“Learning Mussar”, Chapter 14 Summary: A Short Guide to Mussar Study

To conclude the section we’ll bring here a short guide to learning mussar:

  1. Set yourself predetermined times for study, so that you won’t be disturbed with the distractions of the day. Best is to set aside a time adjacent to one of the tefillos, such as before or immediately after Shacharis. The length is in proportion to one’s comprehension and ability. Ideally he should learn for a half hour. Study alone, without a chavrusah.
  2. Start the session with a short review of the previous day with respect to his behavior in middos and avodah.
  3. One ought learn a single text, or at least a single section with regularity, not to jump from text to text.
  4. After a major failing in middos and there is a great need for repairing it — learn on that day a saying of Chaza”l or a paragraph from a book relevant to fixing that thing.
  5. Start the study with reading a sentence or one paragraph with great depth and exactitude, without any tune or feeling but in the way one works to understand rishonim or acharonim. And remember: there does not exist any poems in mussar books that don’t require detailed study!
  6. The essential mussar books, that which is called “studying mussar” are: Chovos haLvavos, Igeres haRamba”n, Sha’arei Teshuvah, Orchos Tzadiqim,Tomer Devorah, Mesilas Yesharim, and Or Yisra’el.

    Youths, up to the age of 16, who have no purpose for the books listed above, could learn Tana deVei Eliyahu, Mishlei with Rabbeinu Yonah’s commentary, Tr. Avos with Rabbeinu Yonah’s or the pious Ya’ave”tz’s commentary; or of the acharonim, Seifer Shemiras haLashon of the Chafeitz Chaim, or Michtav mei’Eliyahu section one by R’ EE Dessler.

  7. After studying the sentence or paragraph in depth, repeat it specifically out loud and with a melody, constantly striving to seek more elaboration in understanding the subject.
  8. Every time you feel a new purpose or effect in reviewing the sentence or paragraph — continue with the review, even if it extends over the course of many weeks.
  9. During the review and deepening of understanding try to think about yourself and your stance in the subject being learned.
  10. If you can, try to find some practical conclusion from what was learned, that would strive for some change or small strengthening in your behavior. However, “If you grasp for too much — you won’t grasp at all. If you grasp a small amount — you will be able to grasp it!”
  11. In our mussar study, there is no attempt to mastering breadth of knowledge. — The books of the gedolim of the generations that deal with mussar and the laws of the fundamentals of the Torah require learning, but not in this format of mussar study.
  12. The texts which every talmid chakham needs to know are: The Kuzari, the Ramba”m’s Shemonah Peraqim; and from the books of the acharonim:Derekh Hashem and Da’as uSvunos by the Ramcha”l, and Nefesh haChaim by Rav Chaim Vilozhiner. From amongst the books that reached print from the achronim who were ba’alei mussar — each person should choose for himself according to his purpose and understanding.

With this we reach the conclusion of the section on mussar study, with G-d’s help.