Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has
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Yiras Hashem vs. Ahavas Hashem
Rosh HaShanah is both a day of Yiras Hashem and Ahavas Hashem. It is a day of Yiras Hashem because it is the Yom HaDin, but it is also a day of Ahavas Hashem â€“ as it is written, â€œSeek Hashem where He is found.â€
It is well-known that mussar sefarim deal mainly with Yiras Hashem, while the teachings of Chassidim deal with Ahavas Hashem, with the closeness to Hashem that lays in something. Of course, it is not possible to have one without the other. We cannot have Yiras Hashem without Ahavas Hashem, nor can we have Ahavas Hashem without Yiras Hashem. So what is mussar, and what is Chassidus?
It is written, â€œSur mera (Stay away from evil), vâ€™aseh tov (And do good)â€. Mussar focuses on avoiding evil. Chassidus, though, focuses on how we can come to the good. â€œStay away from evilâ€ personifies Mussar. Chassidus, though, personifies what is written, â€œDo good.â€
Mussar focuses on divesting ourselves from evil, while Chassidus focuses on actually arriving at the good that we are striving for.
With Chassidus, a person focuses on â€œdoing goodâ€ (focusing one oneâ€™s closeness to Hashem), and that itself removes a person from evil. The Baal Shem Tov said that although â€œStay away from evilâ€ seems to come before â€œdo good,â€ really, a person has to remove evil by doing good.
For example, letâ€™s say a person has gaavah (haughtiness). How does he work on this bad middah (or any bad middah)? With Mussar, a person focuses on how bad it is to be haughty. But with Chassidus, a person is able to remove his haughtiness by thinking about how it distances him from being close to Hashem.
Yiras HaOnesh Vs. Yiras HaRomemus
On Yom HaDin, there are two kinds of yirah: yiras haonesh (fear of punishment) and yiras haromemus (fear of Hashemâ€™s greatness). The first kind of fear is possible even from a human king, but the second kind of yirah is only possible toward Hashem. On Rosh HaShanah, the kind of yirah to have â€“ the way of Chassidus â€“ is to have yiras haromemeus, fear of Hashemâ€™s greatness; that Yom HaDin is not simply to fear punishment, but to be afraid of being distanced from closeness to Hashem. With Chassidus, the person isnâ€™t being afraid of the judgment of Yom HaDin, but of the fear of not being close to Hashem.
The closeness to Hashem on Rosh HaShanah that everyone can grasp is that Hashem exists. All of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah are days of closeness to Hashem, but Rosh HaShanah is the climax of this closeness â€“ because now, a person is standing before the King in judgment; not because the person is afraid of the judgment, but because a person feels such a closeness to Hashem during judgment.
The Arizal said that when a person cries suddenly on Rosh HaShanah and he doesnâ€™t know why, it is a sign that he is being judged at that time. What does this mean? Does it mean that he is scared of being judged, or does it mean that he is having yiras haromemus â€“ being afraid of distanced from closeness to Hashem?
When a person cries suddenly feels himself crying on Rosh HaShanah, it is a fear of not being close to Hashem. This is the way of Chassidus â€“ it is not a fear of punishment, but a fear of being distanced from the King. It is a yiras haromemus.
But the way of Mussar is different. Mussar is yiras haonesh â€“ that the more a person thinks about judgment, the more afraid he grows of the punishment, because he is aware of the reality of sin.
Avodah Vs. Emunah
These are two general, root ways to serve Hashem â€“ Mussar and Chassidus. On Rosh HaShanah, these two ways of Avodas Hashem take on an even more detailed meaning. Let us explain the difference between these two ways.
With Mussar, a person sees himself on this world, and he wants to become connected to Hashem in Heaven. He has things which are holding him back, and he needs to remove these obstacles to get there. Chassidus, however, is a different viewpoint: a person comes from above, from Heaven â€“ but he has something dividing him from Hashem. With Chassidus, the person is already connected to Heaven â€“ he only needs to stay away from things that will take away his connection.
