Connection is the Goal, Mitzvos are the Path

In the beginning of Mesillas Yesharim the Ramchal writes:

When you look further into the matter, you will see that only connection with God constitutes true perfection, as King David said (Psalms 73:28), “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good,” and (Psalms 27:4), “I asked one thing from God; that will I seek – to dwell in God’s house all the days of my life…” For this alone is the true good, and anything besides this which people deem good is nothing but emptiness and deceptive worthlessness. For a man to attain this good, it is certainly fitting that he first labor and persevere in his exertions to acquire it. That is, he should persevere so as to unite himself with the Blessed One by means of actions which result in this end. These actions are the mitzvos.

The goal is connecting deeply to G-d and the path to achieving it are the mitzvos. The sefer Mesillas Yesharim itself is focused on doing mitzvos progressively better to achieve their intended goal.

Let’s take the first 2 lines of Shema as an example. The halacha states that we have to pay close attention (have kavanna) to what we are saying for the first 2 lines. If we don’t do that, we won’t get the full benefit from saying the Shema and it will not help us get closer to Hashem to the degree that it could.

It takes a reasonable amount of effort, just to observe the mitzvos, so we often feel accomplished just from the fact that we are observant. If we take a little step, and do mitzvos with intention and with a focus on connecting to Hashem, we will get much more out of them and will can avoid the frustrating plateauing state.

Getting Better Mileage From Our Mitzvah Observance

Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner zt”l used to tell a story of an observant Jew who was not motivated to grow further. He told Rabbi Kirzner that he was in the top 10% in terms of observance, and when the other 90% of Jewry caught up, he would go further.

The Mesillas Yesharim in the chapter on Acquiring Watchfulness says that the majority of observant Jews have this attitude. He says that the average person says regarding the world to come that “if we do not have a larger portion, we will have a small one”.

From one perspective this attitude seems justified. After all observant Jews keep Shabbos, do mitzvos, learn Torah, daven, etc.. Aren’t we doing what G-d wants from us?

The Mesillas Yesharim in the chapter on Man’s Duty in this World points the way to our mistake. We are confusing the ends with the means. Observing mitzvos are indeed the means, but the goal is to continually growing in our connection to Hashem. If we don’t notice progress in that goal of closer connection, then we’re not getting the appropriate value from our mitzvah observance.

The Mesillas Yesharim also tells us what we’re doing wrong, we’re not focused on improving our performance of the mitzvos. We need to be more careful in their observance, and more mindful when we perform them. If we follow the Torah’s prescription in mitzvah performance, we will achieve the goal of continuous growth in our connection to Hashem.

Let’s try a simple experiment for one week. Once a day let’s make a brocha on coffee or water with more focus and mindfulness. At the end of each day mark down whether you made the brocha with more focus.
Here’s a standard understanding of the brocha you can use to increase your focus:

Baruch Atah – You are the source of all blessing
Adonai – Master of all (who always was, is, and will be)
Eloheinu – The source of all powers
Melech HaOlam – King of the World
Shehakol Nihyah- everything was created
Bidvaro – through His words

In a brocha over water we can focus on
1) The reality of Hashem’s existence
2) His creation of everything in existence
3) His continual supervision of everything
4) His absolute authority over everything
5) His transformation of the spiritual into the physical

Let’s hope this a week where we can start to get more mileage from our mitzvos.

Steven Covey’s 7 Habits and Mesillas Yesharim

One of my favorite secular books is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. (Covey passed away on July 16, 2012 at the age of 79) Covey says he studied the wisdom literature to write this book. The book was recommended to me by 3 mussar-oriented friends at about the same time, so I picked it up and try to integrate the lessons learned into a Torah lifestyle and outlook.

The first 3 habits in a nutshell are
1) Be proactive: Take control of your life. Live a life by design and not by default.
2) Begin with the End in Mind: Begin with the image of the end of your life as the frame of reference by which everything else is measured.
3) Keep First things First: Organize and implement your activities in line with the aims established in habit 2.

One could say the tag line for the first 3 habits is: Organize and Execute around Priorities: Habit 1 says be proactive and organize; Habit 2 says set priorities; Habit 3 says execute around those priorities;

When studying the first opening line of the “Man’s Duty in this World” chapter in Mesillas Yesharim, I was struck by the similarities to the first 3 habits.

The foundation of Saintliness and the root of perfection in the service of God…
– Here the Ramchal is telling us to Be Proactive and strive for saintliness and perfect service as that is what we are here for.

…lies in a man’s coming to see clearly and to recognize as a truth the nature of his duty in the world
– We should Begin with the End in Mind, which is our duty in this world to come close to Hashem

…and the end towards which he should direct his vision and his aspiration in all of his labors all the days of his life.
And we should Keep First Things First and direct all our visions, aspirations and labors toward the end of comimg

So Ramchal is telling us to organize and execute around priorities. Work towards perfection by prioritizing or focus to get closer to Hashem through Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim.

Please take 5 minutes to review the first chapter of Mesillas Yesharim. We were learning in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops.

Here is Chapter 1 from the R’ Shraga Silverstein’s translation and posted here through the genrosity of Feldheim Publishers. It is available for purchase here.

The foundation of Saintliness and the root of perfection in the service of God lies in a man’s coming to see clearly and to recognize as a truth the nature of his duty in the world and the end towards which he should direct his vision and his aspiration in all of his labors all the days of his life.

Our Sages of blessed memory have taught us that man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in God and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence; for this is true joy and the greatest pleasure that can be found. The place where this joy may truly be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it; but the path to the object of our desires is this world, as our Sages of blessed memory have said (Avorh 4:21), “This world is like a corridor to the World to Come.”

The means which lead a man to this goal are the mitzvoth, in relation to which we were commanded by the Lord, may His Name be blessed. The place of the performance of the mitzvoth is this world alone.

Read more Steven Covey’s 7 Habits and Mesillas Yesharim

Getting Back on Track to Torah Based Happiness

I’m trying to write a short essay explaining Torah Judaism to interest people to learn more about Judaism. In the latest draft, I’ve written the following opening paragraph:

Many people realize that true happiness requires that a person lead a meaningful life of self-actualization and giving to people, community and the greater good. Torah Judaism provides the means and framework whereas a person can infuse every second of their life with meaning and happiness.

Although I believe the above paragraph is true, few people I know are living such a life. Most of us are so distracted by day to day events, that we’re fortunate if we can infuse a few mitzvos each day with the above-mentioned meaning. Yes we appreciate Shabbos and the fact that our children are being raised with a solid moral compass, but where is the encompassing meaning-based happiness that we perhaps felt when we started out.

