SGZ Vol10 – Our Avodah without the Beis HaMikdash

The Avodah of Making Better Brochos

We’ve been discussing how to make better brochos by:
– internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem
– stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem
– thinking and focusing on the fact that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name
– acting and appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem

The Path to Improving Our Avodah

These ideas are included in the first three foundations of the Mesillas Yesharim which are:

Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World)
-Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper mitzvos performance
-Internalize and Focus on your Purpose

Zehirus (Watchfulness)
-Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose
-Stop, Think, Act, Review

Zerizus (Zealousness)
-Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority
-Do Mitzvos with Enthusiasm

Mourning the Missing of Avodah of the Beis HaMikdash

We’re now in the period of the nine days, and the call of this period day is to mourn the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. We mourn because we are lacking the close connection to Hashem that existed when we had the Beis HaMikdash. That connection was built through the avodah that was available through the bringing of korbonos, which we no longer have.

Availing Ourselves of the Opportunity of Avodah She’b’lev

We don’t have the avodah of the Beis Hamikdash, but we do have the Avodah She’b’lev, namely Tefillah. If we work on improving our brochos, even a little bit, as described above, we’re showing Hashem that we value our opportunities to serve Him.

Getting Joy from Our Avodah

We are taught in the Tochacha that bad things happened to the Jewish People because we did not serve Hashem with joy. When we stop, think and say a brocha properly, we can feel joy from this realized opportunity of serving and getting closer to Hashem. That is a step in rectifying our past of not serving Hashem with joy.

Better Avodah Leads to More Avodah Opportunities

In our own lives, we often see that improving our avodah leads to more avodah opportunities. It’s logical, that a significant collective improvement of our Avodah, will be met by Hashem bringing back the Avodah opportunities of the Beis HaMikdash. May it happen speedily in our days.

SGZ – V9 – The Three Foundations

Last week we talked about how to make better brochos by:
– internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem
– stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem
– thinking and focusing on the fact that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name
– acting and appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem

These ideas are included in the first three foundations of the Mesillas Yesharim which are:
– Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World) – Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper mitzvos performance
– Zehirus (Watchfulness) – Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose
– Zerizus (Zealousness) – Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority

Chovas HaAdam – Internalize Your Purpose
Proper Divine Service begins with internalizing our purpose in the world. Why are we here? It starts with why. In the secular world, this concept relates to our discovering our individual purpose. In the Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal is focused on the common purpose we all share, which is to develop a deep connection to Hashem in this world, through the performance of mitzvos. That is our why, our purpose, and the more we internalize it, the more we’ll be driven by it.
– At least once a day, say to yourself “My purpose in this world us to develop a deep connection to Hashem through the performance of Mitzvos”

Zehirus – Stop, Think, Act, Review
Zehirus is internalizing the habit of thinking before you act. We are often distracted and don’t think about our actions. The first step is to stop before you act. The purpose of stopping is to think about what you are about to determine if it is in line with your purpose in life. If what you are about to do is an aveira, then try not to do it. If what you’re about to do is a mitzvah, then do it, with the thought that this act will help me achieve my purpose. The next step is doing the act with the proper thoughts. The last step is to review and think about the actions at least once a day. This helps to internalize the habit of zehirus.
– At least once a day, think about whether your actions were in line with your purpose.

Zerizus – Do it with Enthusiasm
Zerizus is internalizing the habit of doing mitzvos enthusiastically. The nemesis of enthusiasm is lethargy and laziness, which is a result of our physical nature. The first step is stopping and thinking before we act, which are the components of zehirus. Now we can think about the fact that the mitzvah we are about to do is in line with our purpose of connecting to Hashem. What could be better? Now we can proceed to do the mitzvah with increased enthusiasm, as it is integral to fulfilling our purpose.
– At least once a day, think about the importance of the brocha you are about to say, and then say it with some enthusiasm.

SGZ – V8 – Applying Our Spiritual Knowledge to Improve Our Davening



Last week we looked at three aspects of spiritual growth: inspiration, information, internalization. In regards to inspiration, or motivation, we spoke about our need to improve our Divine Service, and the fact that we don’t understand Divine Service so well. In regards to information, we reviewed the five components of Divine Service: Awe, Walking in His Way, Love, Wholehearted Service, Careful Performance of Mitzvos. We said that internalization is often the missing component in our spiritual growth.

The Mesillas Yesharim tells us that only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained. Internalizing awe of Hashem is the key to wisdom. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the relevant application of knowledge to a situation. The ultimate wisdom is determining and doing what Hashem wants from us in every situation. This requires learning halacha, hashkafa, mussar and applying it. The only way we can apply the information is if it’s internalized and accessible.

Internalizing Divine Service requires a step by step repetitive process. In the Zoomcast we look at the step by step process of improving our davening. We discuss the following steps:
1) Internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem.
2) Stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem.
3) Focusing on thinking that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name.
4) Appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem.

Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V7 – Inspiration, Information, Internalization

Here’s the accompanying post:

We are so fortunate in these difficult times to have so many inspirational speakers helping us use our situation to grow. Go to TorahAnytime.com on any given day and you will find 10-20 new inspirational shiurim. Inspiration provides us with the important motivation, but we need more.

In addition to the inspiration, we need information. Let’s say we want to improve or kavanna when we daven and say brochos. How do we go about it? What are the steps that will lead to a permanent improvement? Let’s say we start small, and commit to thinking that Hashem is the “Master of All”, as the Shulchan Aruch says, when we say His Name in the first brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

The third crucial component is internalization. We have to take the information and implement it until it becomes second nature. It starts with doing it the first time and then again and again and again, until it’s internalized. It’s useful to review each day whether we were successful with our commitment, to aid in the internalization process.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Mesillas Yesharim is that not only does the Ramchal give us the inspiration to improve our Divine Service, but he also gives us the step by step information on how to improve. In addition, the Ramchal describes important tools for internalization, such as repeated review of the sefer and a daily cheshbon hanefesh.

Below is an outline of the introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim to help illustrate the importance of inspiration, information and internalization. In this week’s Spiritual Growth Zoomcast, we talk about the inspiration, information and internalization process.

Introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim

We need to study about Divine Service

00.01 Forgetfulness is prevalent in that which is well known.
00.02 We need to review and study those things which we tend to forget.
00.03 People devote much time to studying secular subjects and Tanach and Halacha.
00.04 Few people spend time studying how to perfect their service of Hashem.

Divine Service is misunderstood

00.05 People don’t spend time on this because it seems so obvious.
00.06 Most people have misconceptions of what service of Hashem entails.
00.07 Desirable service is misunderstood because we don’t think about it or act on the opportunities for such service.

Proper Divine Service needs work to achieve

00.08 Aspects of service, like love and fear of Hashem, and purity of heart are not natural states so we need to work to acquire them.
00.09 There are many deterrents to desirable service, but they can be overcome.

Inadequate Divine Serice is not acceptable

00.10 Lackadaisical service of Hashem is unacceptable.
00.11 We can not justify inadequate service because that is the essence of what Hashem asks of us.
00.12 If we don’t put in effort, we will certainly not achieve adequate levels of service.
00.13 To understand service of Hashem we must pursue its understanding, like we would pursue a treasure.

Defining the Components of Divine Service

00.14 Only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained.
00.15 Hashem wants: 1) awe of Hashem 2) walking in His ways 3) love of Hashem 4) wholehearted service 5) observance of all mitzvos.
00.16 We should be in awe of Hashem as we would a great and mighty king.
00.17 Walking in His ways is improving our character traits and doing things that strengthen Torah and achieve societal harmony.
00.18 We should love Hashem and try to please Him as we would try to please a parent.
00.19 Wholehearted service is focused solely on Hashem, not mechanical, and with complete devotion.
00.20 We should observe all the mitzvos with all their fine points and conditions.

The order necessary to internalize the above traits

00.21 Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair taught the order necessary to fully internalize the above traits.
00.22 The order is Torah, Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead

Inspiration, Information and Internalization

We are so fortunate in these difficult times to have so many inspirational speakers helping us use our situation to grow. Go to TorahAnytime.com on any given day and you will find 10-20 new inspirational shiurim. Inspiration provides us with the important motivation, but we need more.

In addition to the inspiration, we need information. Let’s say we want to improve or kavanna when we daven and say brochos. How do we go about it? What are the steps that will lead to a permanent improvement? Let’s say we start small, and commit to thinking that Hashem is the “Master of All”, as the Shulchan Aruch says, when we say His Name in the first brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

The third crucial component is internalization. We have to take the information and implement it until it becomes second nature. It starts with doing it the first time and then again and again and again, until it’s internalized. It’s useful to review each day whether we were successful with our commitment, to aid in the internalization process.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Mesillas Yesharim is that not only does the Ramchal give us the inspiration to improve our Divine Service, but he also gives us the step by step information on how to improve. In addition, the Ramchal describes important tools for internalization, such as repeated review of the sefer and a daily cheshbon hanefesh.

Below is an outline of the introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim to help illustrate the importance of inspiration, information and internalization. In this week’s Spiritual Growth Zoomcast on beyondbt.com, we will talk about the inspiration, information and internalization process.

Introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim

We need to study about Divine Service

00.01 Forgetfulness is prevalent in that which is well known.
00.02 We need to review and study those things which we tend to forget.
00.03 People devote much time to studying secular subjects and Tanach and Halacha.
00.04 Few people spend time studying how to perfect their service of Hashem.

