer. Subjugation and transmutation of the yezer are therefore understood as two different ways of withstanding ethical trials. But in addition to this functional judgment, Salanter places the two within a chronological framework. In the first stage of ethical growth, one is liable to struggle with the yezer, in the sense of kibbush ha-yezer, while later on "he will gradually advance to the stage of controlling his spirit...." 23 Ethical improvement is thus depicted as a graded path with two levels on which we are expected to progress over the course of time from a relatively lower level to the higher and more certain one.

At a later stage of his discussion, Salanter qualifies these earlier comments, so that the hierarchical unequivocal structure described above becomes more complex. This new stage of the discussion opens with the warning that even those who have achieved the level of tikkun ha-yezer cannot entirely forego the need to subjugate the yezer. Although they have uprooted the evil from their hearts, new dangers may arise as the result of a powerful, unforeseen situation. For example, a person who is extremely patient and has seemingly totally conquered his tendency to get angry cannot be certain that, given some major personal catastrophe that he is unable to withstand, he may nevertheless fall prey to anger. 24 This warning is based on the possibility that the forces of the personality hidden within the depths of the unconscious may suddenly burst forth to the conscious realm in the wake of some external Stimuli. 25

In light of such a possibility, one can no longer regard tikkun hayezer as a final position and as a permanent attainment. Even those who have successfully devoted themselves to improving their character traits cannot be certain that they may not once again be forced to confront the struggle for kibbush ha-yezer. Indeed, there is a fear that such a person may now find it difficult to struggle with the Impulse and restrain it, "for the habit of subduing it which he once possessed has been uprooted from within him...as he has not made use of it for a long time, since the time that he came to enjoy the attribute of 'correction.'" 26

Rabbi Israel goes on to suggest a new understanding of the interrelationship between kibbush ha-yezer and tikkun ha-yezer. These are no longer thought of as two levels, to be acquired sequentially, but as two different approaches to the problem of ethical improvement, which are both necessary and complementary. Certainly, one must persist in tikkun ha-yezer, since those whose character faults have been transmuted can conduct their lives in an ethical manner without the enormous psychological effort demanded by subjugation of the yezer; however, one may not rely exclusively upon tikkun ha-yezer, but must continue to practice kibbush ha-yezer in order to assure an effective line of defense in case of emergency. 27

In his continuing treatment of this problem, Salanter faced a new question: To which stage of human life is each of these two methods appropriate? In answering this question, Rabbi Salanter reverses the previously suggested chronological order. Tikkun ha-middot, which had at first been described as a later stage, is now seen as suitable to youth and adolescence, whereas subjugation of the yezer is more appropriate to maturity and old age. Salanter's argument for this is based on a number of factors. Kibbush ha-yezer involves a concentrated spiritual effort, demanding great powers of forbearance. As such, it is appropriate to more mature individuals, whose endurance and tolerance for suffering have developed as the result of the trials of life and the struggle for survival. Tikkun ha-yezer, on the other hand, is more suitable to young people, whose personalities are still flexible and capable of change. 28 Salanter elsewhere mentions another reason for this: 29 The young man, who does not yet need to earn a living, enjoys a certain psychological calm and peace allowing for introspection and self-examination, careful planning of his actions, and the use of devices and various other means needed in order to transmute his traits. The older person, who must confront the pressures, temptations, and trials of practical life, lacks the emotional space necessary for serious work on his character. It seems reasonable to assume that Salanter was guided by these considerations in choosing the educational tactic to be taken in various contexts. It is certainly not accidental that the subject of tikkun ha-middot enjoyed detailed discussion on the pages of Tevunah, which was to a great extent intended for young lomdim, while it was played down, and at times not mentioned at all, in those writings and letters directed at the public of ba'alei batim. 30

