Of course, Judaism is both Spiritual and Practical; we are taught to develop our personal spiritual character, and also to carry out practical mitzvot. But which is more important?
The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 20b) describes a hierarchy of traits for development, suggesting that a person can grow from basic observance of Torah and concern for avoiding sin to purification and holiness to Divine inspiration. After presenting the list, the Talmud mentions a debate between two authorities; Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair says the highest trait is chassidut, and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says the highest trait is humility.
As it used in mishnah and gemara, chassidut usually refers to exceeding one's practical mitzvah obligations. Humility, on the other hand, is an internal, spiritual trait. Which leads me to wonder: Is this really a debate about whether it is better to work on one's spirituality or to work on one's deeds?
It's a good question. Of course, one could and should point out that spiritual character affects one's deeds, and one's deeds (per Sefer haChinuch) influence one's spiritual character. And, yes, humility leads to knowing how much one needs to learn in other areas. But that is not my point at the moment.
I want to know: Given the chance to learn mussar or Shulchan Aruch, which should one choose?
Or, perhaps better: Given the chance to learn mussar or work in a soup kitchen, which should one choose?