This is a very packed issue, but I think maybe this is the one we should be doing something about. The others we should be talking about, for sure, and I know many of us already are.
I’m taking this from the article by Rabbi Yosef Blau
Complicating this issue is the fact that two major twentieth-century Orthodox Jewish thinkers promoted seeing all questions in halakhic terms. The Hazon Ish, in his essay “Musar ve-Halakhah,” criticizes those who rely on ethical sensitivity without knowing what the Halakhah prescribes. One might draw the conclusion that there is always a specific halakhic answer in every circumstance. Similarly, the Rav’s Ish ha-Halakhah (Halakhic Man) can be read as arguing for a system of Halakhah that can respond to all occurrences.
The stress on total acceptance of authority figures also reduces the development of ethical sensitivity. Yeshivah students are not trained to trust their own judgment. The rebbe (an apt adaptation of a Hasidic term) is asked all kinds of questions, including those outside the realm of Halakhah, and his responses are often seen not as advice but as da’as Torah that must be followed.
In order to have the judgment necessary to interact with the endless variety of human beings and be sensitive to their feelings and needs, one has to be oriented toward an acceptance appreciation of their differences and anfor the other. One can learn a great deal
from mentors in a classroom setting, but education in ethics comes primarily from observing such individuals’ behavior. Even there,
copying does not work. First we have to properly understand our own nature; only then can we adapt what we have observed so that it will
be true to who we are.
At a time when Orthodox Judaism is perceived to be essentially ritualistic and formal, the need to rededicate ourselves to greater ethical concerns is critical. R. Salanter is quoted as acknowledging that changing a single character trait is extremely hard. Yet there can be
no ethical personality without a refined character.
Furthermore, ethical development is a religious obligation. Both Rambam and Ramban stress that proper adherence to Torah must lead both to improved character and the development of an ethical personality.
Whether or not we view ourselves as disciples of the Musar movement, it is imperative that we return to this aspect of R. Salanter’s thought. There are many questions about how best to educate to affect character. However, the present situation where the ethical dimension is ignored cannot continue. Our obligations as the Chosen People and the representatives of Torah demand of us the kind of behavior that will truly cause others to admire a Torah way of life. This will lead to Hashem and His Torah becoming beloved.
I have often wondered why the Mussar movement wasn’t more successful than it was, and I have been wondering for a long time why Modern Orthodoxy has not fulfilled its obligation in creating a light for itself, never mind the nations. I think this article goes a long way in helping to explain the downward trend.
With this in mind, I will also post here an email I got I thought is worth circulating (as it says to do, so…):