• September 24, 2023
  • 9 5784, Tishri
  • פרשת ויחי

Messilat Yesharim

Messilat Yesharim

By studying Mesillat Yesharim we will be studying what it means to live as a Jew. Mesillat Yesharim is not only a classic because of its content, but it is one of the few books of Jewish thought that has been embraced by all the streams of Jewish practice, and has been endorsed by the Gaon of Vilna as well as Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz whose lectures on Mesillat Yesharim have been published.

October 21, 2012 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Messilat Yesharim: Lesson 1
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Hello and welcome back to the shiurim on Mesillat Yesharim. Today we reumed the discussion over the nature of humility and if it is not paradoxical for a person to say about himself, “I am humble” (the assertion “I am humble” was made by the great Amorah, Rav Yosef). Today we saw two explanations of the trait of humility and how these explanations alow for Rav Osef’s claim. First we saw the Chatam Sofer. The Chatam Sofer says there are two models for humilty. One is the example set by Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe Rabbeinu was undoubtedly aware of his talents and achievements, nevertheless the Torah testifies that Moshe was the humblest of people. The Chatam Sofer says that Moshe Rabbeinu never believed that he had the right to rule over the Jewish people,.It just “turned out” that God chose him to lead the Jews, and if God chose him to lead, then he must behave accordingly even if that means that he needs to give orders. The second model for humility is God Himself. The Gemara points out that where we encounter descriptions of God’s majesty we encounter descriptions of His humility. God is Lord of all all and God also defends widows and orphans. The Chatam Sofer says that God’s humility is very different from Moses’s, since God is aware of His right to soverieignty. So to describe God as “humble” is to say that God treats lesser beings with kindness. When Rav Yosef said that he possessed the trait of humility, he was saying that behaved with patience towards everyone he met. Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen explains the matter differently. He says that humble people are aware of the fact that their attainments are due to God endowing them with great talent. And since their talents are God-given, it is impossible for them either to be proud of their achievements or to look down at someone who was given less. Moshe Rabbeinu and Rav Yosef were keenly aware of the gifts that they were given and never allowed themselves to become conceited when looking upon their accomplishments.

October 28, 2012 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Messilat Yesharim: Lesson 2
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Hello. Today we finished the discussion on humility and began the discussion of “Yirat Chet.” The word “yiirah” in the context of sin (“chet”) is usually tanslated as “fear” while in the context of our relationship with God, it (I think) should be translated as “awe.” Ramchal discusses these two meanings (fear/awe) and says that “fear” of sin means that one is afraid of the punishment incurred for sinning. This, Ramchal says, is a rather base form of Judaism. On the other hand, when a person is in awe of God, then one will avoid sin out of respect for God and this is the “fear” of sin that we should strive for. Next week I hope to discuss the fear/awe duality in greater detail. Thank-you, Stuart Fischman

November 4, 2012 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Messilat Yesharim: Lesson 3
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November 11, 2012 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Messilat Yesharim: Lesson 4
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Today we concluded the discussion on yir’ah awe -before. Hashem. Ramchal says that the sense of awe creates two distinct perceptions within a person. it creates a perception that the eprson is currently before God and should behave accordingly. Awe also creates an awareness that whatever mitzvot a person did in the past were imperfect. Ramchal points ot that the greatest heroes of our past , people of the stature of Moshe Rabbeinu and Avraham Avunu, would worry that their actions were flawed and unworthy. In the course of the discussion I emphasized that a critical examination of our mitzvot must not lead us to a state of anxiety or depression. There are many authors who wrote that while nobody is perfect, God is well-aware of our human limitations . As the Gemara says, “the Torah was not given to angels.” If we do our honest best, flawed as it may be, Hashem accepts our mitzvot and we should be confident and happy in our performance of mitzvot. Next week I will be in new York for my nephew’s bar-mitzvah. I don’t know if I will have Internet service in my brother’s neighborhood (which was hit by the hurricane). So , bli neder we will meet in 2 weeks. If I can get Internet access I will let you know by e-mail. Welcome back to Joel Nowicki and Tehila Lea. Bye, Stuart Fischman