I’ve been recently learning the dialog version of the Mesillas Yesharim and perhaps it holds the key. One deterrent to a Torah based life of meaning is complacency. Many of us worked hard to integrate successfully into the Torah community and after achieving that goal we feel that we made it and that we can take pleasure in our accomplishment. But the Mesillas Yesharim tells us that we can never be complacent in our Judaism, we need to constantly focus on become a better Jew today than we were yesterday. We need to focus on the next step we need to take to become that better Jew and not fall into the trap of being complacent with our achievements to date.

A second deterrent is lack of focus. In the dialog version, the Mesillas Yesharim makes it very clear that knowing all the halachos is necessary but insufficient for our Divine service. Every mitzvah act needs to be accompanied by a focus on why we’re doing the mitzvah and then performing it with love, fear and emulation of Hashem. Without this focus we are performing the mitzvos at the lowest possible.

Here is the basic focus we should have before performing a mitzvah:

1) Hashem the creator of the universe has commanded me to perform this mitzvah
2) I am accepting upon myself to perform it because I have been commanded by Hashem
3) Through the performance of the act, I am fulfilling Hashem’s commandment

Here is the basic focus we should have before davening Shomoneh Esrai:

1) I am standing in the presence of the Creator
2) Hashem is elevated and raised above all blessing and praise and above all forms of perfection that the mind can envisage and comprehend.
3) Due to our inherent earthiness and the sins we’ve committed, man is of a lower and inferior quality

It takes a lifetime to reach the highest levels but with a little focus in our daily mitzvah acts we can find happiness in our meaningful quest to perfect ourselves and our world. When it is evident that we are tapping into this meaning-based happiness, perhaps it will be easier to interest our fellow Jews in investigating Torah.

Did You Do a Cheshbon HaNefesh Today?

I’ve been learning Bilvavi recently, and Rav Shwartz has a slightly different understanding of the path proscribed by Mesillas Yesharim then the conventional Yeshiva understanding. We’ll G-d willing discuss the differences in a later post, but today let’s take a look at a practical problem we hit early in the Mesillas Yesharim.

In Chapter 3, Concerning the divisions on watchfulness, the Ramchal tells us 1) We have to know what the right thing to do from a Torah perspective and 2) we have to review our actions (saying brochas, davening, wasting time, dealing with others, etc..) on a regular basis to determine whether we are actually doing the right thing. This regular/daily review is called Cheshbon HaNefesh. The Ramchal makes a very strong case that Cheshbon HaNefesh is an absolutely necessary early step for growth.

The problem is that when you ask your average mussar-oriented-yeshishvish-guy whether he regularly does a Cheshbon HaNefesh, he’ll invariably say no. I’ve asked many people and most of them admit that although this is an important part of the Ramchal’s prescription, they don’t do it. Rebbeim I’ve talked to about this, point out that the reason Cheshbon HaNefesh is not widely practiced is that our generation really can’t stand the regular self-criticism.

In the business world, Cheshbon HaNefesh is very popular in the forms of performance scorecards and other multi-faceted measurement and review techniques. The basic idea is that you define certain criteria of success from a financial, customer satisfaction, business process and learning perspective and then you give feedback in charts and graphs measuring the success, often using the colors red, yellow and green. A friend tells me that if the measures are reflecting too much red, they are often redefined since most employees can’t take too much negative feedback. Another indication that self-criticism is difficult for us to take.

So we are left with a problem, Cheshbon HaNefesh is an essential ingredient for spiritual success, but it is difficult to do. Here are some questions:

Has anybody been successful implementing a Cheshbon HaNefesh program?
Is the pain of the process the main problem?
Can you think of any successful self-reward programs?
Do we need to redefine the process for our generation?
Would a group of people working on this together help?
Would Quicken-like computer software help?

Below is Chapter 3, from R’ Shraga Silverstein’s translation and posted here through the generosity of Feldheim Publishers. Our learning is in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops.

ONE WHO WISHES to watch over himself must take two things into consideration. First he must consider what constitutes the true good that a person should choose and the true evil that he should flee from; and second, he must consider his actions, to discover whether they appertain to the category of good or to that of evil. This applies both to times when there is a question of performing a specific action and to times when there is no such question. When there is a question of performing a specific action, he should do nothing before he weighs the action in the scale of the aforementioned understanding. And when there is no such question, the idea should take the form of his bringing before himself the remembrance of his deeds in general and weighing them, likewise, in the scales of this criterion to determine what they contain of evil, so that he may cast it aside, and what of good, so that he may be constant in it and strengthen himself in it. If he finds in them aught that is evil, he should consider and attempt to reason out what device he might use to turn aside from that evil and to cleanse himself of it. Our Sages of blessed memory taught us this in their statement (Eruvin 136), “It would have been better for a man not to have been created… but now that he has been created, let him examine his deeds. Others say, `Let him “feel” his deeds.’ ” It is to be seen that these two versions constitute two sound beneficial exhortations. For “examination” of one’s deeds refers to an investigation of one’s deeds in general and a consideration of them to determine whether they might not include certain actions which should not be performed, which are not in accordance with God’s mitzvoth and His statutes, any such actions to be completely eradicated. “Feeling,” however, implies the investigation even of the good actions themselves to determine whether they involve any leaning which is not good or any bad aspect which it is necessary to remove and to eradicate. This is analogous to a person’s feeling a garment to determine whether its material is good and sturdy or weak and rotted. In the same respect he must “feel” his actions by subjecting them to a most exhaustive examination to determine their nature, so that he might remain free of any impurities.

To summarize, a man should observe all of his actions and watch over all of his ways so as not to leave himself with a bad habit or a bad trait, let alone a sin or a crime. I see a need for a person to carefully examine his ways and to weigh them daily in the manner of the great merchants who constantly evaluate all of their undertakings so that they do not miscarry. He should set aside definite times and hours for this weighing so that it is not a fortuitous matter, but one which is conducted with the greatest regularity; for it yields rich returns.

Our Sages of blessed memory have explicitly taught us the need for such an evaluation. As they said (Bava Bathra 78b), “Therefore the rulers say, `Let us enter into an accounting’ (Numbers 21:27). Therefore the rulers over their evil inclinations say, ‘Let us come and compute the world’s account, the loss entailed by the performance of a mitzvah, against the gain that one secures through it, and the gain that one acquires through a transgression against the loss that it entails… ‘ ”

This true counsel could not have been given, nor its truth recognized by any except those who had already departed from beneath the hand of their evil inclination and come to dominate it. For if one is still imprisoned by his evil inclination, his eyes cannot see this truth and he cannot recognize it. For the evil inclination literally blinds his eyes and he becomes as one who walks in the darkness, where there are stumbling blocks before him which his eyes do not see. As our Sages of blessed memory said (Bava Metzia 83b), ” ` You laid down darkness and it was night’ (Psalms 104:20). This refers to this world which is similar to night.” How wondrous is this truthful commentary to him who concentrates upon understanding it. For the darkness of night can cause two types of errors in relation to a man’s eye: it may either cover his eye so that he does not see what is before him at all, or it may deceive him so that a pillar appears to him as a man, or a man as a pillar. In like manner, the earthiness and materialism of this world is the darkness of night to the mind’s eye and causes a man to err in two ways. First it does not permit him to see the stumbling blocks in the ways of the world, so that the fools walk securely, fall, and are lost without having experienced any prior fear. As Scripture states (Proverbs 4:19), “The path of the wicked is like pitch darkness; they do not know upon what they stumble,” and (Proverbs 22:3), “The wise man sees the evil and hides, and the fools pass on and are punished,” and (Proverbs 14:16), “And the fool becomes infuriated and is secure.” For their hearts are steadfast and they fall before having any knowledge whatsoever of the existence of the stumbling block. The second error, which is even worse than the first, stems from the distortion of their sight, so that they see evil as though it were goodness itself, and good as if it were evil, and, because of this, strengthen themselves in clinging to their evil ways. For it is not enough that they lack the ability to see the truth, the evil staring them in the face, but they also see fit to find powerful substantiations and empirical evidence supporting their evil theories and false ideas. This is the great evil which embraces them and brings them to the pit of destruction. As Scripture states (Isaiah 6:10), “The heart of this nation has become fatted, and its ears have become heavy, and its eyes have turned aside, lest…” All this because of their being under the influence of the darkness and subject to the rule of their evil inclination. But those who have already freed themselves from this bondage see the truth clearly and can advise others in relation to it.

To what is this analogous? To a garden-maze, a type of garden common among the ruling class, which is planted for the sake of amusement. The plants there are arranged in walls between which are found many confusing and interlacing paths, all similar to one another, the purpose of the whole being to challenge one to reach a portico in their midst. Some of the paths are straight ones which lead directly to the portico, but some cause one to stray, and to wander from it. The walker between the paths has no way of seeing or knowing whether he is on the true or the false path; for they are all similar, presenting no difference whatsoever to the observing eye. He will not reach his goal unless he has perfect familiarity and visual acquaintance with the paths through his having traversed them and reached the portico. He who occupies a commanding position in the portico, however, sees all of the paths before him and can discriminate between the true and the false ones. He is in a position to warn those who walk upon them and to tell them, “This is the path; take it!” He who is willing to believe him will reach the designated spot; but he who is not willing to believe him, but would rather trust to his eyes, will certainly remain lost and fail to reach it.

So too in relation to the idea under discussion. He who has not yet achieved dominion over his evil inclination is in the midst of the paths and cannot distinguish between them. But those who rule their evil inclination, those who have reached the portico, who have already left the paths and who clearly see all of the ways before their eyes – they can advise him who is willing to listen, and it is to them that we must trust.

And what is the advice that they give us’? – ‘Let us enter into an accounting.’ Let us come and compute the world’s account.” For they have already experienced, and seen, and learned that this alone is the true path by which a man may reach the good that he seeks, and that there is none beside this.

What emerges from all this is that a man must constantly – at all times, and particularly during a regularly appointed time of solitude – reflect upon the true path (according to the ordinance of the Torah) that a man must walk upon. After engaging in such reflection he will come to consider whether or not his deeds travel along this path. For in doing so it will certainly be easy for him to cleanse himself of all evil and to correct all of his ways. As Scripture states (Proverbs 4:26), “Consider the path of your feet and all of your paths will be established,” and (Lamentations 3:40), ll return to God.”

Becoming a Better Jew

For some of us, learning Mesillas Yesharim can a be a challenge. The Ramchal is talking about reaching very high levels of Piety and Kedushah, and many of us feel we’re not in a position to reach those levels. We’re focused on consolidating the progress we’ve already made. We might get discouraged and say that learning Mesillas Yesharim is not for us.

But if we take a closer look, we’ll see that the Ramchal is also teaching us how to become better Jews. Almost every person I’ve met, whether observant or not, wants to be a better Jew. The process of becoming a better Jew involves integrating to some degree, the love and performance of Chesed, Torah and Mitzvos into our lives. This integration is not a simple process, and the Ramchal teaches how to make this a reality.

In the beginning chapters of the Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal teaches us the structure. We have to focus on outcome, implement the proper actions and processes to reach that outcome, and measure and assess our progress. In recent years both the personal growth and corporate excellence fields have come to the same conclusion, that outcome focusing, process re-engineering, and measurement are the keys to growth. Although the Ramchal gets his ideas straight from Torah, seeing that non-Torah sources come to similiar conclusions may give us a little more motivation to learn, understand, review, and implement the Ramchal’s teachings.

In chapter 2, the opening chapter on the trait of watchfulness, the Ramchal teaches us to be deliberate in our actions. On a day-to-day basis we should strive to live a life by design and not by default. As human beings, we have the intelligence and capability to live a life of doing what’s right and becoming better Jews. It would be foolish not to take advantage of these capabilities to become better people.

Here are a few questions for discussion in the comments.
– Do you think that Mussar is avoided by some/many/most people? Why is that?
– Are the steps to becoming a better Jew included in the path of becoming a pious Jew?
– Do most people want to become better Jews? Is a plan needed to achieve this goal?
– What key message(s) do you take away from Chapter 2?

Below is Chapter 2, Concerning The Trait Of Watchfulness, from the R’ Shraga Silverstein’s translation and posted here through the genrosity of Feldheim Publishers. Our learning is in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops.
Read more Becoming a Better Jew

Rational Hedonism – The Jewish Answer To “Why Are We Here?”

Rabbi Dovid Schwartz of the Jewish Heritage Center (and Beyond BT contributor and commenter) recently gave a shiur on the “Man’s Duty in This World” chapter that we are currently learning in Mesillas Yesharim. One thing is for certain, this isn’t your zaidey’s Mussar Schmuz.

Rabbi Schwartz turns some of our assumptions about Judaism on their head in a thoroughly entertaining and educating fashion. You’ve probably never had so much fun learning Mussar.

Download the shiur here. And download the notes for the shiur here.