Divine Service is misunderstood

00.05 People don’t spend time on this because it seems so obvious.
00.06 Most people have misconceptions of what service of Hashem entails.
00.07 Desirable service is misunderstood because we don’t think about it or act on the opportunities for such service.

Proper Divine Service needs work to achieve

00.08 Aspects of service, like love and fear of Hashem, and purity of heart are not natural states so we need to work to acquire them.
00.09 There are many deterrents to desirable service, but they can be overcome.

Inadequate Divine Serice is not acceptable

00.10 Lackadaisical service of Hashem is unacceptable.
00.11 We can not justify inadequate service because that is the essence of what Hashem asks of us.
00.12 If we don’t put in effort, we will certainly not achieve adequate levels of service.
00.13 To understand service of Hashem we must pursue its understanding, like we would pursue a treasure.

Defining the Components of Divine Service

00.14 Only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained.
00.15 Hashem wants: 1) awe of Hashem 2) walking in His ways 3) love of Hashem 4) wholehearted service 5) observance of all mitzvos.
00.16 We should be in awe of Hashem as we would a great and mighty king.
00.17 Walking in His ways is improving our character traits and doing things that strengthen Torah and achieve societal harmony.
00.18 We should love Hashem and try to please Him as we would try to please a parent.
00.19 Wholehearted service is focused solely on Hashem, not mechanical, and with complete devotion.
00.20 We should observe all the mitzvos with all their fine points and conditions.

The order necessary to internalize the above traits

00.21 Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair taught the order necessary to fully internalize the above traits.
00.22 The order is Torah, Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead

Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V6 – The Importance of the Mesillas Yesharim Introduction

Check out the Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V6 – The Importance of the Mesillas Yesharim Introduction

Here is a summary of the Mesillas Yesharim Introduction:

00.01 Forgetfulness is prevalent in that which is well known.

00.02 We need to review and study those things which we tend to forget.

00.03 People devote much time to studying secular subjects and Tanach and Halacha.

00.04 Few people spend time studying how to perfect their service of Hashem.

00.05 People don’t spend time on this because it seems so obvious.

00.06 Most people have misconceptions of what service of Hashem entails.

00.07 Desirable service is misunderstood because we don’t think about it or act on the opportunities for such service.

00.08 Aspects of service, like love and fear of Hashem, and purity of heart are not natural states so we need to work to acquire them.

00.09 There are many deterrents to desirable service, but they can be overcome.

00.10 Lackadaisical service of Hashem is unacceptable.

00.11 We can not justify inadequate service because that is the essence of what Hashem asks of us.

00.12 If we don’t put in effort, we will certainly not achieve adequate levels of service.

00.13 To understand service of Hashem we must pursue its understanding, like we would pursue a treasure.

00.14 Only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained.

00.15 Hashem wants: 1) awe of Hashem 2) walking in His ways 3) love of Hashem 4) wholehearted service 5) observance of all mitzvos.

00.16 We should be in awe of Hashem as we would a great and mighty king.

00.17 Walking in His ways is improving our character traits and doing things that strengthen Torah and achieve societal harmony.

00.18 We should love Hashem and try to please Him as we would try to please a parent.

00.19 Wholehearted service is focused solely on Hashem, not mechanical, and with complete devotion.

00.20 We should observe all the mitzvos with all their fine points and conditions.

00.21 Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair taught the order necessary to fully internalize the above traits.

00.22 The order is Torah, Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead.

Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V5 – The Ten Minute Mesillas Yesharim Overview

Check out the Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V5 – The Ten Minute Mesillas Yesharim Overview

Here is a summary of the Zoomcast:

What we need to do.
Introduction to the need to improve our Divine Service of fearing Hashem, walking in His ways, loving Him, serving Him wholeheartedly, and doing all the mitzvos.

The key point to internalize.
Chovas HaAdam or Man’s Purpose in the World is to pursue the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper Divine service.

Four deterrents to deal will: distraction, laziness, desire, self-centeredness.

Reduce distraction with focused thinking.
Zehirus or Watchfulness is avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose.

Reduce laziness with enthusiastic positive spiritual performance.
Zerizus or Zealousness is overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority.

Battle desire and self-centeredness by focusing on spiritual achievement.
Nekiyus or Cleanliness is reducing our desire for the physical over the spiritual in order to eliminate rationalization and enable the careful avoidance of transgressions.

Weaken desire further by thinking about it’s deficiencies.
Perishus or Abstaining is recognizing the inferior nature of physical pleasures so we can abstain from unessential but permitted worldly matters.

Address self-centeredness by focusing more on our spiritual side.
Tahara or Purity is reducing our desire in physical acts and eliminating our improper motivations in mitzvos in order to serve Hashem wholeheartedly in purity.

Displace self-centeredness, by putting pleasing Hashem at the top of priorities.
Chassidus or Saintliness is expressing our love of Hashem by going beyond what is explicitly commanded in our performance of mitzvos.

