I recently asked blog commenter/poster Bob Miller about the intersection between Chassidus and Mussar. His comments follow:
Any valid form of Judaism has to deal with our motivations. Better motivation combined with factual knowledge leads to better behavior. Motivation can be based on factors like love, fear, and curiosity. All Orthodox approaches to motivation seem to be based on a combination of these factors, but the stress varies. Chassidus tends to stress love (related to HaShem’s immanence), while Mussar tends to stress fear (related to HaShem’s transcendence). Yeshivas today, regardless of which “wing” or “camp” they are in, tend to stress intellectual curiosity.
Some everyday Jewish communities seem to neglect these motivational factors, being more like large social clubs or extended families that maintain their particular ways mainly through inertia and shared experiences and not conscious thought. This situation can give their youth and even adults the spiritual blahs, leading to laxity and decline.
I think Chassidus and Mussar are complementary as each concentrates on a different primary aspect of reality. One fills in what the other largely leaves out. Joy and honest introspection may work best in combination. Of course, much depends on our personalities, too. If we’re tilted too much in one direction, a dose of something else can give us better balance (as in Rambam’s application of the golden mean).
We don’t have to be a card-carrying member of one given Orthodox faction to benefit from the truth within its approach. We also don’t have to justify the sometimes negative aspects of any faction’s behavior, including that of the one we’re in. Instead, we can draw strength from learning, internalizing, and practicing their combined Torah ideals, as appropriate, in an integrated way.
Thank you for your thoughful answer, Bob.
Maybe this blending of hashkafos is a product of living in a melting pot?
Bonus links to make you think:
A Simple Jews asks about Yerida L’Tzorich Aliya
Actions, Values, and Education by Rabbi Doron Beckerman
Dr. Yitzchok Levine: The Difference Between “Non-Jewish” and “Un-Jewish”