What is the difference between Chassidim and the mussar movement?
Chassidim have built their ideology mostly on the presence and the influence of a Rebbe. The Rebbe is a man who has a lot of authority and therefore he influences them, either by direct personal contact or indirect contact by means of the chief chassidim. I don’t know how it is today but in the olden days the chief chassidim used to go out from the Rebbe’s place and they used to travel back to their hometowns and every town had somebody who was considered the main authority of his Rebbe’s chassidus. And they used to gather in that little shtibel and he used to sit with them around the table at various times and on special occasions; sometimes there was a little whiskey and cake on the table too and he told them stories about the Rebbe and words from the Rebbe and inspired people. Some of them used to travel too. Some Rebbes traveled, but some were stationary, each one in his town. And so the Rebbe spread his influence by means of these sheluchim. And many times people came to him in the thousands for Yom Tov or even for a Shabbos and they were influenced.
Mussar was an entirely different movement. Mussar was a movement where people took the statements of Chazal or statements from mussar seforim and they studied them and they began saying it over to themselves in a way that little by little it penetrated. That’s one of the tenants of mussar, to repeat certain statements over and over, gradually letting it enter your mind more and more. Sometimes in one evening, let’s say in the yeshiva in a half hour, you might say the same thing, the same possuk or maamar chazal over a hundred times, but with a niggun, a melancholy and meditative niggun and sometimes people became quite excited over that. Motzei Shabbos they sat in the dark for an hour and they repeated maamarei Chazal to themselves aloud. And the end, before the hour was over, some people were in ecstasy.
I myself recall certain things I said to myself that I always had known before, but I repeated it so many times that it became illuminated in my mind and thereafter I could never forget them anymore. And so, mussar is a system of training the thoughts and also training the qualities of characters by various exercises.
TAPE # 467