How did people learn Mussar before we had the Mesillas Yesharim and the Chovos Halevavos?
Before we had these seforim people learned Mussar from the Gemara and from Mishlei and from Sefer Devarim. The Shlah says that in Sefer Devarim you have all the mussar in all the mussar seforim. The difference is this: When we learn chumash so if it’s simple, if it’s not difficult, we run through it. When they learned Chumash, even the most simple statements they used to think into them. They went more and more deeply into them and they learned the mussar from Sefer Devarim. Sefer Devarim is the treasure house of Musser. That’s a very important lesson.
And then of course Mishlei. Mishlei has tremendous lessons! All the divrei neviim are full of mussar. Our forefathers studied the neviim in a way that was superior to anything that the Chovos Halevavos or Mesillas Yesharim or Shaarei Teshuva can teach you. It’s only because people lost the ability to understand properly, to utilize properly the words of the kadmonim, that it became necessary to have mussar seforim.
It’s like in the olden days when they wanted to train a baby to eat food. The child didn’t have teeth yet so how did the mothers prepare them for eating food when they wanted to wean them from the mothers milk. So the mother used to chew the food and put it in a child’s mouth. That’s how they used to do it; the mother used to chew the food in her own mouth and then put it in the child’s mouth. That’s how the child learned to eat. It was pre chewed by the mother. That’s how it was in the olden days.
And so when we lost the ability to chew over and taste the real meaning of the pessukim in Mishlei and Chumash and so on, so we had to have the Chovos Halevavos who pre chewed it and predigested it for us. But actually the kadmonim understood mussar much better than we do, even without the benefit of these later seforim.
TAPE # 966 (August 1994)