With Chassidus, a person doesnâ€™t have to come up with a new relationship to Hashem â€“ all he has to do is protect it, by avoiding sin. Itâ€™s like two friends who are loyal to each other â€“ itâ€™s not that they have to renew their friendship; they just have to protect their friendship by not betraying each other. But the view of Mussar is to renew the friendship when it gets shaky.
The depth behind these two ways is that Mussar is based on Avodah, and Chassidus is based on Emunah. We will explain this.
The view of Chassidus is that there is already a relationship with Hashem, but the person has to reveal it more. Of course, even with Chassidus a person has to know that Avodah has to come before Emunah — but the person knows that he is already connected to Hashem, and he merely has to protect this relationship and reveal it more.
But the view of Mussar is that a person isnâ€™t yet close to Hashem, so he has to acquire a relationship with Hashem by working to get there. He has to build this relationship. Mussar focuses on the â€œrealityâ€ â€“ that he has many sins and shortcomings which he must remove, in order to build up a closeness to Hashem.
The Dangers in Each Way
Each way has its dangers. The danger in Chassidus is that a person might come to imagine that heâ€™s already at a high level, and the danger with Mussar is that he can lose his aspirations to go higher, since he deals with â€œreality.â€
The Goal Is Always The Same
So Mussar and Chassidus have the same goal: to reach closeness to Hashem. The goal is always the same, but the only difference is how to begin: With Mussar, a person must feel that he isnâ€™t yet close to Hashem and he must build up a relationship with Him, and with Chassidus, a person already feels close to Hashem, but he must reveal it more and protect it.
The Baal Shem Tov was niftar on Shavuos, while the Vilna Gaon was niftar on Sukkos. There were those who asked that is shouldâ€™ve been the other way around: the Baal Shem Tov, who fought for Ahavas Hashem, should have been niftar on Sukkos, which is the happiest time of the year â€“ and the Vilna Gaon, who fought against Chassidus, should have died on Shavuos, the time of mainly learning Torah! But the answer to this is a deep point: both of them had both Yiras Hashem and Ahavas Hashem! The Baal Shem Tov and the Vilna Gaon only differed in where a person should start in his Avodas Hashem.
The difference between Mussar and Chassidus is not about what to do in Avodas Hashem. It is only a question of where to start with and how to get there.
Body Viewpoint Vs. Soul Viewpoint
The Maharal says that when a person sins, it is only mikreh â€“ a â€œcoincidenceâ€. What this means is that a person is a soul, but he is covered with a body. When a person sins, the body of the person has become dirtied; with sin, the personâ€™s soul is covered in dirty garments, but the soul itself always remains pure.
With the viewpoint of Mussar, the person is his free will. When a person chooses to sin, he has become dirtied â€“ his essence has become dirtied and he must fix himself. But Chassidus has the viewpoint of the soul â€“ that when a person sins, his soul still remains pure; only his power of free will has become damaged, and he must fix this, but the person himself still remains pure even after sin.
Closeness Vs. Fear
On Rosh HaShanah by davening, we say, â€œHayom haras olam, hayom yaamid bamishpatâ€ â€“ â€œToday is the birth of the world, today is the day we stand in judgment.â€ These are two different aspects of Rosh HaShanah to focus on.
Chassidus focuses on Hayom haras olam â€“ the fact that Rosh HaShanah is the birth of the world, and that Hashem is nearby and we must be afraid of being distanced from our closeness with Him. Mussar focuses on Hayom yaamid bamishpat â€“ the judgment itself, fear of actual punishment for the reality of our sins.
Each person has his own way
It is not an in issue of which way is more truthful. Each person must serve Hashem according to the way he is supposed to, to serve Hashem from his shoresh haneshamah â€“ the root of his soul.
Hashem should merit all of us that each person should find the way that is suitable to his shoresh haneshamah, so that each of us can reach the Yom HaDin the way we are supposed to â€“ each to his