November 25, 2012 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Messilat Yesharim: Lesson 5
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Hello everyone. I am very happy to be back with the shiur. Today we began the final chapter of Mesillat Yesharim, the chapter on Kedusha. We saw that in Biblical Hebrew kedush a does not mean “holiness’ as much as it means “exclusivivity.” Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch notes, “kedusha” can denote an exclusive pursuit of the moral as well the immoral. For our purposes ,of course, “kedusha” means the exclusive pursuit of God’s will. Ramchal tells us that as human beings it is actually impossible to achieve kedusha because of our innate limitations. But the impossibility of achieving kedusha must not deter us from its pursuit, because If we sincerely devote ourselves to attaining kedusha, we ill be given kedusha as a gift from Hashem.

December 2, 2012 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Messilat Yesharim: Lesson 6
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December 9, 2012 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Messilat Yesharim: Lesson 7
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Today, baruch Hashem, we completed the Mesillat Yesharim. In my very humble view this final section of Mesillat Yesharim is one of the most important statements ever made about Judaism. Ramchal asserts that everyone can become a worthy Jew. Neither piety nor closeness to God are the exclusive domains of rabbis or scholars. This democratic view of holiness is encouraging and optimistic but it also presents us with a challenge. If anyone, no matter how menial his or her occcupation may be can achieve holiness, then there are no excuses left to us if we do not at least try to elevate our lives. I thank everyone who participated in this series of shiurim, and i hope it will provide added meaning to everyone’s lives. Happy Chanukah, Stuart Fischman

December 16, 2012 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Messilat Yesharim: Lesson 8
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Hello and happy Channukah to everyone. Today we saw how two great thinkers saw different messages in one of the Halachot of Channukah. The Halacha says that if the Channukah lights go out early and do not remain lit for the required half-hour, there is no need to re-light them. This begs the question of , why not? If the purpose of lighting the Channukah candles is to publicize the miracle of Channukah, then how is this goal being met if the candles do not remain lit for the required length of time? It must be that by not relighting the candles we are meant to learn a different lesson. Rav Zvi Elimelech of Dinov zt”l (a 19th century Chassidic leader whose work is titled Bnei Yissachar) and Rav Kook zt”l both wrote about this question and provide different solutions. The Bnei Yissachar sees the Channukah candles as symbolizing the study of Torah. The study of Torah is not like the study of any other branch of knowledge. If, for example, I am studying physics, I can spend hours answering an exam question. However, if I make a mistake in one of my calculations and arrive at an incorrect answer, I will receive a failing grade and my professor will not take into account the sincerity of my effort. The study of Torah is entirely different. Hashem derives great joy when jews study Torah. If I spend hours studying a passage of the Gemarah with sincerity, even if I arrive at a totally erroneous interpretation of the passage God is happy. To use the Channukah lights as a metaphor, even if my study failed to illuminate, if my intellectual lights “went out” that does not matter. For Hashem all that matters is the effort that I put into the enterprise of learning. Rav Kook sees a different lesson in the law of not re-lighting. For Rav Kook the Channukah candles are a metaphor for a particular type of Torah literature. Ever since our encounter with Greek culture there have been Jews who were more attracted to the dominant culture of their era (be it Greek or otherwise) than they were to their own culture. Ideally all Jews would be attracted to the study of Torah and immune to assimilation, but we do not live in an ideal world. To fight assimilation there have been leaders who wrote and taught works demonstrating that the Torah can exist harmoniously with whatever idea or belief happens to be attracting Jews away from the Torah in that particular time. These works are valuable and indeed essential to fight assimilation. But their value and hence their status is time-bound. This is the lesson of the Channukah candles. Works of pure Torah are eternally holy, precious and worthy of study. But the “hybrid-works,” the apologetic works that seek to demonstrate the harmony between the Torah and foreign ideologies are only valuable as long as that particular ideology is attractive. All ideologies have their time and then are ignored. The Channukah candles, are holy as long as they give light. When they go out they can be ignored. Apologetic works are valuable and holy, they are even essential; but their holiness lasts only as long as they are useful in battling a particular ideology. When that ideology loses its place in the contemporary discourse, the apologetic works lose their place in the Jewish canon.

Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. In 1989 he began studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar and now studies and teaches at Yeshivat Machanaim in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.