Rav Dessler: 25 Teves

Today (25 Teves 5714, 1964CE) is Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler’s yahrzeit.

Rav Dessler (or REED, as he is called on Avodah) was a paragon of Kelm Mussar, who was willing to merge that worldview with Chassidus and the philosophy of his era. In particular from Qabbalah-influenced paths, we see the influence of the Maharal and the Tanya. Rav Dessler himself explains his ecclecticism as follows (loose translation, R YG Bechhofer):

In our times: The qualities of “Emet” that personified the Ba’alei Mussar [Mussar Masters] are already extinct. We no longer find individuals whose hearts are full with profound truth, with a strong and true sense of Cheshbon HaNefesh [complete and rigorous reckoning of one's spiritual status and progress]. We have reached the era of Ikvasa d’Mashicha [the final generations before the coming of Moshaich], generations that Chazal described as superficial. If we find an individual who does learn Mussar, we find that he is primarily interested in the intellect of Mussar, the profound philosophy and psychology that are linked to Mussar. Even if he learns Mussar b’hispa’alus [with the emotional impact of nigun - melody - and shinun - repetition - that R.Yisroel prescribed], rarely does this activity lead to Cheshbon HaNefesh.

Contemporary Chassidus lacks the component that was once at its core: Avodas Hashem with dveykus. All that remains is the external form of Chassidus, something that appears like hislahavus. There is nigun, but the soul of nigun is no longer. Hitlahavus in davening is almost a thing of the past.

For today’s era, there remain only one alternative: To take up everything and anything that can be of aid to Yahadus; the wisdom of both Mussar and Chassidus together. Perhaps together they can inspire us to great understandings and illuminations. Perhaps together they might open within us reverence and appreciation of our holy Torah. Perhaps the arousal of Mussar can bring us to a little Chassidic hislahavus. And perhaps the hislahavus will somewhat fortify one for a Cheshbon HaNefesh. Perhaps through all these means together we may merit to ascend in spirituality and strengthen our position as Bnei Torah [adherents of a Torah centered lifestyle] with an intensified Judaism. May G-d assist us to attain all this!

Rav Dessler was more open to secular knowledge than the yeshiva movement today, particularly interesting given Within Michtav meiEliyahu, a collection of his writings and speeches, there are citations of Kant and Sørensen, as well as what is possibly a paraphrase of the Reader’s Digest coverage of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence people” (Michtav MeEliyahu, Vol. IV, P.234; see R’ Yosef Katan’s article in Hamaayan, Nissan 5752). This probably reflects his upbringing; Rav Dessler writes of the time his father required he read Uncle Tom’s Cabin (in Russian) as a necessary Mussar work.

By the time I’m done interpreting his work, Rav Dessler comes across as an extreme Kantian. Some links to earlier blog entries that refer to his work:

Biographies:

And your thoughts...?

  1. As for RYGB’s observation… It may be for simple balebatishe reasons.

    R’ Carmel would naturally choose those writings with the greatest potential audience. That will lead to having the most fundmental material being in the first volume, the most fundamental of what’s left in the second, etc…

    -micha