Weaken self-centeredness further by examining our deficiencies.
Anavah or Humility is realizing that we have many faults and limited accomplishments and that we are unworthy of praise and honor and certainly not superior to others.

Putting Hashem front and center.
Yiras Cheit or Fear of Sin is being constantly aware of Hashem’s exaltedness and fearing any trace of transgression that would cause an affront to Hashem’s honor.

Doing everything for Hashem.
Kedushah or Holiness is removing ourselves from physicality and constantly cleaving to Hashem by doing every act for his sake.

Overview of Mesillas Yesharim

In the upcoming Zoomcast we’ll be giving a Overview of the Mesillas Yesharim. Here’s a preview.

Introduction – Improving our Divine service of fearing Hashem, walking in His ways, loving Him, serving Him wholeheartedly, and doing all the mitzvos.
It is critical to work on improving our service of Hashem, since this is the reason for our existence.Without effort and a methodology, we won’t reach adequate levels of service. Divine Service is doing mitzvos properly—with focus, love, and awe, and diminishing our self-centeredness through giving and connecting to other people.

Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World) – Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper Divine service.
We build our foundation of improved service of Hashem by internalizing the understanding that our life’s purpose is to develop an eternal connection to Hashem. We develop that connection doing the mitzvos properly, serving Hashem, and withstanding tests.

Zehirus (Watchfulness) – Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose.
To reduce the distractions which distance us from Hashem, we have to develop the habit of thinking before we act whether a prospective action will draw us away from or bring us closer to Hashem. We need to regularly review our purpose and examine whether our daily actions are in line with our purpose.

Zerizus (Zealousness) – Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority.
To avail ourselves of the constant opportunities to come close to Hashem, we need to overcome our laziness which prevents us from enthusiastic mitzvah performance. We need to recognize the constant mitzvah opportunities, and then act without delay to take advantage of these opportunities to connect to Hashem.

Nekiyus (Cleanliness) – Reducing our desire for the physical over the spiritual in order to eliminate rationalization and enable the careful avoidance of transgressions.
We need to learn the details of mitzvah observance and proper middos, particularly the 14 mitzvos categories and 4 middos that we are most likely to transgress. We need to internalize the awareness that physical desire and self-centeredness often cause us to rationalize our transgressions.

Perishus (Abstaining) – Recognizing the inferior nature of physical pleasures so we can abstain from unessential but permitted worldly matters.
Perishus is the beginning of Chassidus and consists of abstaining from permitted worldly matters that are unessential or may lead to sin. However, if something is essential, it is a sin to abstain from it. Determining what is unessential and what is essential is an ongoing spiritual growth process.

Tahara (Purity) – Reducing our desire in physical acts and eliminating our improper motivations in mitzvos in order to serve Hashem wholeheartedly in purity.
Tahara refers to the refinement of our actions, emotions and thoughts. Tahara in physical acts is reducing our physical desires. Tahara in mitzvos refers to having proper intentions, which is called doing mitzvos l’shma or “for their own sake”.

Chassidus (Saintliness) – Expressing our love of Hashem by going beyond what is explicitly commanded in our performance of mitzvos.
Chassidus is bringing pleasure, honor and satisfaction to Hashem by adding to that which was explicitly commanded regarding mitzvos. Just like the love between people is expressed by doing more, so too is the love of Hashem. Chassidus teaches us to focus on helping people physically, financially and emotionally. In addition, all our mitzvos should be carried out with love, fear, concern for Hashem’s honor, and the intention of benefitting our entire generation.

Anavah (Humility) – Realizing that we have many faults and limited accomplishments and that we are unworthy of praise and honor and certainly not superior to others.
Humility of thought is to realize that we are not superior to others. Wisdom is the most common cause of conceit, even though we make errors and always need to learn. Humility in deeds means we should conduct ourselves humbly, accept insults, flee from honor and wielding authority..

Yiras Cheit (Fear of Sin) – Being constantly aware of Hashem’s exaltedness and fearing any trace of transgression that would cause an affront to Hashem’s honor.
Fear of punishment for violating Hashem’s mitzvos is the most basic fear and is a trait of Zehirus. Avoiding sins because of our awe of Hashem’s exaltedness is a trait of Chassidus. Yiras Cheit is the concern that a trace of sin intruded into any of our actions which caused an affront to the honor due to Hashem. When someone has reached this high level, this fear of sin operates constantly.

Kedushah (Holiness) – Removing ourselves from physicality and constantly cleaving to Hashem by doing every act for his sake.
Holiness is removing oneself from physicality and cleaving constantly to Hashem, with our every act done purely for His sake. This is achieved as a gift from Hashem after a person is constantly cleaving to Him through powerful love, intense fear and reflection on His exaltedness. Even ones physical deeds, like eating, will then be holy.

