Tuesday, July 21, 2015


The Baal Teshuva vs. the Baal Mussar

​    by Reb Gutman Locks

The Baal Teshuva vs. the Baal Mussar


      A baal-teshuva is a "master of return." This is an encouraging title given to any Jew who returns to, or begins to follow the teachings of Torah. A baal-mussar is a religious Jew whose main Torah focus is self-improvement. The dictionary says that he is "virtually never free from his abiding and all-embracing drive for self-improvement.

     To be upfront about this, I am allergic to mussar. They seem to me to be doing exactly what keeps the vast majority of Jews away from the Torah. But it is a valid path of Torah studies, and it is a main school of thought within the religious community.

     Another main school of Jewish religious practice is broadly called Chassidus. A Chassid might be defined as a Jew who strives to reveal the soul of life by following the Torah and its mitzvahs.

     A baal teshuva can follow either, or both of these paths, or as often happens he (or she) might follow pretty much whatever he wants!

     I was looking at a mussar booklet that was discussing the Three Weeks. The Three Weeks recall the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temples. The booklet was explaining how you can maintain the grief and mourning without becoming depressed and miserable. My first reaction was; "I'm out of here!" but I decided to read a little more. It explained that their way of mourning was the solution to the Three weeks and the Nine Days.

     Next, it told of a major rabbi being visited by the Moshiach (Messiah) in a vision saying that he has not come yet because not all of the Jews are on a level to deserve it, and if he comes now they would lose out. The mussar rabbi told him to wait for all the Jews. I couldn't read any more.

     I am a baal teshuva, and as such I have my own ideas how to do things including the Three Weeks and the Nine Days, and what to tell the Moshiach.

     First off, the destruction happened because Jews hated Jews without reason, so the main, if not sole avoda (service) of the Three Weeks and Nine Days should be an all-out effort by the entire Jewish people to show Jews love without reason. This should be our extra daily effort these days. No mourning and no depression…just extra friendship and love without reason.

     Next, if the Moshiach would come to me in a vision and tell me about the Jews who were not ready for him to appear I would tell him that there will always be people not ready so he cannot wait for everyone but he should come immediately. And Hashem will have to forgive those of us who are not yet on the level to deserve him to come. If he asks why He should forgive all of us I will explain that the life we led that prevented us from being ready for him was enough of a punishment so we already paid the bill, and now Hashem can just let us in by a side door…that's pretty much how all the baal teshuvas got in anyway.

     With all my heart, I am telling you that the solution to the problems of the Jewish people is to love each other in a way that the other Jew sees what you are doing. Everything else, all the details, will work themselves out from the merit of this love. Try it and see. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.



  1. I get that living through the way of mussar is a big turn off for you.

    But isn't the "Messilat Yesharim" a good book to study in order to perfect ourselves in conjunction with the Tanya to be more aware and reveal more G.d's presence as you told me?

    Granted it does not focus on being joyful and all that relates to principles of chassidut, ok but I did not find Ramhal's book to be that saddening or burdening..

    People may find me to be naïve with this but I really think mussar, only be way of the Messilat Yesharim (and maybe "Tomer Devorah" of R. Cordovero as well) which I have read, and Tanya are not opposite to one another but rather complimentary.

    May be other reader could give their opinion on this subject, it would be really interesting


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