With this post we’re going to move on to the next chapter. But first here’s a few questions from the first chapter:
1) What does the Ramchal see as the purpose of life?
2) How many levels of human achievement does he discuss?
3) What is the role of physical pleasure according to the Ramchal?

For your convenience, here is the Shraga Silverstein Feldheim translation of the first chapter which can be purchased here.

The foundation of Saintliness and the root of perfection in the service of God lies in a man’s coming to see clearly and to recognize as a truth the nature of his duty in the world and the end towards which he should direct his vision and his aspiration in all of his labors all the days of his life.

Read more Rational Hedonism – The Jewish Answer To “Why Are We Here?”

Torah Leads to Watchfulness

Mesillas Yesharim is structured around R. Pinchas ben Yair beraisa which states:

Torah leads to Watchfulness;
Watchfulness leads to Zeal;
Zeal leads to Cleanliness;
Cleanliness leads to Separation;
Separation leads to Purity;
Purity leads to Saintliness;
Saintliness leads to Humility;
Humility leads to Fear of Sin;
Fear of Sin leads to Holiness;
Holiness leads to the Holy Spirit,
and the Holy Spirit leads to the Revival of the Dead.”

I often wondered what does it mean that Zeal leads to Cleanliness,… It can’t mean that you can’t do an act of cleanliness, before you’ve mastered zeal. I came to an answer a few weeks ago, and I ran it by my Rav who thought it was the emes.

There is a difference between an act and a state. For example, any person can do an act of Cleanliness but to reach the state of Cleanliness, a person must first master the earlier states. A person who is in the state of Watchfulness is one who is always watchful, day in and day out 24 x 7. To reach the state of watchfulness one has to do repeated acts of being watchful. At some point the repetition and dedication to acts of watchfulness make one a watchful person. Like many things in the spiritual world, the exact measurement of who is watchful might be hard to define, but to the truly watchful person that is not relevant, as he he is not looking for the title, but rather to serve Hashem by being watchful of his acts.

The value of constantly reviewing the entire book is that a person often has an opportunity to do acts above his level and he should understand what those higher level acts entail. For example, during davening a person should seize the opportunity to cling to Hashem, even if it’s just for the first brocha. This act does not make him a true Chassid (as defined by the Gemorra and the Mesillas Yesharim), but there is tremendous value in every wholehearted act we do for Hashem. However, it makes much sense that a person focus his efforts appropriate to his level which for most of us are the levels of Torah, Watchfulness and Zeal. (I’m thinking that perhaps Watchfulness and Zeal proceed in parallel as they represent respectively the negative and positive mitzvos).

Please take a few minutes to re-review the first chapter of Mesillas Yesharim. We are learning in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops. Here is Chapter 1 from the R’ Shraga Silverstein’s translation and posted here through the genrosity of Feldheim Publishers. It is available for purchase here.

The foundation of Saintliness and the root of perfection in the service of God lies in a man’s coming to see clearly and to recognize as a truth the nature of his duty in the world and the end towards which he should direct his vision and his aspiration in all of his labors all the days of his life.

Our Sages of blessed memory have taught us that man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in God and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence; for this is true joy and the greatest pleasure that can be found. The place where this joy may truly be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it; but the path to the object of our desires is this world, as our Sages of blessed memory have said (Avorh 4:21), “This world is like a corridor to the World to Come.”

Read more Torah Leads to Watchfulness

Mesillas Yesharim – Chapter 1 – Concerning Man’s Duty in the World

The foundation of Saintliness and the root of perfection in the service of God lies in a man’s coming to see clearly and to recognize as a truth the nature of his duty in the world and the end towards which he should direct his vision and his aspiration in all of his labors all the days of his life.

In Michtav-Me-Eliyahu (Strive for Truth), Rabbi Dessler takes this sentence and breaks it down making the following points:

The foundation of Saintliness – you must get the foundation right, to insure a stable structure.

…and the root of perfection in the service of God – roots enable us to continually draw sustenance and provide stability.

…lies in a man’s coming to see clearly – clarifying something takes work and must occur in both the intellect and the heart which is the source of our actions, but we must truly believe that Hashem will help us succeed if we make real efforts.

…and to recognize as a truth the nature of his duty in the world – we often know what our rights are but how clear are we on our duties and obligations? For example, we have an obligation to pray, but do we really fulfill it when we mumble strings of words and phrases without thought and feeling.

…and the end towards which he should direct his vision and his aspiration in all of his labors all the days of his life – an ambitious person will use all the means available to reach his goals. This is even more important in the spiritual realm where a person is constantly opposed by the Yetzer Hara. As such, we must keep our goal of increasing our closeness to Hashem in mind and use all the means out our disposal to achieve this goal.

Getting closer to Hashem is a life long project, but like any successful project we need purpose, vision, goals, tasks and techniques. The Mesillas Yesharim is setting up the parameters for us to be successul in this most important of projects.

Here is Chapter 1 from the R’ Shraga Silverstein’s translation and posted here through the genrosity of Feldheim Publishers. It is available for purchase here.

The foundation of Saintliness and the root of perfection in the service of God lies in a man’s coming to see clearly and to recognize as a truth the nature of his duty in the world and the end towards which he should direct his vision and his aspiration in all of his labors all the days of his life.

Our Sages of blessed memory have taught us that man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in God and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence; for this is true joy and the greatest pleasure that can be found. The place where this joy may truly be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it; but the path to the object of our desires is this world, as our Sages of blessed memory have said (Avorh 4:21), “This world is like a corridor to the World to Come.”

The means which lead a man to this goal are the mitzvoth, in relation to which we were commanded by the Lord, may His Name be blessed. The place of the performance of the mitzvoth is this world alone.

Therefore, man was placed in this world first – so that by these means, which were provided for him here, he would be able to reach the place which had been prepared for him, the World to Come, there to be sated with the goodness which he acquired through them. As our Sages of blessed memory have said (Eruvin 22a), “Today for their [the mitzvoth’s] performance and tomorrow for receiving their reward.”

When you look further into the matter, you will see that only union with God constitutes true perfection, as King David said (Psalms 73:28), “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good,” and (Psalms 27:4), “I asked one thing from God; that will I seek – to dwell in God’s house all the days of my life…” For this alone is the true good, and anything besides this which people deem good is nothing but emptiness and deceptive worthlessness. For a man to attain this good, it is certainly fitting that he first labor and persevere in his exertions to acquire it. That is, he should persevere so as to unite himself with the Blessed One by means of actions which result in this end. These actions are the mitzvoth.

