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Shoftim"You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d" (Devarim 18:13).
This, in essence, is the mitzvah of reaching sheleimus (perfection) in one's service to Hashem. HaRav Wolbe zt"l quotes a Midrash which refers to the Torah as a pedagogue. The purpose of an educator is to bring the pupil to perfection in the area studied. Hence, the purpose of the Torah and mitzvahs is to bring a person to sheleimus. If so, sheleimus can be defined as the adherence to the laws of the Torah as they are set down in the Shulchan Aruch (the Jewish Code of Law), together with good middos (character traits).
While the adherence to the laws of the Torah can be accomplished through studying the Shulchan Aruch, what is the way to polish our middos to produce a sterling character? HaRav Wolbe quotes a letter from HaRav Yisroel Salanter ztvk"l which sheds light on the area of character perfection.
"It is known and has been proven that even without the study of mussar (Jewish books of Ethics) it is possible to serve Hashem on a lofty level. However, one who desires to change his character from bad to good without the study of mussar, is like one who desires to see without eyes or hear without ears."
Since preparation for the upcoming Days of Awe must obviously include the desire to change one's negative character traits, therefore, the study of mussar is especially crucial during the days of the month of Elul.
What is the proper method of mussar study? Rabbeinu Yonah writes that one who does not arouse himself to perfect his ways will not be aroused through mussar alone. One can quickly learn through many volumes of mussar and still not gain anything. A superficial perusal does not penetrate the recesses of the heart and will not effect a serious change. A person must first digest the idea stated in the mussar book and then evaluate himself in light of what he has learned. Can he relate to the topic of discussion? If he feels that he is deficient in this specific area, what is the reason behind his deficiency? Can he find a practical means to apply the mussar?
Even five minutes of serious mussar study a day during this Elul can change one for the better forever!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network