Just sharing a couple of posts from the blog “A Simple Jew“.
Footnote in the Artscroll Kitzur Shulchan Aruch:
See Mishnah Berura 1:12 and Shaar HaTziyun 26 who cites Chayei Adam which states that studying sifrei mussar is a greater obligation than that of studying Mishnayos.
Chazal teach that study is of great value since it leads to action. Clearly, one should learn not only to fulfill the mitzvah of Torah study but also with a view to changing his actions. It is for this reason that many authorities state that the first thing one must work on mastering are the halachos of Orach Chaim. Without these halachos one could be the greatest lamdan but have no idea how to really apply his learning.
Interrupting with a brief side-note: I would have said the parts of Choshein Mishpat that deal with the interpersonal laws applicable outside of court should come before Orach Chaim or at least alongside it. After all “derekh eretz qodmah laTorah — proper behavior in this world comes before Torah”. Back to the point:
The Chayei Adam, z”l, even writes that it is better to learn the halachos of Shabbos on Shabbos than Mishnayos. To illustrate why, he recounts a revealing story. It is first important to realize that although he served as the Av Beis Din of Vilna, the Chayei Adam was a businessman who never took any money for deciding halachic queries, just as his father before him. As a businessman, he traveled frequently. One Shabbos, he stayed in the same inn as a person whose practice for many years was to learn a chapter of Mishnayos every day.
Understandably, the Chayei Adam was appalled when he noticed this “expert” in Mishnayos weaving on Shabbos! He immediately cried, “Is it not Shabbos today?”
The man was puzzled. “But what possible melachah can this be?”
“How can you be so unaware? Are you not familiar with the mishnah which lists ‘hatoveh‘ as one of the melachos?”
“But I thought that was only if someone does so on a loom like we do at home…”
The Chayei Adam was astounded. “But having learned the mishnah, why would you assume that seeing that it simply says ‘he who weaves’ implies that weaving is only a melachah with a loom?”
“Do you think when I learn I am trying to apply my learning to my actions? I only focus on fulfilling the mitzvah of learning Torah,” the man protested.
The Chayei Adam responded, “Now I understand the words of our sages: ‘One who says I only have Torah does not even have Torah.’ If one does not learn to apply his knowledge, what earthly difference is there whether he learned or not?”
Much like halacha, mussar is the practical application of Torah into action since it is impossible in our day to have a properly balanced relationship with Hashem or one’s fellow man without a genuine path in mussar or Chassidus.
R’ Golishensky’s remarks reminded me of the following story from my childhood.
One Friday night, my father and I decided to review the gemara I was learning. After a very short search, my father remembered that he had lent that volume to the boy next door. The next-door neighbors on one side of the home I grew up in are staunch members of the local Conservative synagogue. The wife taught secular studies at the local Orthodox yeshiva day school, and they sent their two boys there.
So, I went next door. The older brother, “Steve” was home, but “Dave”, the brother who had borrowed the gemara wasn’t. However, this was the 70s, and they had CB radios, and he was whiling away his newly started weekend talking on one. So, Steve went back to his CB, and asked his brother, “Hey, Dave, do you remember where you put the Meseches Shabbos?”
While his behavior in this story may seem absurd, Steve was being consistent with his upbringing. The problem is: What’s my excuse?