The Holy One Blessed be He has put man in a place where the factors which draw him further from the Blessed One are many. These are the earthy desires which, if he is pulled after them, cause him to be drawn further from and to depart from the true good. It is seen, then, that man is veritably placed in the midst of a raging battle. For all the affairs of the world, whether for the good or for the bad, are trials to a man: Poverty on the one hand and wealth on the other, as Solomon said (Proverbs 30:9), “Lest I become satiated and deny, saying, `Who is God?’ or lest I become impoverished and steal…” Serenity on the one hand and suffering on the other; so that the battle rages against him to the fore and to the rear. If he is valorous, and victorious on all sides, he will be the “Whole Man,” who will succeed in uniting himself with his Creator, and he will leave the corridor to enter into the Palace, to glow in the light of life. To the extent that he has subdued his evil inclination and his desires, and withdrawn from those factors which draw him further from the good, and exerted himself to become united with it, to that extent will he attain it and rejoice in it.

If you look more deeply into the matter, you will see that the world was created for man’s use. In truth, man is the center of a great balance. For if he is pulled after the world and is drawn further from his Creator, he is damaged, and he damages the world with him. And if he rules over himself and unites himself with his Creator, and uses the world only to aid him in the service of his Creator, he is uplifted and the world itself is uplifted with him. For all creatures are greatly uplifted when they serve the “Whole Man,” who is sanctified with the holiness of the Blessed One. It is as our Sages of blessed memory have said in relation to the light that the Holy One Blessed be He stored away for the righteous (Chagiga 12a): “When the Holy One Blessed be He saw the light that He had stored away for the righteous, He rejoiced, as it is said (Proverbs 13:9), `The light of the righteous rejoices.’ ” And in relation to the “stones of the place” that Jacob took and put around his head they said (Chulin 916), “R. Yitzchak said, `This teaches us that they [the stones] gathered themselves into one spot, each one saying, “Let the righteous one lay his head upon me.” Our Sages of blessed memory drew our attention to this principle in Midrash Koheleth, where they said (Koheleth Rabbah 7:28) – ‘See the work of God…’ (Ecclesiastes 7:13). When the Holy One Blessed be He created Adam, He took him and caused him to pass before all the trees of the Garden of Eden. He said to him, `See how beautiful and praiseworthy are my works; and all that I have created, I have created for your sake. Take heed that you do not damage and destroy my world.’ ”

To summarize, a man was created not for his station in this world, but for his station in the World to Come. It is only that his station in this world is a means towards his station in the World to Come, which is the ultimate goal. This accounts for numerous statements of our Sages of blessed memory, all in a similar vein, likening this world to the place and time of preparation, and the next world to the place which has been set aside for rest and for the eating of what has already been prepared. This is their intent in saying (Avoth 4:21), “This world is similar to a corridor …,” as our Sages of blessed memory have said (Eruvin 22a), “Today for their performance and tomorrow to receive their reward,” “He who exerted himself on Friday will eat on the Sabbath” (Avodah Zarah 3a), “This world is like the shore and the World to Come like the sea …” (Koheleth Rabbah 1:36), and many other statements along the same lines.

And in truth, no reasoning being can believe that the purpose of man’s creation relates to his station in this world. For what is a man’s life in this world! Who is truly happy and content in this world? “The days of our life are seventy years, and, if exceedingly vigorous, eighty years, and their persistence is but labor and foolishness” (Psalms 90:10). How many different kinds of suffering, and sicknesses, and pains and burdens! And after all this – death! Not one in a thousand is to be found to whom the world has yielded a superabundance of gratifications and true contentment. And even such a one, though he attain to the age of one hundred years, passes and vanishes from the world. Furthermore, if man had been created solely for the sake of this world, he would have had no need of being inspired with a soul so precious and exalted as to be greater than the angels themselves, especially so in that it derives no satisfaction whatsoever from all of the pleasures of this world. This is what our Sages of blessed memory teach us in Midrash (Koheleth Rabbah), “‘And also the soul will not be filled’ (Eccelesiastes 6:7) What is this analogous to? To the case of a city dweller who married a princess. If he brought her all that the world possessed, it would mean nothing to her, by virtue of her being a king’s daughter. So is it with the soul. If it were to be brought all the delights of the world, they would be as nothing to it, in view of its pertaining to the higher elements.” And so do our Sages of blessed memory say (Avoth 4:29), “Against your will were you created, and against your will were you born.” For the soul has no love at all for this world. To the contrary, it despises it. The Creator, Blessed be His Name, certainly would never have created something for an end which ran contrary to its nature and which it despised.

Man was created, then, for the sake of his station in the World to Come. Therefore, this soul was placed in him. For it befits the soul to serve God; and through it a man may be rewarded in his place and in his time. And rather than the world’s being despicable to the soul, it is, to the contrary, to be loved and desired by it. This is self-evident. After recognizing this we will immediately appreciate the greatness of the obligation that the mitzvoth place upon us and the preciousness of the Divine service which lies in our hands. For these are the means which bring us to true perfection, a state which, without them, is unattainable. It is understood, however, that the attainment of a goal results only from a consolidation of all the available means employable towards its attainment, that the nature of a result is determined by the effectiveness and manner of employment of the means utilized towards its achievement, and that the slightest differentiation in the means will very noticeably affect the result to which they give rise upon the fruition of the aforementioned consolidation. This is self-evident.
It is obvious, then, that we must be extremely exacting in relation to the mitzvoth and the service of God, just as the weighers of gold and pearls are exacting because of the preciousness of these commodities. For their fruits result in true perfection and eternal wealth, than which nothing is more precious.

We thus derive that the essence of a man’s existence in this world is solely the fulfilling of mitzvoth, the serving of God and the withstanding of trials, and that the world’s pleasures should serve only the purpose of aiding and assisting him, by way of providing him with the contentment and peace of mind requisite for the freeing of his heart for the service which devolves upon him. It is indeed fitting that his every inclination be towards the Creator, may His Name be blessed, and that his every action, great or small, be motivated by no purpose other than that of drawing near to the Blessed One and breaking all the barriers (all the earthy elements and their concomitants) that stand between him and his Possessor, until he is pulled towards the Blessed One just as iron to a magnet. Anything that might possibly be a means to acquiring this closeness, he should pursue and clutch, and not let go of; and anything which might be considered a deterrent to it, he should flee as from a fire. As it is stated (Psalms 63:9), “My soul clings to You; Your right hand sustains me.” For a man enters the world only for this purpose – to achieve this closeness by rescuing his soul from all the deterrents to it and from all that detracts from it.