Going Beyond Bein Adam L’Makom

In our previous Zoomcasts we defined a G-d Centered spirituality emphasizing the goal of developing a deep loving emotional connection with G-d, and the resulting benefits of developing that relationship. This seems to focus on the Bein Adam L’Makom aspects of Torah Judaism. Surely that’s not all there is.

As the Mesillas Yesharim makes quite clear, middos and mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro, play an essential role in G-d centered spirituality. In regard to Middos, each of the ten steps of the Baraisa (Torah, Zehirus, Zerisus,…) is built on a foundation of eliminating bad middos and developing good middos. The Mesillas Yesharim however provides us with priorities in Middos Development.

In Zehirus, he focuses on the negative middah of distraction, which includes worldly pursuits, dreaming and fantasizing. The antidote is to think about your primary purpose and life, and to stop, and think, before you act, to see if your thoughts and actions are helping you achieve your purpose. When you work on the positive trait of thinking before you speak or act, you realize that this takes a concerted effort.

In Zerizus, he discusses the negative middah of laziness, which prevents us from doing positive mitzvos properly. The antidote here is doing mitzvos as soon as the opportunity presents itself, with enthusiasm. He also dicusses feeling the pleasure of Loving Hashem when doing the right thing. The negative middah of worry and anxiety is also addressed in Zerizus.

In Nekius, the negative middah of desire is discussed. The antidote begins with an awareness of how desire for physical pleasure, for honor and for money, influences our actions. The power of desire can be diminished by feeling the pleasure of doing the right thing. As Dr. David Lieberman says: “the body wants to feel good, the ego wants to look good, the soul wants to do good”. We have to feel the pleasure of doing good, to overcome the hold that that desire has on us.

At the end of Nekius he discusses the centrality of middos development in Avodah Hashem and how much effort must be made to improve our middos. The Ramchal teaches that there are numerous middos, but he focuses on the ones that create the greatest stumbling block, specifically arrogance, anger, envy and desire. The Vilna Gaon in Even Shleimah also teaches the centrality of middos development in Avodas Hashem, and he states that anger, desire and arrogance are the principal bad traits.

Let’s go back to the importance of the centrality of G-d connection in our Spiritual Growth. This, perhaps, is one of the major issues we have in the Frum community. We are not taught about the centrality and immense benefits of the emotional connection to G-d. Therefore, we often do mitzvos, say brachos, and pray without thought, and we don’t receive the pleasure which mitzvos, brachos and prayer can deliver.

I think a major reason for this is that when we begin our Judaism as a BT or a FFB the focus is on what to do and how to do it. At the beginning, we’re not focused on the benefits, or the why, which include the pleasurable emotional connection to Hashem. BTs are usually not ready for this at the beginning. And FFB children do not have enough emotional maturity to develop a deep emotional connection to Hashem at that point of their lives. That’s why we have to be thankful to Mesillas Yesharim for give us the step by step guidelines to develop that emotional connection and to get beyond our plateau.

Look out for the Spiritual Growth Zoomcast – volume 4, where we’ll discuss the above issues.

What Does G-d Want From Us?

There is a verse in this week’s Parsha, that the Mesillas Yesharim, The Path of the Just, says is the basis of our Avodas Hashem, our service of Hashem.

As we probably know, the Mesillas Yesharim, was written by R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato, also known as “the Ramchal”, and is one of the two most studied character development books of all time (the other being the Duties of the Heart).

The reason why Mesillas Yesharim is so popular is because the Ramchal teaches us:
– What it means to serve Hashem (Ramchal’s Introduction).
– Why we should devote our entire lives to serving Hashem (Chapter 1 – Man’s Mission in the World).
– How to methodologically improve our service of Hashem (Chapters 2 through 26)

The verse that the Ramchal says is the basis of our Service of Hashem, is Deutoronomy 10:12 in Parshas Eikev:
“And now, Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you?
– Only to fear (be in awe of) Hashem, your God,
– to go in all His ways,
– and to love Him,
– and to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and all your soul,
– to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit. “

The Ramchal continues and says:
“Here, has been included all the components of complete Divine service that are pleasing to Hashem, blessed be He and they are: fear (awe) of Hashem, walking in His ways, love, wholeheartedness, and observance of all the commandments.

The Ramchal then writes a paragraph on each of these five components, which can be summarized as follows:
1) fear (awe) of Hashem – like you would fear (be in awe of) a great and awesome king,
2) walking in His ways – refining our character traits, leading to strengthening of Torah and improved friendships,
3) love – ingraining in our hearts a love of Hashem, and being inspired to please Him, like we would want to please our parents,
4) wholeheartedness – doing mitzvos with pure motives, focused on serving Hashem, not by rote, with heartfelt devotion,
5) and observance of all the mitzvos – observing the entire body of mitzvos, with all their fine points and conditions.

