Once the shochet of Salant came to see R. Israel. He proposed giving up shechitah [slaughter], because the heavy responsibility involved in kosher slaughtering was too onerous for him to bear.
"What do you intend to take up?" R. Israel asked him.
"I shall go into business", the shochet answered, "and open a store."
R. Israel looked at him in surprise. "You are concerned about shechitah which involves only one negative commandment, the prohibition against carrion. How much more so should you worry about shopkeeping, in which many admonitions and prohibitions are involved: 'You shall not rob, you shall not covet, you shall not defraud, you shall not overcharge, you shall not deal falsely, you shall not lie, as well as the positive and negative commandments applying to weights and measures, to keep away from falsehood, etc., etc.'"
--From The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2, pages 204 - 205
Visitors entering his room in Halberstadt would find him [Rabbi Yisrael Salanter] with a German book open in front of him, performing physical exercises, following the instructions and diagrams with utmost precision as ordered by the doctor.
As has been previously related, he took up carpentry for a while, because the doctor had so ordered. To him, the commandment to preserve one's life was as binding as any other mitzvah, and doctor's orders important rules of halachah, on the same level as the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch with respect to forbidden and permitted foods, which had to be carried out to the letter.
Once he was seen gazing at the heavens at twilight. He was waiting for the exact moment when the stars would appear. Having apparently been ordered by his doctor to rest from his studies for three days, he obviously faithfully complied. As the third day was ending, however, he stood outside to mark the exact time when the restriction would end. "Just as it is forbidden to delay Torah study for a minute, because of the mitzvah," he explained, "so is it forbidden to begin one minute too early, because of the mitzvah of guarding one's health." -- The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2, page 192
Even while living in Salant, it happened once that Rabbi Israel [Salanter] was unable to be present when his shemurah matzah was being baked. Knowing that he took the greatest pains to observe all the finer points involved in the baking of the matzah, his disciples had undertaken to supervise for him in his absence. They asked for his instructions. What should they be most careful to watch?
Rabbi Israel ordered them to be especially careful not to distress the woman kneading the dough in their zeal, since she was an unfortunate widow, and they would thereby transgress the prohibition, "You shall not oppress a widow..." "The kashrut of the matzah is not complete with the observance of all the embellishments of the laws of Pesach alone," he would say, "But with the observance of all the finer points of the Choshen Mishpat as well." --from The Mussar Movement Volume 1, Part 2, pages 220 - 221
Once Rabbi Israel [Salanter] and his friend Rabbi Mordecai Meltzer were walking through the narrow sidestreets of Vilna. They stopped and entered a synagogue to join in the minchah service. Rabbi Mordecai poured a copious stream of water over his hands while Rabbi Israel [Salanter] by contrast, merely moistened his, hardly using any water at all.
Astonished Rabbi Mordecai blurted out:"Do you not, sir, observe the custom of washing before praying?"
"Indeed, I do," replied Rabbi Israel [Salanter]. "But I see here that the synagogue is frequented by a limited number of worshippers. Visitors do not usually come here. The shamash certainly intended to provide just enough water for the regular worshippers. If we waste a large quantity, the deficiency will be felt by one of the congregants. He will upbraid the shamash and withhold the few pennies he normally gives. And so we will be guilty of denying the shamash his livelihood."
-- The Mussar Movement Volume 1, Part 2, pages 219 - 220
Someone once told me that he heard his rosh yeshiva say, "The most dangerous person in the world is someone on his way to do a mitzvah." For some, nothing matters but for them to do their mitzvah, no matter what.
One of his disciples had invited him for Friday night dinner. R. Israel[Salanter] had stipulated that he would not dine anywhere till he had satisfied himself that the kashrut was above reproach. The disciple informed R. Israel that in his home all the Halachot were observed with utmost stringency. He bought his meat from a butcher known for his piety. It was truly "glatt" - free of any Halachic query or lung adhesion (sirchah). His cook was an honest woman, the widow of a Talmid Chacham, daughter of a good family, while his own wife would enter the kitchen periodically to supervise. His Friday night meal was conducted in the grand style. There would be Torah discussion after each course, so there was no possibility of their meal being "as if they had partaken of offerings to idols." They would study Shulchan Aruch regularly, sing zemirot and remain seated at the table till well into the night.
Having listened to this elaborate account of the procedures, R. Israel consented to accept the invitation, but stipulated that the time of the meal be curtailed by two full hours. Having no alternative, the disciple agreed. At the meal, one course followed another without interruption. In less than an hour, the mayim acharonim had been passed around in preparation for the Grace after Meals.
Before proceeding with the Grace, the host turned to R. Israel and asked: "Teach me, Rabbi. What defect did you notice in my table?"
R. Israel did not answer the question. Instead he asked that the widow responsible for the cooking come to the room. He said to her: "Please forgive me, for having inconvenienced you this evening. You were forced to serve one course after another - not as you are used to do."
"Bless you, Rabbi," the woman answered. "Would that you would be a guest here every Friday evening. My master is used to sit at the table till late at night. I am worn out from working all day. My legs can hardly hold me up, so tired do I become. Thanks to you, Rabbi, they hurried this evening, and I am already free to go home and rest."
R. Israel turned to his disciple. "The poor widow's remark is the answer to your question. Indeed your behavior is excellent, but only as long as it does not adversely affect others."1
--The Mussar Movement, Volume I, Part 2 pages 226-228
Do you ever feel overwhelmed—like you just have too much on your plate and you cannot keep up? Here at First Fruits of Zion, we are always taking on more projects than we can handle, and we talk about having “too many balls in the air.” When a juggler has too many balls in the air, he’s going to drop a few, or eventually, he may end up dropping all of them.
Rabbi Salanter was washing his hands before a meal when the rabbis he was with noticed he was not immersing his whole hands in water in the ritual manner preferred by Jewish law. When questioned about this practice, Rabbi Salanter responded:
“I am not the one who obtains the water from the well; it is the poor peasant girl who must do so. Several times a week in the middle of this bitter winter, she must trudge out to the well, break the ice, and bring back pails of water for us to use in our home. The more water I use to wash my hands, the more often she has to face the bitter cold. And I do not want to be extra pious on the shoulders of her suffering.”