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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.