The mind plays an important role in the correction of the traits, according to Salanter, as it makes the decisions concerning the nature of both good and bad attributes. He refers here to common sense -- that is, reflection based neither on logical reasoning nor empirical evidence. Salanter assumes an identity between the decisions of common sense and the ethical norms demanded by the Torah in the interpersonal realm. While he does not directly justify this assumption, it may be explained on the basis of a combination of ideas that Salanter does formulate explicitly. On the one hand, he claims that the middot relate to the realm between people and their fellows; on the other hand, he agrees with the outlook that states that the mitzvot between people are rational mitzvot -- that is, commandments that would be required by the intellect even had they not been included in the Torah. On the basis of these assumptions, Salanter states that the "man of self-restraint" is one "the spirit of whose appetites is given over to his intellect, to love righteousness and not to desire its opposite." 31 In other words, tikkunha-middot ha-middot means shaping the tendencies of the soul in accordance with the command of the intellect. There is an apparent closeness on this point between the outlook of Rabbi Salanter and the typical stance of philosophical Mussar literature. Unlike the latter, however, Salanter related rather skeptically to the power of intellectual cognition to impose its decisions upon the other powers of the psyche. Moreover, he thought that one ought to treat the intellect itself with suspicion, as it is a commonplace event that emotional drives may overwhelm the intellect and enslave it to their needs. For that reason, only common sense, "which is not corrupted or enchained by the forces of the psyche, whose tendencies are generally towards evil," 32 can fulfill this function with regard to tikkun ha-middot.

We have thus far spoken about the function of common sense in distinguishing between good and evil traits. However, common sense also continues to fulfill a multivalent function within the framework of the educational process of tikkun ha-middot, first of all, by means of self-contemplation, whose function it is to locate and to distinguish the evil traits. Salanter again raises the demand for self-reflection, which we first encountered in his discussion of worldly wisdom, 33 in this connection, but here it refers to a deeper and more penetrating kind of self-reflection. The focus of this process is no longer the appetites, but rather the essential character traits. It must be emphasized that this contemplation is directed not only toward the middot, but also toward the various stimuli likely to awaken them.

The process of self-examination and identification of character faults is followed by the decisive and most difficult stage in the training of character: the attempt to break the negative traits and to implant and cultivate positive ones. The mind has an important contribution to make at this stage, as well -- through mental devices. Before attempting to determine the nature of these devices, we must remember the common view of habit as a means of correcting the middot. According to this conception, which is first found in Greek ethics 34 and appears frequently in Jewish ethical literature, 35 a given pattern of behavior may become second nature by frequent repetition. We have already mentioned the theoretical basis for this assumption, 36 which Salanter took from Lefin Heshbon ha-nefesh. But those Mussar authors who extolled habit as a tool of character training did not give much thought to the problematics involved in the use of this technique in practice. For example, it is quite possible that one attempting to change his character traits by means of habit will find it difficult to impose the decision of his will upon his actual behavior. How, then, will it be possible for him to repeat the desired behavior over and over again sufficiently in order to convert it into second nature? It seems to me that the function of mental devices may be understood in relation to this problem: They are designed to strengthen will power, to enable it to overcome the negative traits until they are uprooted from the personality.

We now examine the nature of these mental devices, through a number of examples from the testimony of Rabbi Naphtali Amsterdam, who describes what he heard from his teacher: 37

I once asked him for a cure for the trait of anger and shorttemperedness, and he answered, "The cure is for a person to constantly bear in mind to be a good person, to do good to others.... So that when a person awakens in his soul lovingkindness, and doing good to people, and becomes known as a good person who does good to all, this will make it easier for him to keep himself from anger and short-temper...."

This device is based upon a line of thought typical of Salanter as an educator, one that we have already encountered several times during the course of our discussion -- namely, the use of social pressure to motivate individuals to act as they should. In this case, Salanter suggests awakening and directing social pressure by the deliberate cultivation of a self-image that elicits certain definite expectations from society. The psychological tendency to respond to our social environment and to fulfill the role that it imposes upon us in accordance with our image is meant to conflict with negative traits and defeat them. 38

Another example of a mental device that Rabbi Amsterdam heard from Rabbi Israel is the following one:

I once asked him for a cure for the trait of impatience, and he answered that a person should reflect upon the ways of the world and the caravans of the merchants. For example, a distinguished merchant whose custom it is to go about in pleasant clothing and beautiful adornments, in a white collar and the like; when he is confronted with a great cause for concern in his business, such as having to pay a large debt...and he does not have [the money], he leaves his house for the marketplace with anxiety on account of his great concern. Is it likely that at such a time he will take care as to whether his collar is on straight? He will certainly not pay any heed to such vain things. So is this matter, for a person must always reflect upon his great debt in the service of God, to God and to people, to improve himself and to improve the world, for this is the whole purpose of his coming into the world. And this great care of his soul has the power to thrust behind his back his vain thoughts to be impatient with his fellow.