After we have recognized the truth of this principle, and it has become clear to us, we must investigate its details according to its stages, from beginning to end, as they were arranged by R. Pinchas ben Yair in the statement which has already been referred to in our introduction. These stages are: Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, and Holiness. And now, with the aid of Heaven, we will explain them one by one

Approaching Mesillas Yesharim

Approaching Mesillas Yesharim can be a daunting task. The Ramchal is talking about reaching very high levels and most of us are still in the starting gate. The Ramchal was a master of systemization and in Mesillas Yesharim he presents a path to reach the highest levels a person can reach in this world. It’s a step by step process with many hurdles to jump along the way.

A person might say that this path is too hard for me, I’ll take an easier one. Is that a real alternative? The Ramchal’s path is firmly based on Torah sources and it’s what G-d expects of us. We may not reach the highest levels, but we have an obligation to understand the game plan as laid out in the Mesillas Yesharim and try to follow it given our set of circumstances.

A wonderful thing about Mesillas Yesharim is that it spells out the many pitfalls to spiritual growth. As the Ramchal points out, how foolish it would be to ignore those obstacles. And as an added bonus, the Mesillas Yesharim is loaded with ideas and techniques on how to overcome them.

Let’s deal with one basic idea which I heard directly from Rabbi Welcher and from Rabbi Shafier on a Shmuz mp3 this week. That simple idea is that we must THINK. Rabbi Shaffier points out the Tom Watson turned IBM into a mega-successful company with this simple mantra – Think! Rabbi Welcher pointed out that this is one of the main mussar lessons he has learned from he Rebbeim and from the Mesillas Yesharim.

That might seem like an obvious lesson, but it takes work to put it into practice. How often do we daven or do other mitzvos by rote? The halacha says we should think about what we are doing, but we often don’t follow that obvious perscription. How about our interactions with others? Do we really think about the effect our words might have and even what effect we would want them to have? And how about life itself? We believe that spirituality is more important than materialism, but how consistently do we live the spiritually focused life? I’m sure everybody can come up with many examples of where a little more Thinking is called for.

This is the first message of the Mesillas Yesharim and the point he makes often through out the book. THINK! Think about where you are, think about where you want to go, think about how you’re going to get there. Think about the long term and think about the short term. In fact, think about everything you do.

That’s what we’re going to try to do as we journey on the Path of the Just together. We’re going to learn to put proper thinking into practice, to make it a habit. And from making thinking a habit, we will, G-d willing, turn ourselves into mega-successful human beings, and turn the world into the mega-successful place it is destined to become.

This learning project is dedicated in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops. We would like to again thank Feldheim Publishers for permitted us to post R’ Yosef Leiber’s translation. You can review the first chapter below.
Read more Approaching Mesillas Yesharim

Mesillas Yesharim Introduction – What Does Hashem Request of You?

In the second half of the introduction, the Ramchal brings down the posuk upon which the Mesillas Yesharim is based:

This is what Moshe Rabbeinu, may peace be upon him, teaches us when he says (Devarim 10:12), “Yet now, Israel, what does the Eternal, your God, request of you? Only to fear the Eternal, your God, to follow all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Eternal, your God, with all your heart and your entire being; [and] to keep the Eternal’s commandments and statutes….” Here he [Moshe] incorporated all the elements that are necessary for the perfection of that service that is desired by the Holy One blessed be He: fear of the Eternal; walking in His ways, love [of the Eternal]; perfecting the heart; and observance of all the mitzvos.

Although the Ramchal structures his sefer based on the Gemora in Avodah Zarah (20b), all the elements of our service are include in this posuk. Many of the commentators are focused on the wording of the posuk which makes it seem easy, when we know it is difficult. There are a number of answers, but the simple understanding is that high levels of service are within our reach.

Rabbi Dessler says, “All we have to do is start”. So consider spending some time listening to the mp3 or reading the text below and perhaps together we can strengthen each other to take some steps on the wonderful path that the Ramchal has paved for us.

Here is the 2nd Shiur in Rabbi Oelbaum’s Mesillas Yesharim series in mp3 format on the Introduction

Here is the second half of the introduction as translated by R’ Yosef Leiber and posted here through the genrosity of Feldheim Publishers. It is available for purchased here.

If we analyzed the matter objectively, we would no doubt discover its veracity. This would benefit us, and we could then teach it to others, thereby benefiting them as well. As stated by Shlomo (Mishlei 2:4-5), “If you seek it as [you would] silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand fear of the Eternal.” He does not say, “Then you will understand philosophy; then you will understand astronomy; then you will understand medicine; then you will understand the legal issues and judgments of Halachah,” but rather, “then you will understand fear of the Eternal.” We see that in order to understand fear of the Eternal, one must seek it out as he would silver and search for it as he would hidden treasures.

What has been transmitted to us through our parents and what is generally self-evident to every religious individual is insufficient! But yet we see that time can be found for all other branches of study yet for this no time is available! Why can’t a person at least designate specific times for this purpose, that would not interfere with other studies and endeavors that he pursues in the remainder of his time?

Scripture states (lyov 28:28), “Behold [Rein – ]n], fear of the Eternal – this is wisdom.” Our Sages of blessed memory comment (Shabbos 31b) that hein here means one, for that is the meaning of the Greek word hein. Thus, fear – and fear alone – is considered wisdom. And surely something that does not require study [and investigation] would not be considered wisdom. In actuality, all these matters demand profound study for one to truly know them rather than in a subjective manner or through faulty judgment, and particularly if one is to acquire and [truly] understand them. Therefore, he who delves into them will see that piety is not contingent on those things that the pseudo-pious, in their foolishness, consider relevant, but rather on true perfection and profound wisdom.

This is what Moshe Rabbeinu, may peace be upon him, teaches us when he says (Devarim 10:12), “Yet now, Israel, what does the Eternal, your God, request of you? Only to fear the Eternal, your God, to follow all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Eternal, your God, with all your heart and your entire being; [and] to keep the Eternal’s commandments and statutes….” Here he [Moshe] incorporated all the elements that are necessary for the perfection of that service that is desired by the Holy One blessed be He: fear of the Eternal, walking in His ways, love [of the Eternal], perfecting the heart, and observance of all the mitzvos.

Fear of the Eternal refers to the fear that His exalt-edness inspires. One should express fear before Him as one would before a great and awesome king, and he should feel embarrassment before the Eternal’s greatness, in every movement that he makes, and particularly when speaking before Him in prayer or when engaged in the study of His Torah.

