Rabbi Itzele Peterburger (1837–1907) was one of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter’s closest disciples and collaborators. There is a famous story about a visit R’ Itzele paid to the Volozhin Yeshiva, where he argued for the importance of Mussar. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, the head of that yeshiva, replied that the study of Mussar is like castor oil: only sick people need it and if you don’t need it, it will make you sick. Healthy people do not need any practice other than learning Torah.
A couple of weeks ago, I chanted a few verses from Parashat Kedoshim at our Shabbat Minyan. The parashah starts with, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). God wants us to become b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, by becoming holy. It then goes on with a long and disparate list of civil and ritual laws that define holiness, some of which are also included in the Ten Commandments. Why the repetition, and why the many details?
As the story goes, a visitor went to see Rav Mandel of Kotzk, his first trip to a Chassidic rebbe. The Kotzker Rebbe asked him, “So what have you done all your life?” He answered, “I have gone through the entire Talmud three times.” “That truly is something,” the Rebbe replied, “but more important than how many times you have gone through the Talmud is the number of times the Talmud has gone through you!”
MANCHIM GRADUATES: Congratulations to the latest class of new TMI facilitators who have completed training in the Manchim program. They are Sandy Greenstein, Marcy Howard, Barbara Grosh, Philip Einsohn, Marga Vogel, Henri Vogel, Mirjam van Blankenstein, Greg Marcus, and Marian Bell.
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The Practice Corner
Our practice is Torah study, and the Mussar approach is, simply enough, to study Torah.
The second of the dual Torah portions Behar-Bechukotai begins with the words, “Im bechukotai telechu.” All Torah study begins with questions, and here are some that arise from these three words that you can investigate:
- “Im” means “if.” “If” reminds us that we have free will. We can choose how to act. What are the implications of our free will that the Torah later outlines in this parsha?
- “Bechukotai” means “in my statutes,” but it is not as simple as referring to laws, because there is a distinction in Hebrew between a simple statute (mishpat) and a chok. Research the difference. Then consider how the fact that the verse refers to chukim ties into the issue of free will.
- “Telechu” means “you will go,” and so the whole phrase translates as, “If you will go in my chukim.” Why “going in”? Why not “obey” or “not breach”? What do you learn from the reference to “going” in this context?
Take a few moments, answer the questions, and you will give yourself a gift of learning that will take root surprisingly deeply in your heart.
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