Salanter here again makes use of the same rhetorical device whose efficacy he frequently noted in his writings: the use of the parable taken from everyday life. By means of these parables, it is possible to convert abstract truths, which reside in the back of our consciousness, into concrete certainties affecting the entire spiritual existence of the individual. The above parable, and others like it, are able to cultivate in our consciousness a new evaluation of our relationships with other people. In accordance with this evaluation, a significant change will come about in the order of priorities and in the understanding of the relative significance of various events.

The third and last device cited by Rabbi Amsterdam is also directed against the trait of impatience or severity:

. . . . that a person should bear in mind three principles of the halakhah.... First, that the prohibition against stealing which appears in the Torah applies not only to actual theft, in which a person takes his fellow's money or belongings, but that anything which contradicts the civil law found in the section Hoshen Mishpat of the Shulhan 'Arukh is also theft. Second, that according to the law found in the Hoshen Mishpat, it makes no difference whether he takes from his neighbor a garment which had always been his, or if he gives his neighbor a garment as a gift . . . and afterwards takes away that same garment. This too is literally theft. The third principle is that a grudge against one's neighbor is also subject to the laws in the Talmud and in the Shulhan 'Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat, and that one who bears a grudge against his neighbor, where this is forbidden by law, is also culpable of theft.... On the basis of these principles, when a person is truly convinced of them in his heart, whenever another person does him wrong or crosses him, he may conquer his tendency to impatience by thinking in his heart or saying aloud that he forgives that person entirely. It then becomes forbidden by law to hold a grudge or complaint against that person. In this way, he will allay the hatred and impatience that he bears in his heart....

This device, which according to his own account Salanter himself used in his youth, is typical of a scholar. The familiarity with the halakhah and the speculative ability to manipulate a legal argument combine here to place upon the negative trait of severity the full seriousness and force of the laws of theft. In this manner, the deeply ingrained repug- nance against violating the prohibition on theft is marshaled in order to help the individual overcome the trait of impatience.

The common denominator of all of the various devices described here is the attempt to reawaken the forces and tendencies dormant within the soul, utilizing their hidden strength to foster the correction of the middot. The trick thus entails an element of guile, as it displaces a given psychological tendency to redirect it toward the realm in which it encounters and conquers an evil trait, or develops and strengthens a positive characteristic. In the background of these and similar devices lies the analogy between animal training and the ethical education of human beings -- an analogy that Salanter borrowed from Lefin Heshbon ha-nefesh. According to this analogy, the personality, which is the object of moral education, is parallel to the animal to be trained, and the mind, which directs the process of moral training, is analogous to the animal trainer. Just as an animal trainer must ensnare the animals through guile, awakening their animal instincts and directing these into desired channels, the minds of those human beings who wish to improve their own character traits must guide the impulses and tendencies of the personality into the desired channels for purposes of ethical education.

Rabbi Israel's concept of moral education as an individual process, in which we each must act in accordance with our own personality and the circumstances dictated by our environment, is even more true with regard to transmutation of the middot. 39 This would seem to be the reason why Salanter does not much discuss the practical aspect of tikkun ha-middot in his writings, since detailed instructions in these matters must be personal; 40 even the mental devices described above were based upon the verbal instructions that Salanter gave to one of his disciples. In one of his letters to Rabbi Isaac Blazer, Salanter described an interesting example of a dilemma involving tikkun ha-middot, requiring a solution anchored in the individual situation and practical experience of the person involved:

Generally, in the powers of the human soul one is not to operate by analogy. There is a person who will find a particular thing easy for him, and another thing very difficult for him to attain. Regarding the difficult thing, he must go about it gradually and over a long period of time, together with [sustaining] his longing to acquire it quickly. These are two opposing forces, both of which a person must touch. For if the longing will cease, then the labor will weaken, and if the longing become very strong he will do it hastily, so that the labor will hardly be accomplished at all, and it will not bear fruit, Heaven forbid. The wise-hearted person, who reflects upon himself, will understand how to mediate between them without any fixed boundary. 41

The dilemma depicted here is rooted in the tension between the intense drive and impatient longing to correct one's ethical faults, and the gradual and protracted character of the process of ethical correction. In light of this dilemma, Salanter cautions against fixed and rigid directives, in the sense of "a fixed boundary." Only those individuals who directly bear the burden of psychological confrontation involved in tikkun ha-middot can determine for themselves the proper balance between these two extremes. By its nature, this must be based upon selfexamination and the drawing of conclusions from accumulated experience.





























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