We do not find disputes between Klal Yisrael’s leaders: Moshe Rabbeinu and his brother, Aharon HaKohen – except with regard to the sa’ir Rosh Chodesh, he-goat brought on Rosh Chodesh. They disagreed about whether an onein, mourner, was permitted to eat the sa’ir Rosh Chodesh on the day of the funeral. The question arose concerning kodshei doros, that which is sanctified for generations: a korban which will continually be offered; and kodshei shaah, a korban designated for that specific time. Three he-goats were offered that day – two of which were kodshei shah, and one of which was kodshei doros. Aharon reasoned that Hashem’s command that the Kohanim eat the meal-offerings, which were kodshei shaah, applied equally to the two sacrifices which were kodshei shaah. He felt that they should not eat the sa’ir Rosh Chodesh, as they were kodshei doros. Moshe disagreed with Aharon, to the point that he became “angry.” Had he not become upset, he would have understood Aharon’s logical rationale. Moshe ultimately agreed with Aharon, saying, “I heard (the decision), but I forgot.”
Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, was wont to comment concerning Moshe’s ability to concede error – rather than cover up when it would be rationally acceptable. When Moshe said, Shamaati v’shochachti; “I heard but I forgot,” he was opening himself to an accusation that some might level at him: “What else did you forget? Did you make any ‘other’ alterations in the Torah?” Indeed, the entire mesorah, tradition of transmission from Sinai, was in danger of being impugned. Nonetheless, Moshe did not allow this possible allegation to prevent him from stating the truth. Veracity trumps l’shem Shomayim, acting for the sake of Heaven. Some rabble rousers might have raised questions, ultimately leading to a chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem’s Name. Moshe Rabbeinu understood the mandate of Midvar sheker tirchak, “Distance yourself from falsehood” (Shemos 23:7) to override all cheshbonos, justifications.
During the controversy surrounding the implementation of the study of mussar into the yeshivah curriculum (or for that matter, taking time ordinarily dedicated for Torah study and diverting part of it to mussar study or the study of the soul), Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, the Mussar Movements founder and chief proponent, would upon occasion be harassed by the misnagdim, opposition, to the movement. This was no different from that which the early chassidim endured in their quest to imbue avodas Hashem, the service to the Almighty, with passion and joy. While today mussar study is an accepted, vital part of Torah study, a time existed in which a number of Lithuanian gedolim, Torah giants, were vehemently opposed to it. As usual, one could always find rif raf who live for controversy and dispute, who come out of their “holes” in order to disparage and malign anyone who does not agree with them.
Rav Yisrael was brilliant and erudite, but he did not call attention to his vast knowledge – focusing instead on the need to study mussar. He was a prolific speaker, who had the ability to captivate, as well as inspire, his audience. He was asked to give a drashah, lecture, in Vilna, which was a huge Torah center. His misnagdim, many of whom were quite learned, planned to attend for the purpose of refuting his words, thereby casting aspersion on him, his scholarship, and, above all, the Mussar Movement.
During the shiur, a member of the opposition asked a powerful question focused on the fundamental principle upon which the shiur was based. Rav Yisrael stood thinking for a few moments, then announced that based upon the question presented to him, his entire shiur was refuted. He then left the podium and returned to his seat. Afterwards, he explained that actually he had twelve answers to the question. They were so compelling that the questioner would be unable to unravel them to see that they did not ultimately answer the question. At the end of the day, however, truth must prevail. If these answers were not an absolute fit, they were false. He would rather have his shiur refuted, suffer the “possible” humiliation, than to agree to settle for anything that was not completely true.
Rav Yisrael confessed that a powerful battle raged within him. On the one hand, admitting defeat imperiled his life’s work. On the other hand, how could he settle for something that lacked integrity? Finally, he cried out to himself, “Yisrael! Yisrael! You learn mussar, and mussar obligates you not to settle for anything that is not absolute truth. This is when I decided to end the shiur.”