The Ramchal then says, “I have found that our Sages of blessed memory have categorized these elements in a different, more detailed formulation, in which they are arranged according to the order necessary for their proper acquisition.”

This is based on the Beraisa by Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair in the Gemora which says that Torah leads to Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead. The Mesillas Yesharim is based on this Beraisa.

I always wondered about the order of pasuk and why the Ramchal is so focused on it as the basis for Divine service, while the Gemora and the commentators are focused mainly on the fear (awe) part of the pasuk. I believe that the Ramchal sees that the Pasuk is in the reverse order of the Beraisa, with
5) observance of all the mitzvos – take us from the beginning through Cleanliness
4) wholeheartedness – takes us through Purity
3) love – takes us through Saintliness
2) walking in His ways – takes us through Humility
1) fear (awe) of God – takes us through Fear of Sin.

I believe that this is why the Ramchal is all over this pasuk, because it has the same structure as the Beraisa delineating the components and levels of Divine Service.

This is a fantastic opportunity to review the first chapter of Mesillas Yesharim, which can be found here.

Why Do We Say Brochos Quickly?

A friend recently asked “Why do we often say Brochos quickly?”. The Mesillas Yesharim helps to explain why, and provides a practical path to the remedy.

In the introduction, the Ramchal points out that serving Hashem is not a natural and automatic process, like eating and sleeping. Therefore, we have to first learn what it means to serve Hashem. Then we need to make a serious concerted effort to improve and reach adequate levels of service, since this is the reason why we were created.

The basis of our service of Hashem, is Deutoronomy 10:12 in Parshas Eikev: “And now, Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you? Only…
– to fear (be in awe of) Hashem, your God,
– to go in His ways,
– to love Him,
– to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and all your soul,
– to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit. “

The Ramchal writes about each of these components, beginning with the loftiest, summarized as follows:
1) fear (awe) of Hashem – like we would fear (be in awe of) a great and awesome king;
2) walking in His ways – refining character traits and reducing self-centeredness, leading to improved relationships;
3) love – in our heart, and being inspired to please Him, like we would want to please our parents;
4) wholeheartedness – doing mitzvos with a focus on serving and connecting to Hashem, with devotion, not by rote; and
5) observance of all the mitzvos – with all their fine points and conditions.

The reason why we say Brochos quickly is that we are focused on the what of the mitzvah, which is just saying it. However, to serve Hashem properly, we need to also focus on the why – consciously connecting to Hashem through the mitzvos, and the how — doing the mitzvos wholeheartedly, with love, without self-centeredness, and with fear.

Improving our service is a process.
A good place to begin this process is by saying our Brochas each day with a little more focus.
This is what we can focus on when we say a Brocha:
“Baruch” makes us aware that Hashem is the source of all blessing.
“Atah” focuses us on the fact that we’re talking directly to Hashem.
“Hashem” in it’s Yud Kei Vav Kei form, signifies that Hashem always existed and is the source of our existence.
“Elokeinu” says that He is the ultimate authority over all physical and spiritual creations.
“Melech” brings that authority to a more concrete Kingship.
“HaOlam” recognizes that His Kingship extends to the entire universe.

We should continue to travel together on the path of improving our Service of Hashem.

The Joy of Mussar

You might be questioning whether it’s appropriate to use the words “Joy” and “Mussar” in the same sentence. Mussar has a strong judgemental tone. When you give somebody Mussar, you’re not telling him to “Have a nice day”. Rather, you’re telling him that “You need to make some serious corrections, brother.”

If we look at the Mesillas Yesharim, the classic textbook on spiritual growth and Mussar, we’ll see that the perceived judgemental tone of Mussar is well founded. The early chapters deal with the trait of Zehirus, watchfulness. The first essential spiritual practice of Zehirus is thinking before you act so that you don’t come to do something wrong. The second essential spiritual practice is reviewing your daily actions to identify and work on correcting in the future the things you did wrong today. This type of self-judgment sounds intense and it may turn a person away from Mussar, but please read on.

The key is to put this self-judgement in its proper perspective, as the Mesillas Yesharim does in the first two chapters of the sefer. He tells us that the highest pleasure that can be achieved in this world (and the next) is the pleasure of connecting to Hashem. We know that positive emotional and spirtual pleasures are the result of love and connection, as we experience in the pleasure of loving our spouses, our children, our parents, and our friends. We can experience an even greater pleasure when we love and connect with the Master of the Universe and the Source of All Existence. Achieving this great spiritual pleasure takes work. However, when we do put in the proper effort and achieve success, the fact that we worked hard to earn that pleasure makes it even sweeter.