Walking in His ways relates to the finest traits of character and their cultivation. As our Sages of blessed memory have explained (Shabbos 133b): “Just as He is merciful, so shall you be merciful…” – the underlying principle being that a person must conduct himself with honesty and integrity in all his various actions. Our Sages of blessed memory summarized the idea as follows (Pirkei Avos 2:1): “That which brings acclaim to the doer and earns him the acclaim of others,” namely, all that moves toward the
goal of true benevolence, meaning that it results in the strengthening of Torah and the promotion of har
mony within society.

Love: to implant love of the Blessed One within a person’s heart so that his soul is stirred to find favor before Him, just as one’s heart is stirred to please his father and mother. And he will be anguished if he finds this quality deficient in himself or in others. Furthermore, he will zealously [safeguard] it and will rejoice intensely when implementing [even] a part of it.

Perfecting the heart: so that the service before the Blessed One should be carried out with pure intent, for the purpose of serving Him only and with no other motives. This means that one’s heart should be totally devoted to the Divine service, not like one who lacks commitment or acts out of habit; rather, one’s whole heart should aspire to this.

Observance of all the mitzvos: this means the complete observance of all the mitzvos with all their specifications and stipulations.

All of these principles require much elucidation. I have found that our Sages of blessed memory have incorporated these elements in a different type of arrangement, more detailed and specific, and systematized according to the order necessary for their proper acquisition. Their words are found in a baraisa cited in numerous places in the Talmud, such as the one in the chapter “Lifnei Edeihen” [“Before Their Festivals”] (Avodah Zarah 20b): “From here, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair said: Torah brings one to vigilance, vigilance brings one to alacrity, alacrity brings one to [spiritual] cleanliness, cleanliness brings one to abstinence, abstinence brings one to purity, purity brings one to piety, piety brings one to humility, humility brings one to fear of sin, fear of sin brings one to holiness, holiness brings one to Divine inspiration, Divine inspiration brings one to the resurrection of the dead.”

On the basis of this baraisa, I have undertaken to compose this work to teach myself and to remind others of the conditions necessary for the perfection of the Divine service in all its stages. Regarding each stage, I will explain its content, components, and details, the methodology for acquiring it, those factors that undermine it and how to avoid them. As a result, I or anyone else who may be moved to read it will learn to fear the Eternal, our God, and we will not forget our duty toward Him. That which the material world seeks to remove from our hearts will be stimulated by reading and contemplation, and it will stir us to perform what we have been commanded to do.

May the Eternal support our aspirations and safeguard us from failure. May the supplication of the Psalmist, beloved to His God, be fulfilled for us (Tehil-lim 86:11): “Teach me, O Eternal, Your way; let me walk in Your truth; unify my heart to fear Your name.” Amen, so may it be His will.

Perfection as a Torah Value – Mesillas Yesharim Continued

I received an email yesterday morning which made me feel so proud to be a member of the Torah Observant community. I had written to R’ Yaakov Feldheim of Feldheim Publishers telling him about Beyond BT and asking for permission to post the English translation of Mesillas Yesharim, as we learn it here together. Yesterday morning R’ Feldheim replied, permitted us to use either the older translation by R’ Shraga Silverstein or the newer one by R’ Yosef Leiber.

We will be using the newer translation by R’ Leiber and I want to thank R’ Feldheim and Feldheim Publishers for joining with us on this learning effort in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops. If you don’t already own a copy of the translation, consider taking the opportunity to purchase one.

Rabbi Yitzchak Kirzner zt’l used to tell a story about a student of his who was no longer focused on growing in his Yiddishkeit. His argument was that as a Shomer Shabbos Jew he was already more observant than 90% of the Jewish population. He reasoned: when they catch up, then he’ll work on growing more.

Right in the introduction to Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal makes it clear that “the need for the perfection of Divine service and the necessity of its purity and cleanliness is recognized by every wise person”. This is an axiom, we need to strive for perfection, even though it is a never ending battle. Where we stand in relation to our neighbor is unimportant, we need to strive for our own unique perfection.

But there is a difference between being perfect and striving for perfection. Hashem doesn’t ask us to be perfect, just to strive for perfection. The path is a step by step process, which the Mesillas Yesharim lays out for us, quoting the Torah sources along the way. He also alerts us to the major obstacles on the path to perfection as well as providing thoughts and techniques to help overcome them.

But the first step is to recognize that striving for perfection in the service of Hashem is what life is about. It is only by recognizing this and constanly studing the means and mechanisms to approach this that we have any hope of making significant progess on the path. That is one of the messages the Ramchal is trying to convey in his introduction.

The first half of the introduction as translated by R’ Leiber follows:

Author’s Introduction

The writer says: I have written this work not to teach people what they do not know, but rather to remind them of what they already know and clearly understand. For within most of my words you will find general rules that most people know with certainty. However, to the degree that these rules are well-known and their truth self-evident, they are routinely overlooked, or people forget about them altogether.

Therefore, the benefit to be obtained from this work cannot be derived from a single reading; for it is possible that, after just one reading, the reader will find that he has learned little that he did not know before. Rather, its benefit is a function of continuous review. In this manner, one is reminded of those things which, by nature, people are prone to forget, and he will take to heart the duty that he tends to overlook.

Almost everywhere you look in the world today, you find that the majority of the bright and clever people are devoting their thinking and investigations to a profound analysis of worldly knowledge and its subtleties, each according to his intellectual capabilities and natural inclinations. There are some who focus their efforts on the study of the physical world and the laws of nature. Others immerse themselves in astronomy and geometry, and some follow the path of technological applications. And there are also those who have entered the realm of the sacred and are studying the holy Torah; some occupying themselves with the theoretical aspects of the Halachah, others with Midrash, yet others with the practical formulation of legal decisions.

However, there are few from this last group who choose to devote thought and study to the total perfection of the Divine service: to the love of the Eternal, the fear of the Eternal, the cleaving to the Eternal, and to all of the other aspects of piety. It is not as if they consider these aspects of knowledge unessential. For, if questioned, every one of them will maintain that these are of paramount importance, and that one cannot envision a truly wise person who has not comprehended all of these issues. Rather, their failure to devote more attention to the matter stems from its being so clear and so obvious to them that they see no need for investing much time in its study.

Consequently, the study of this subject and the reading of works of this kind have become the province of those whose minds lack subtlety and who are mentally sluggish. These you will see riveted to the study of piety, and this has given rise to the prevalent idea that anyone striving for piety is suspected of being dull-witted.

