Why was it that when the mussar movement started, it faced such fierce opposition?
Why was there opposition to the mussar movement? There are two reasons: One was that some people were afraid that it was a movement to break down Jewish attitudes. And the truth is that it was; it was a new attitude. That people should get together to study mussar was a new idea. And it wasn’t just that they looked into a Mesillas Yesharim for a half hour. No, they got together in the batei medrashim – not yeshiva men; in the beginning it was all ba’alei batim – they gathered together and began learning mussar.
And they were learning it in a very enthusiastic way. They were shouting! That was the mussar system – to shout over and over again ma’amarei chazal that applied to you personally in order that you should hear. But they said, “It’s not enough to hear, you have to der’her. Herren, that’s not enough. No; der’herren you have to internalize it – and until then could hear it, they had to repeat it many times – many, many times.
Now, if you walked in there, it looked like a madhouse. Once a man from Germany, a frum Jew, walked in, and he said, “What’s this? A meshuga’im house?!” Rav Yisroel Salanter was there and he said, “Yes, it’s a meshuga’im house. You come in a meshuga, and you go out sane.”
Now, some people were afraid of this. I must tell you, I’m sure that some important talmidei chachomim were jealous, too. Because it reflected upon others – why don’t you do it? So they felt a certain amount of personal animosity – there’s always jealousy. Reb Yisroel Salanter said, “Any good thing that you start doing, you have to expect that there’s going to be a big opposition to it.” That’s a klal gadol. There isn’t a single good thing that you start doing that the opposition won’t arise against it. It’s a klal gadol! And sometimes the opposition is led by people who are big lamdanim too.
So the the first machlokes was the same machlokes that was against chassidim in the beginning. When the chassidim started doing things that the people were not accustomed to in Europe, so the people suspected that a new sect was coming up, like chalilah the Frankistim and the Shabtai Tzvi people. They were afraid — who knows what could happen? That’s why they opposed them at the beginning. That was also the first machlokes against the mussar movement.
The second machlokes was later, when they introduced mussar into the yeshivos. That raised another storm. A yeshiva, they said, is a place where the youth is trained in the lomdus of Torah – only that. You don’t take time for other subjects. You want to learn some chumash with them? Now, there’s nothing wrong with chumash, but a yeshiva is not a place for chumash. You’re going to learn with them Pirkei Avos, or Mesilas Yesharim? That’s not the place for it. Now, that was a very big chiddush when they finally did win and they introduced mussar in the yeshivah. That was a battle – a new battle.
So it was two things. First of all, they suspected at the beginning that it was a movement that might make a schism, it might make a new sect – who knows what could happen, chalilah. Like when you suspect any good thing as long as it’s new. And the second was when it came into the yeshivos, there was a big clamor that you’re spoiling the nature of the yeshivos.
The truth is that the Mussar yeshivos were yeshivos of learned talmidei chachomim like all the yeshivos. In Slabodka, it was like a battlefield; all day long it was a milchemes hatorah – all day long they were talking in learning; it was roaring in the beis medrash. And still, when it came time for mussar at night, they all stopped immediately. They knew they had to learn mussar. And then they started learning mussar b’kol and a new voice arose. A loud voice, people were shouting mussar — shouting! There were some people who specialized in shouting in mussar! Shouting in mussar – loudly – and the beis hamedrash was full of the kol of Mesilas Yesharim and Chovos Halevavos and Sha’arei Teshuvah for half an hour.
In addition, three times during the week the heads of the Yeshiva spoke to us — for an hour and a half each time. And so, the youth were inspired with the examples that they heard. There’s no question that after so much indoctrination, people were different; they were not the same when they left the yeshiva.
So the fact that there was opposition does not have any bearing on the nature of the thing. It only shows that it was a good thing, and all good things, at the beginning, are opposed by a strong opposition.
TAPE # E-9