Updated January 22, 2021

Meaning of Mussar in Judaism

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Meaning of Mussar in Judaism essay
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The mussar movement was founded two hundred years ago by R’ Yisroel Lipkin, who is more famously known as R’ Yisroel Salanter. R’ Yisroel realized, that although the people of his time were scholarly and learned, there were difficulties in the ways people acted with each other. He also noticed that people were lacking a connection between their intellect and heart. There was a strong tendency to keep wisdom closed in the head and detached from their heart. He perceived that it is not enough to be great intellectually, in order to become a great person, there needs to be a strong and equal emphasis on mussar, spiritual growth, and most importantly in how one acts with another.

Mussar essentially means the study of focusing on character development and personal growth, and it is the key component of becoming great. Mussar was designed to refine and elevate ourselves. Judaism is about internalizing and personalizing our wisdom that g-d granted to us, and as to live as proper Jews we need to pierce it into our hearts. The book strive for truth by Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler is crucial for achieving a life of growth and learning mussar. Rav Dessler is the great great grandchild of R’ Yisroel Salanter, and like his grandfather, he too understood how crucial it is to study mussar. He wrote a book that includes many topics and tools to gain an all-inclusive ethical basis for developing a spiritual approach to refining one’s character. The first chapter the pursuit of happiness in Rav Desslers book stuck with me the most and is my favorite mussar work because it provides a true understanding of how to attain happiness that is relevant to every person and ties it to developing and internalizing mussar and spiritual growth.

The lessons that I was taught in high school from the book Strive for Truth have remained with me until today, especially the lesson on happiness. Every person these days wants to be happy, yet no one truly is. Why is that so? In strive to truth Rav Dessler helps us understand what happiness is and why it is an illusion to many people. The word happiness is used often, yet few people are truly happy. This is because people seek happiness through materialistic and physical matters, which does not exist. Happiness is strictly linked to all things spiritual. In order to attain happiness, one must pursue, and take the correct measures towards his spiritual growth. God created the world to be divine.

Even though it looks like a very physical world we are supposed to be godly and try to disconnect with the physicals of the world. If people are not connecting to G-d they are pulling themselves out of their divine state to their human state which causes them to be unhappy. Happiness is not pleasure, it is a spiritual state that can only be acquired through spiritual growth and by connecting to G-d. The world is a G-dly reality and therefore people must follow the ways and try to act in the ways of G-d in all aspects of their lives. By living this way people become happy which then enables them to feel joy, which is ultimately desired. Joy is felt when people learn and work on being a proper Jew. Happiness is not a feeling, it’s a state living a godly life and feeling joy from living the proper Jewish way.

This concludes, that in order to empower happiness, it is vital that people internalize the divineness in this world and authenticate Torah in their life. Leaning mussar and internalizing our wisdom and by understanding that the world we live in is divine and leading lives that are one with their heart and mind living in a divine reality and closing the gap by combining our intellect with emotion will create a nation that is full of great and joyful people.


  1. Dessler, R., Me-Eliyaha, M., & Carmell, A. (1985). Strive for truth. Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers.

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