The Ramchal teaches us that the work primarily involves overcoming three spiritual deficiencies: 1) controlling and directing our physical desires; 2) reducing self-centeredness and ego; and 3) overcoming our natural inclination to be lazy. Corresponding to the extent that we overcome these deficiencies is the extent to which we can experience the greatest of pleasures—connecting to Hashem. We correct these deficiencies through the positive and negative mitzvos. And just like a businessman must judge his activities to achieve his goals, so too must we judge our activities to see why we are not achieving the intense spiritual pleasure available to us.

This is the Joy of Mussar. We have the ability to achieve intense connection and pleasure and Mussar helps us to keep moving on that path. We know from our professional, friendship-building, parental, and spousal experiences that achieving success in the most important things in life takes work. How fortunate are we to have an avenue like Mussar, and a sefer like the Mesillas Yesharim to instruct us on what we need to do to help us achieve the greatest pleasures and happiness available in this world.

Are We Too Focused on Doing Mitzvos?

I was talking to a few people this week about a scenario where a person can put on tallis and tefillin, daven three times that day with a minyan, do all the required mitzvos, say at least 100 brochos, and not think about Hashem once. Nobody blinked and on introspection most admitted that on a particularly distracted day – that person could be them. Why is that?

The reason is that in our chinuch, whether as FFBs or BTs, we are focused on doing the mitzvos, getting it done – but not on the reason why.

The Mesillas Yesharim sets us straight on this matter. He teaches that our purpose in life is to become more aware of Hashem, to get closer to Hashem, to deeply connect to Him, to make His presence a reality in our day to day lives. And we do that by performing mitzvos. Mitzvos are the means, not the ends.

We do so many mitzvos. What a shame it would be if they didn’t accomplish what they were meant for – which is connecting us deeper and deeper to Hashem.

Here are three daily opportunities to address this problem:

1) Before you say a Brocha with Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvosuv (while washing your hands, putting on Tallis and Tefillin, etc.) think about the fact that you are performing this mitzvah because Hashem commanded you.

2) Before you daven Shemoneh Esrai, think about the fact that you are about to praise Hashem, make requests of Hashem, and thank Hashem for His daily kindness.

3) Before you say Hashem’s name in any brocha, but especially in Shema, think about the fact that Hashem is your master and the source of all existence – and particularly your existence.

Every mitzvah is an opportunity to connect to Hashem – why not use them as intended.

Beyond Observance

For many of us, observance fills an important need. We have food and other permitted pleasures to fulfill our physical desires. Our family, friends, and sports buzzer-beaters are there for our emotional needs. Business, politics, and science challenges us intellectually. And Religious Observance gives us that important spiritual dimension.

This four dimensional perspective was popularized by Covey in the 7 Habits, and as long as we learn Torah, fulfill the mitzvos and think about God on occasion, many would argue that there is nothing wrong with such an approach.

But the Torah offers us so much more. We can move towards human greatness and be in control of our desires, our ego, and our wandering attention. We can develop deep loving relationships with hundreds of people. We can develop a constant connection to God which brings amazing spiritual pleasure and helps us successfully navigate the trials and tribulations of the world. And we can develop our immortal souls which will exist for all of eternity.

Every one of us has the ability to go Beyond Observance towards the greatest pleasures the world has to offer. The Ramchal provides us with the path. I am working with a number of friends on making this a reality and the progress everybody is making is extremely exciting. It’s not an overnight quick fix. It’s Hashem’s guide to achieve our purpose in this world. The key is to follow the plan. I’ll keep you updated.

Dealing With The World’s Inherent Conflicts

Korach is the parsha of Machlokes or conflict. The Gemora in Sanhedrin 110a says:
The Torah states: “Moshe rose and went to Dasan and Aviram” – Reish Lakish said: From here we learn that one should not persist in a quarrel. For Rav said: Whoever persists in a quarrel violates a prohibition as it is stated: “He should not be like Korach and his Assembly”.

Hashem created the world with conflict. The most fundamental conflict is between our physical side which includes our desires and ego, taiva and gaiva, and our spiritual side, our soul, composed of our nefesh, ruach, and neshama. Dr. Dovid Lieberman phrases this conflict as “the body wants to do what feels good, the ego wants to do what looks good, and the soul wants to do what is good”.

Torah is the antidote for the man vs himself conflict – as it teaches us how to properly integrate all our actions, emotions and thoughts with our soul.

When Hashem created us as Tzelem Elokim he gave us the ability to create our own spiritual reality and become a creator like He is a Creator. This creates a conflict between ourselves as creators and Hashem as Creator.

We address the man vs God conflict through prayer in which we regularly acknowledge that all our accomplishments are dependent on Hashem.

The third conflict is man vs man. In the Mesillas Yesharim Chapter 11 on Nekiyus, the Ramchal discusses the big four negative character traits of pride, anger, envy and honor – which are all rooted in gaiva. The Ramchal says “a person would be able to overcome his desire for wealth and the other pleasures and still be pressed by the desire for honor, for he cannot endure seeing himself as inferior to his friends”.

