Was the Chazon Ish Against the Mussar Movement?

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    By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

    It is well known that the Chofetz Chaim writes of the obligation to study Mussar daily in his Mishna Brurah (1:12).  It is also well known that the vast majority of Yeshivos in both America and Eretz Yisroel are branches and products of the Mussar Movement.  What is not so well known or understood is where the Chazon Ish stood, exactly, on the topic.

    THOSE WHO SAY HE WAS OPPOSED

    Some say that the Chazon Ish was against the Mussarniks.  They claim that his animadversions to it can be found in his Sefer Emunah uBitachon.  They point to the third chapter specifically and to various oral traditions.  They also point out to the fact that Rav ELya Lopian zt”l, the great Mussar giant of his generation, did not allow the study of the Chazon Ish’s Emunah uBitachon in Mussar Seder in Yeshiva (see Lev Eliyahu Vol. I p. 50)– even though he was quite close to the Chazon Ish as proof that he was opposed to it.  Rav Lopian was the Mussar Mashgiach in Knesses Chizkiyahu after he had moved to Eretz Yisroel in 1950.

    THOSE WHO SAY HE WAS NOT OPPOSED TO IT

    Others disagreed and said that he was not against it and that his statements and beliefs have been misconstrued. They say that his critiques were in the manner of constructive criticism and that is all.  They point to Kovetz Igros Vol. I Letter 154 where he specifically writes that he is not against Mussar.

    One of his closest Talmidim Rav Shraga Feivel Shteinberg zt”l is quoted in Maaseh haIsh Vol. V p 37-38 that the Chazon Ish was DECIDEDLY NOT against Mussar and that anyone who says so is not only in error but possibly even wishes to weaken the study of Mussar.

    Rav Shteinberg cites as further proof that when the Chazon ish was in Minsk in the first World War he went to the relocated Yeshiva of Slabodka to hear a Mussar lecture from Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l the Alter of Slabodka.  After the delivery of the Mussar lecture, the Alter of Slabodka approached him and said, “They quote his honor as being against the shita of Mussar..”  The Chazon Ish responded, “I am more against those who are anti-Mussar.”  They quote the Chazon Ish as actually writing about learning Mussar in Igros Chazon Ish (Vol. I #3).

    THE MORE NUANCED VIEW

    Rav Lopian explained that his concern was that it was quite easy for some people to misconstrue the words of the Chazon Ish and think that it is anti-Mussar – when, in fact, he is just giving a serious warning as to an associated danger.  The Chazon Ish’s point is that we must not lose sight that it is the Halacha that disctates the parameters of Mussar and not that Mussar dictates the parameters of Halacha.  He cites as an example (See Bava Basra 21b) the issue of new mechanchim entering a town from another city – and taking over the parnassah of the original towns mechanchim.  Normally, the older mechanchim would be fully justified in battling against the newcomers.  It would not be a prohibition of causing machlokes or sinas chinam or lashon Harah.

    All except for one thing.

    The halacha is that “Kinas Sofrim Tarbeh Chochma.  The newcomers are fully justified.  The Chazon Ish’s point is that the concept of Mussar can and must only be defined by halacha.  Having mussar define the halacha is a problem – according to the Chazon Ish.   This is something that Rav Yisroel Salanter did not disagree with at all – the Chazon Ish points out.

    SO WHAT DO THE BAALEI MUSSAR HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE CHAZON ISH’S POINT?

    Although, this author did not receive permission to publish it b’shaim the great Mussar mashgichim he consulted with (in all probability because of the fact that the Chazon Ish was unquestionably the Gadol haDor).  There is a distinction between the type of halacha that has a specific goal – such as Kinas Sofrim, and other types of halacha – where the halacha is a minimum standard yet there is also a lifnim m’shuras haDin – going above and beyond.  There is no question that the Chazon Ish’s concern about Mussar going beyond its bounds when it goes against a halacha that had a specific goal – but when there is a lifnim mishuras hadin – there will be times when Mussar should tell you what is the correct thing to do.

    One such example is Kivud Av v’Aim.  The halacha tells us that the expenses incurred in Kivud Av v’aim is with the parent’s money and not with the child’s.  And yet, the Mussar approach will tell us that the correct thing to do, in many instances, is to go beyond the letter of the law and pay for it oneself – when the parent is tight financially.

    They point out that the Chazon Ish would not disagree with this either.

    The Mishna Brurah’s exact words (OC 1:12) are:  A man must set a time for himself to learn Mussar on a daily basis, whether a small amount or a lot, because one who is greater than his fellow man has a stronger yetzer hara, and the antidote for the yetzer hara is the rebukes found in the words of our Chazal.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

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