Thursday, August 16, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Th. Aug. 16th)

For a refuah shleimi for Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta, young man who is due to be married in a couple of weeks who suddenly and inexplicably became terribly ill and is now in intensive care.

Please keep him in your tephillos.


This is what Moses our teacher taught us when he said, "And now, Israel-- what does G-d your L-rd require of you if not to revere G-d your L-rd; to go in all of His ways, to love Him and to serve G-d your L-rd with full heart and soul, and to keep all of G-d's commandments and statutes.... (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)". Herein are included the preferred subdivisions of the perfection of Divine service: reverence, walking in His way, love, wholeheartedness, the keeping of the mitzvot.

"Reverence" refers to reverence for His exaltedness-- that you be in a state of reverence before Him comparable to what you would experience being before a great and awesome king: that you be abashed before His greatness, and that, as a result of His greatness, you be aware of every move you make before Him-- especially when speaking to Him in prayer or Torah study.

"Walking in His ways" includes all manner of character correction and reparation. This is what our sages referred to when they said, "Just as He is compassionate, you are to be compassionate; just as He is gracious, you are to be gracious, and so forth (Shabbat 133B)". The point of this is that all of your traits and actions are to be just and ethical. Our sages have stated the principal thusly: " [Do] all that is attractive and has its doer appear attractive (Pirke Avot 2:1)", that is, do all that directs you toward the true, good end--the strengthening of Torah and the institution of universal brotherhood.

"Love"-- that a type of love of G-d be set in your heart that would lead you to do what satisfies Him as energetically as you would do the same for your mother or father. It should bother you if G-d is unsatisfied, either because of yourself or someone else, and you should want that thing for G-d and derive a great joy in obtaining it for Him.

"Fullness of heart" means that your service to G-d should be done with the purest of intentions-- only for service to Him, for no other reason whatsoever. Included in this must be a service of the heart not in conflict, but full; and not as an act of rote, but rather one of your full self.

"Keeping all of G-d's commandments" is as it implies-- keeping all of the Divine commandments in their fullness and with all of their conditions.

Indeed, all of these principals require great explanation. I have found that our sages (of blessed memory) have ordered these principles in a different, more particularized way-- according to the levels required to aspire to, and in their correct order. This is in a beraitha found in various places in the Talmud, including the chapter entitled "Before Their Festivals", and it reads: "From this Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yaer derived that 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. (Avoda Zarah 20B)".

I have based this book upon that beraitha to teach myself and to remind others of the necessary conditions in Divine service in the appropriate order. And I will explain in each section the particulars and gradations, the means to attain them, as well as their respective deterrents, and how to avoid those.

Now I and whoever else may care to do so can read this book so that we might learn how to revere G-d our L-rd and not forget our duties to Him. And that which the coarseness of our natures tries to remove from our hearts will be brought back to us by the reading and studying of this work which will remind us of our obligations.

May G-d be with our hopes and keep us from stumbling, and fulfill within us the desire of the poet who was the beloved of his G-d: "Teach me, G-d, Your ways so that I may walk in Your truth. Unify my heart that I may revere Your name (Psalms 86:1)." Amen, may it be His will.


The very foundation of piety and the root of thorough Divine service is that your duty in the world, as well as what it is you are to direct your sights and proclivities towards in your life-long labors, become clear and self-evident. Our sages (of blessed memory) have taught us that we were created to delight in G-d and enjoy the radiance of His Divine presence. This is the true delight, the greatest enjoyment of all.

But in truth, the place for this pleasure is the World to Come, as it was created, readied and prepared for just such a pleasure. The road that will take us to our desired destination is this world. Our sages were referring to this when they said, "This world is like a vestibule to the World to Come" (Pirke Avot 4:16).The means to bring you to this goal are the mitzvot which G-d has commanded; and it is only in this world that these mitzvot can be done. That is why we were placed in this world in the first place: so that we might reach the place set for us-- the World to Come-- by the use of the means prepared for that task. Then we will bask in the good we will have acquired through these means. Our sages were referring to this when they said, "Today (was created) to do them (the mitzvot); tomorrow to receive the reward for them" (Eruvin 22A).

If you delve further into the matter you will find that true spiritual wholeness is nothing other than the clutching onto G-d. King David referred to this when he said, "As for me-- closeness to G-d is my good" (Psalms 73:28) and, "I only ask one thing of G-d, this I request: that I might sit in G-d's house all the days of my life" (Psalms 27:4). For this alone is the true good; all else we might consider to be good is mere smoke and emptiness. It is only fitting that you toil and strive at the beginning to be worthy of this good, that is, that you try to clutch onto Him with the things that will enable you to do this-- the mitzvot.

But The Holy One (blessed be He) has placed mankind in a situation where there are many things to hinder closeness to Him. These are the mundane desires which, if followed, would have you draw away from the true good. You have in fact been placed in the midst of a mighty battle wherein all worldly happenstances-- for the good or for not-- are trials. The poor have their trials, the wealthy theirs. As Solomon has said, "Lest I grow full, scoff, and say 'Who is G-d?'; lest I grow poor and steal...." (Proverbs 30:9). There are times of tranquility, then times of tragedy, but all in all, you find you are surrounded by war.

You will only be the full man worthy of clutching onto your Creator if you are truly a warrior, victorious in your battles from all sides. Then will you go from the vestibule of this world into the palace of the World to Come, enlightened by the light of life. According to the degree you conquer your yetzer harah and your desires, distance yourself from the things that distance you from the good, and try to clutch onto Him will you succeed and be joyful in Him.

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman