Friday, November 19, 2004
Musar and Benjamin Franklin
Menahem G. Glenn, Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker
Conventional wisdom among "those in the know" is that a classic Musar work that was enthusiastically supported by R. Yisrael Salanter, Sefer Heshbon Ha-Nefesh, is a Hebrew translation of Benjamin Franklin's memoirs. This, of course, does not diminish the utility of the book. Any book can be helpful if written with wisdom and insight, regardless of the author's identity. However, this little-known "fact" of the book's real author is somewhat jarring to those uninitiated to the secret.
The truth, however, as explained by Menahem Glenn in his Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker, is that Heshbon Ha-Nefesh is not a translation of Franklin's memoirs. Mendel Lefin (Levin), a maskil, had read Franklin's autobiography and found his system of cultivating virtues daily to be quite useful. Basing himself on Franklin's method, Lefin wrote an original work that elaborates passages of Franklin's autobiography and expands upon his ideas. Lefin even omitted some of Franklin's thirteen virtues and substituted others.
The truth, that Sefer Heshbon Ha-Nefesh was written by a maskil, is still surprising. However, that still should not detract from the usefulness the book has in assiting a person to change his life for the better.