Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Two attitudes towards mitzvos

Rav Dov Katz(Pulmos HaMusar page 337):There are two basic attitudes towards mitzvos. The first attitude is that Mitzvos are what G-d has commanded us and the only task is to know exactly what has been commanded. Therefore the sole concern is halacha and its most complete observance. The second attitude is that Mitzvos are the means that G-d has given us to self-perfection. Therefore it is critical that the Mitzvos be done in such a way that they increase perfection. This requires introspection and self understanding rather than a mechanical performance. The latter position is the foundation of the Mussar approach – the former is the foundation of the opponents of mussar. The halachasist position thus is that self-perfection is entirely the result of the proper performance of the mitzva. Therefore the only concern is study and clarification of the best way to perform the mitzva. It has no concern with investigation of the hidden aspect of man or concern with clarification of theological issues. It is not concerned with the separate focus on perfection of personality. In fact there are no specialized concerns. The only thing is doing the mitzvos according to their details in the most direct and simple way. … The concern is not on the goal of personality development or understanding of theology but to maximize Torah study and knowledge of halacha – without concern for introspection and worry about motivation. Perfection is a side consequence – not a conscious goal. In contrast the Mussar approach views mitzvos only as a means to perfection. Thus they feel that the will of G‑d is not fulfilled by merely observing mitzvos as simply the command of G‑d. But rather there must be a conscious effort to elevate the image of man and attaching oneself to spiritual and personal elevation. The foundation point of this view is to see mitzvos not as an end but as a means. It is not sufficient to merely fulfill the mitzvos in a mechanical physical way. The concern is rather with the content and the motivation of the heart, thought and emotion. The main influence is not the physical activity of the limbs – even though they don’t ignore the importance of doing mitzvos – but the personal involvement and inner arousal.

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