The mitzvah of Beris Milah is introduced with the words, “אֲנִי קֵל שַׁקַּי, הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים — I am Kel Shakai, walk yourself before Me, and be whole.”
To me, this pasuk addresses the focus of the most basic open question in Jewish philosophy. Clearly the attention of Yahadus is on keeping mitzvos. But what is the goal of following mitzvos? What is the goal of life, that mitzvos are to help us accomplish?
How are we supposed to read the quote? Is the walking before G-d that is primary, and being whole a side-effect? Or, is being whole the focus of the pasuq, and walking before G-d is a means to reach that temimus? On a deeper level, these two approaches are different aspects of the same idea. A person lives in tension between his spiritual and physical sides — neshamah vs. guf. To achieve wholeness, so that the entire person is working harmoniously, he would necessarily be serving his spiritual goal, and walking in Hashem’s path. In reverse, if one strives for deveiqus to a singular G-d, how could he be a chaotic battleground of warring urges? Cleaving to G-d forces His priorities to be yours, leaving temimus.
This is not to say that there is no distinction in approach. By stressing different elements, there are profound practical implications. For example, consider the debate between Chassidim and non-Chassidim on the importance of davening in the appointed times. We should be clear that the Chassidic position is that one must invest time to prepare for davening, even if this is at the expense of timeliness — it is not blanket permission to ignore the clock.
Chassidus is a deveiqus-based hashkafah. Therefore, when weighing the relative merits, it is more important to be able to invest time to prepare one’s mind and heart for the act of tephillah, for relating to Hashem, than when the tephillah actually begins.
To someone with a temimus orientation, however, zehirus, meticulousness, care in how each facet of the mitzvah is done, is the more important consideration. Zerizus, haste to do what’s right, is an important middah (personality trait). Both come into play when considering the timeliness of tefillah.
Both Mussar and Chassidus saw a predecessor in the Ramchal. I think this too is possible because the Ramchal appears to echo the Torah’s dialectic. For example, they have two contrasting ways of understanding the beginning of the first chapter of Mesilas Yesharim:
יסוד החסידות ושרש העבודה התמימה הוא שיתברר ויתאמת אצל האדם מה חובתו בעולמו ולמה צריך שישים מבטו ומגמתו בכל אשר הוא עמל כל ימי חייו. והנה מה שהורונו חכמינו זכרונם לברכה הוא, שהאדם לא נברא אלא להתענג על ה’ ולהנות מזיו שכינתו שזהו התענוג האמיתי והעידון הגדול מכל העידונים שיכולים להמצא. ומקום העידון הזה באמת הוא העולם הבא, כי הוא הנברא בהכנה המצטרכת לדבר הזה. אך הדרך כדי להגיע אל מחוז חפצנו זה, הוא זה העולם. והוא מה שאמרו זכרונם לברכה (אבות ד): העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור בפני העולם הבא.
The foundation of saintliness and the root of perfect service [of G-d] is in a person obtaining clarity and realizing the truth of what is his duty in the world, and to what he has to set his sights and aspirations in all of his activities all the days of his life. This is what Chazal taught us, that a person was created for nothing but finding pleasure in God and enjoy the splendor of His Presence; for that is the true pleasure and greatest joy of all forms of enjoyment that can be found. The true place where this pleasure may be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it; but the path to the object of our desires is this world, as our Sages of blessed memory have said (Avos 4:21), “This world is like a corridor to the World to Come.”
So the question becomes what is the nature of this “corridor”? We cannot get the full pleasure of Hashem’s presence in this world. So, do we try our best to achieve deveiqus, connection to Him, in this world and thereby earn success in the world to come? Or is the purpose of this life to refine oneself to be capable of as much connection — and therefore as much enjoyment — in the next world, and that refinement is significantly different than connecting itself?
I would suggest that Chassidus sees itself in Mesilas Yesharim because they take the former stance, whereas Mussar sees itself because of the latter interpretation. This ambiguity is possible also because the middos listed in the beraisa of Pinechas ben Yair which the Ramchal uses as his list of topics for the rest of the text is on the one hand an exercise in self-refinement, but on the other hand framed as a latter up to holiness, Divine Inspiration (Ruach haQodesh) and the revival of the dead (Techiyas haMeisim).
As the Ramchal writes later in the chapter:
ואמנם ראוי לו שתהיה כל פנייתו רק לבורא יתברך, ושלא יהיה לו שום תכלית אחר בכל מעשה שיעשה אם קטן ואם גדול אלא להתקרב אליו יתברך ולשבור כל המחיצות המפסיקות בינו לבין קונו, הן הנה כל עניני החומריות והתלוי בהם, עד שימשך אחריו יתברך ממש כברזל אחר אבן השואבת. וכל מה שיוכל לחשוב שהוא אמצעי לקורבה הזאת, ירדוף אחריו ויאחז בו ולא ירפהו. וכל מה שיוכל לחשוב שהוא מניעה לזה, יברח ממנו כבורח מן האש.
It is indeed fitting that his every inclination be towards the Creator, may His Name be blessed, and that his every action, great or small, be motivated by no purpose other than that of drawing near to the Blessed One and breaking all the barriers (all the earthy elements and their concomitants) that stand between him and his Possessor, until he is pulled towards the Blessed One just as iron to a magnet. Anything that might possibly be a means to acquiring this closeness, he should pursue and clutch, and not let go of; and anything which might be considered a deterrent to it, he should flee as from a fire.
Deciding what is of value in this world in terms of what brings us closer or further from G-d became the centerpiece of Chassidic thought. Whereas the Mussarist would see a couple of sentences later:
…כיון שביאתו לעולם אינה אלא לתכלית הזה, דהיינו, להשיג את הקירבה הזאת במלטו נפשו מכל מונעיה ומפסידיה.
… Since our coming to [this] world is for nothing but this goal, which is to obtain this closeness by rescuing his soul from all the deterrents to and detractors from it.
And so they can conclude that no, the Ramchal is talking about dealing with those issues now, in the corridor, to enable true cleaving to G-d in the World to Come.
Perhaps this plurality is the whole point of the Torah’s doubled phraseology. Because there are two groups of approaches to the same ends, we don’t want to eliminate one in favor of the other. Each person can pick out a derekh that best suits him — as long as he aims for the proper goal.