“Musar: what is its definition?
It all boils down to this. When you see a ba’al Musar, you see a different specimen of humanity. You see exquisite sensitivity to people, a heightened spirituality before Hashem. You see a person reaping the fruits of steady, strenuous work.
Work on himself
To harvest, a farmer needs to have tilled, sown, and irrigated.
He needs to have worked
To paint a masterpiece, an artist needs to have studied line and color, to have tried, erred, practiced, and persisted, and to have imagined a new reality.
He needs to have worked.
A ba’al Musar is a farmer whose field is himself, an artist whose canvas is himself. A ba’al Musar tills and sows, shapes and imagines, practices and persists, to create himself - a new human being.
More in the image of God than he would be without working on himself.
In life - every moment - the ba’al Musar works.
To learn to live, to learn to die.
To extract from Hashem’s blueprint for life – the Torah – every point of meaning.
For duties of the heart, and duties of the limbs.
Musar kindles a light. It transmits an illumination. It opens every individual to hidden powers within him – powers of kindness, holiness, beauty, and knowledge…
Musar open the eye to a palace.”
R. Hillel Goldberg, The Fire Within: The living heritage of the Musar movement, pp. 192-194
“It is futile to think that somewhere there is some panacea prescription to heal the human soul. There is no such thing. Each person must write his own – by honest self-awareness of the intricacies of his own unique soul…
“We are not advising anyone to study pathology of the soul and to become a psychiatrist like those in the world today. How incomparable is their path to ours and their knowledge to what we know! This is because of a well-known fact: knowledge of the nature of the workings of the mind, the emotions, and all other psychological functions is possible only by personal experience – one must discover them in himself empirically. One must look deep within his own soul and listen to the whispers of his heart. Then, comparing discoveries with others who have done the same will also be of great help…
“Can you then compare our souls, our bodies, our thoughts, traits, emotions, and deepest feelings to those whose lives are so completely different? If there are those among today’s psychologists who feel in a position to denigrate the human soul, it is only because they themselves are looking at the spiritual dunghill of a decadent humanoid being – the filthy thoughts and indecent desires to which they also are privy. Even the spark of divinity that lies at their core of their being has been concealed by this inner garbage and thus has been barred entry into their conscious awareness…
“This soul, together with all the pathways with which it expresses itself in our being, is what we want with God’s help to uncover. Each person must attain self-knowledge and know how to master his inner life.”
R. Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (the Piascetzna Rebbe, Tzt”al), Mevo ha’Shearim, chapter 10, trans. by Yehoshua Starrett, To Heal the Soul: The spiritual journal of a chassidic rebbe, pp. 149-153
Painting by Chaim Wolf