The result of this attitude, however, is detrimental both for those who possess wisdom and for those who do not, since it leaves both deficient in true piety and makes this quality extremely rare. Those who possess wisdom are deficient in piety due to their limited study of it, while the uneducated find it beyond their grasp. Piety, therefore, is construed by people to consist of the reciting of many psalms, making very long confessions, undertaking difficult fasts and performing ablutions in ice and snow, all of which are incompatible with intellect and reason. In the process, true piety, which we desire and strive for, eludes our understanding. For it is obvious that something which does not occupy a place in a person’s mind becomes of no concern to him. And although the beginnings and foundations of piety are inbred in the heart of every truthful person, if he does not utilize them he will lose the ability to discern their details, and he will pass over them without awareness.

For piety, fear of the Eternal, love of the Eternal, and purity of heart are not that deeply rooted within a person not to necessitate the employment of methods for their acquisition. In this respect they differ from natural states such as sleep and wakefulness, hunger and satiety, and all other natural instincts. Rather, the acquisition of these [qualities] definitely requires various methods and devices. Furthermore, while there are many factors operating to distance piety from man there are many elements that can counter these factors. Could it, then, conceivably, not be necessary to expend a great deal of time upon this study in order to know these truths and the means to acquire and keep them? How will this wisdom enter a person’s heart if he will not seek it?

Since the need for the perfection of Divine service and the necessity of its purity and cleanliness is recognized by every wise person (for without these it [the Divine Service] is certainly totally unacceptable, but rather repulsive and despised; “For the Eternal searches all hearts and understands all the workings of [our] thoughts” (Divrei HaYamim 128:9)), what, then, will we answer on the day of rebuke if we are lax in this study and forsake what we are required to do? This is the very essence of what the Eternal our God asks of us! Is it befitting our intelligence that we exert ourselves and labor in speculations concerning which we have no obligation, in fruitless debates and empty pilpul, and in laws that are not applicable to us, while the great obligation that we owe our Creator we abandon to habit and rote?

If we have neither contemplated nor studied what true fear of Heaven is or what its ramifications are, how will we acquire it, and how will we escape from the vanity of the world that renders our hearts forgetful? Surely it will fade away and be forgotten even though we recognize its necessity. And likewise, love of the Eternal: if we do not make an effort to anchor it within our hearts, with the power of all those means that lead us toward it, how will it exist within us? How will devotion and ardor for the Blessed One and His Torah enter into our souls if we do not direct ourselves toward His greatness and exaltedness, [thereby] internalizing it within our hearts? How will our thoughts be purified if we do not try to cleanse them from the blemishes infused in them by physical nature? Much the same can also be said about all the character traits, which need improvement and adjustment. Who will adjust them and who will correct them, with all the necessary rigor, if not us?

Mesillas Yesharim – Author’s Introduction – MP3 – Summary

As we mentioned last week, we are learning together the mussar classic Mesillas Yesharim by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal) in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops. We’ll be spending 3-5 weeks on each chapter and we are currently in the Author’s introduction.

Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum, one of the best speakers in Kew Gardens Hills and the NY area has graciously permitted us to post the mp3s of the Mesillas Yesharim series he gave last year. They are very worthwhile. If you want to purchase the entire 23 part series (which goes through Perek Hay) on CDs for $90, you can call 718 520-0115. We will not be leaving the mp3ss up permanently, so please listen to them within 2 weeks of posting.

Here is the 1st mp3, which gives an introduction to the life and times of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto and the sefer. The download is in zipped format, so you should “right click” with your mouse and “Save Target As” to save the file to your PC where you can then unzip it and listen.

In the more good news department, Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has graciously granted us permission to use parts of his adaptation of Mesillas Yesharim for the project. One of the things that I like very much about Rabbi Feldman’s work are the summaries. Here is the summary of the Ramchal’s Introduction.

1. The Path of the just was written to remind people of what they already know, not to teach them new things. It would be best read several times so that what is familiar could make an impression, and the reader could thereby be reminded of his obligations.

2. There are many people who dedicate their lives and studies to the various arts and sciences, and some others to the theoretical or practical aspects of Torah, but few dedicate themselves to the study of the love and fear of and attachment to God, or to piety.

3. That has resulted in fewer intellectual people dedicating themselves to those matters, and incorrectly so. Everyone suffers as a result of that, both the wise and the unlettered: the wise because they do not attempt true piety, and the others because they do not attain it.

4. Matters of piety call for investigation and thought and the acquisition of specific tools and devices. It is not what we might think it is. Among other things, it is not putting oneself through acts of mortification.

5. We often place great effort upon things within Torah that are not at all incumbent upon us and serve no practical purpose, while our very real obligations to God are either left abandoned or carried out by rote.

6. Fundamentally, the acquisition of piety involves the following five traits:
a. reverence (“that you be in a state of reverence before Him comparable to what you would experience being before a great and awesome king”),
b. walking in His way (“all of your traits and actions are to be just and ethical”),
c. love (“It should bother you if God’s desires are not fulfilled, either because of yourself or someone else, and you should want them to be and derive a great joy in ensuring that they are”),
d. wholeheartedness (“one’s service to God should be done with the purest of intentions”), and
e. the keeping of the mitzvot (“in their fullness and with all of their conditions”).

7. The tradition words this in an orderly, step-by-step manner when it says (in the words of Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yaer, Avodah Zarah 20b),
Torah study brings you to caution,
caution to enthusiasm,
enthusiasm to innocence,
innocence to abstinence,
abstinence to purity,
purity to piety,
piety to modesty,
modesty to fear of sin,
fear of sin to holiness,
holiness to holy spirit,
and holy spirit brings you to the resurrection of the dead.”

This book is an explanation and analysis of that statement.

Learn Mesillas Yesharim With Us

We’re starting a new project at Beyond BT. We’ll be learning Mesillas Yesharim by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ramchal) together. We’re going to go at a slow pace and we’ll supplement the text with posts, audios and of course comments. Whether you’ve already learned Mesillas Yesharim or not, why not take advantage of this great opportunity.

Leave us a comment or send us an email it you intend on joining us.

This project is dedicated in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops a wonderful young woman from Kew Gardens Hills who was nifter a few years ago at a young age.

We will also accept names each week for people who want to dedicate the learning “in memory of” or “in honor of” someone.

You can purchase the latest Feldheim translation of Mesillas Yesharim here.

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel’s commentary is available here.

Rabbi Avraham Twerski’s commentary is available here.

Rabbi Avraham Twerski’s mp3 series on the sefer is available here.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg has some free audios of Mesillas Yesharim here.

Rabbi David Botton has a free audio series on the sefer available here.

Rabbi Mark Zelunka has a free audio series available here.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer has some free audios available here.

Rabbi Dovid Miller has some free audios available here.

Rabbi Herschel Reichman has some free audios available here.