by Ira Stone
This excerpt from A Responsible Life describes the general approach to a serious Mussar practice engaged in over time. It can also be used more specifically as a methodology for doing focused spiritual preparation in anticipation of the High Holy Days. While, of course, one of the pitfalls of the Yamim HaNoraiim is precisely the fact that so many people approach it as an anomaly, that is, a period of time divorced from the general flow of one’s everyday life. As such, the efficacy of the period will necessarily be somewhat reduced. It would be more useful to see the period as an intensification of a year round practice of penitence.
Be that as it may, if we are fortunate enough to have individuals who are prepared to set aside even the month of Elul or the aseret yemei teshuvah to engage in a penitential practice, the framework that Mussar provides can be useful. It sets out a daily practice and a practice which focuses specifically on our ordinary behaviors and our ordinary interactions with the people around us. There is little concern here with the great theological questions: God, halachah, etc. Rather the emphasis is on those relationships that directly shape the world we live in.