Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Mussar vs. Chassidus (Cheshbon ha-Nefesh)

One of the major differences between the traditional derachim (paths) of Mussar & Chassidus is their attitude towards personal introspection (Cheshbon ha-Nefesh).

Traditionally, Mussar placed a heavy emphasis on personal introspection, and reviewing one's life and actions, while Chassidus thinks what has happened has happened and one should now focus on the future and the New You (more of a break with the past).

Interestingly when Ben Franklin's autobiography was translated into Hebrew, by the maskil Lessin (a.k.a Leffin, Levin), it was partly meant to be a polemic against Chassidus and the Chassidic attitude towards repentence and sin. The book, Sefer Cheshbon Hanefesh, was embraced by the Mussar movement and has become a central text of the Mussar life.

Nowadays, the tendency, from what I have seen, is to integrate the two approaches (or to have such a superficial approach to Avodas Hashem that one loses any distinction between different approaches). Overall, self-examination was one out, mainly because of the influence of psychology as the driving force in Orthodox Jewish life.

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