The antidote for the man vs man conflict is Gemilas Chasadim. When we give to another person we connect to them and we no longer view our relationship from the ego perspective of superiority and inferiority, which is at the root of the big bad four.

One final helpful piece of advice from Rabbi Itamar Schwartz author of the Bilvavi and the Da Es Atzmecha seforim. He says that we need to change our perspective from a body with a soul – to a soul clothed with a body – which takes mental work, given that we experience the world primarily through our bodies. The nature of spiritual souls is to connect whereas the body and ego cause desire, division and sadness.

We can’t eliminate the world’s inherent conflicts, but we can lessen their divisive effects and work on the connection generating properties of our spiritual soul-oriented world.

Internalizing Torah Lends Confidence … NOT Smugness

Why is the Torah’s system called Halachah?
How does Halachah tread the fine line between confidence and conceit?

If you will “walk/go in” My statutes and are careful to fulfill my commandments…

— Vayikra 26:3

 What nation is so great, that they have Elokim so close to it, as HaShem our Elokim is at whatever time we call Him?

— Devarim 4:7

Rabi Tanhuma taught: Once there was a ship that set sail on the Great Sea.  All of the passengers were idolaters except for one Jewish youth. A furious storm ensued and the ship was tempest-tossed and in severe danger of sinking. Each and every one of the travelers grasped his icons or idols in hand and began reciting his prayers, but to no avail.  So they said to the Jewish youth “cry to the L-rd your G-d, for we have heard that when you [people] cry to Him; that He responds and that He is mighty. The youth immediately cried out [to HaShem] with all his heart, HaShem accepted his prayer and the storm calmed.  When the ship docked at a port on a unfamiliar island the other passenger told the Jewish youth “Here; take some of our money, go into the island and secure some provisions for us.” He said to them: “Aren’t I lodger and a stranger in these parts [the same as everyone else, how will I find my way around?] They responded “is there such a thing as a Jewish ‘stranger’ ? No!  Wherever you wander … your G-d is with you! behold; ‘that they have Elokim so close to it!‘ ”

— Talmud Yerushalmi Berachos 9:1, Midrash Devarim Rabbah 2:16

 “And he [Yaakov] come into contact with the Place” (Bereshis 28:11) Rav Huna said in the name of RavAmmi “Why do we euphemistically refer to HaShem as ‘The Place’? because HaShem is the Place of His Cosmos … His Cosmos is not His place.” As another pasuk indicates (Shemos 32:21): ‘Behold there is a place with Me i.e all space is under My domain’. And so we see that  HaShem is the Place of His Cosmos … His Cosmos is not His place.”

— Bereshis Rabbah 68:9

The all-encompassing system of Torah observance is known as Halachah; a conjugation of the Hebrew verb translated as “walking” or “going”. Arguably, this term derives from the opening pasuk of our Sidrah. “If you will walk/ go” in My statutes etc.”  The system of Torah statutes empowers those who study and observe it to move about and not static. Absent Torah knowledge one is left essentially paralyzed.  It’s often said that knowledge is power. In particular, Torah knowledge proffers the power to move.

The Ramchal offers this famous metaphor for the strategy and tactics of the yetzer hara-the inclination to evil:

For the yetzer hara literally blinds his eyes and he becomes as one who walks in the darkness, where there are stumbling blocks before him which he fails to 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 [manipulated by the yetzer hara ]which is similar to the night.” … the darkness of night can cause two types of visual errors: it may conceal things completely such that one 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. … The second error … is even worse than the first … inasmuch as it causes people to see evil as though it were goodness itself, and good as if it were evil, and, because of this, [the wicked] 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 … empirical evidence supporting their evil theories and false ideas.” (Mesilas Yesharim 3)  If a wanderer finds himself lost in a forest that is either pitch black or, at twilight time, where beasts appear to be men and vice-versa then, in this type of dangerous situation, the wisest strategy is to hunker down and not move.

Shifting from the realm of the metaphoric to the sphere of the practical, this means that the greater ones Torah expertise is — the more luminous his “lighting” — the greater his agility and maneuverability in living his life becomes.  Many of us have desisted from making certain moves for fear that we might be breaking some Torah law unknown to us. So — on a very pragmatic level Torah knowledge and observance confers the power and the confidence to move about in ways that would have been avoided while shrouded in the shadows of Torah-ignorance. Thus Torah transforms “standers” into “walkers” and “goers”.

The Izhbitzer teaches that the meaning of the opening pasuk is Im b’Chukosai– if My statutes become chiseled into you; — part and parcel of you — then and only then … Teileichu-will you go; i.e. will you be empowered to move. Only when the Torah becomes engraved upon a person’s heart, if it becomes an intrinsic part of him can he then “go” and move. Otherwise shev v’ahl ta’aseh ahdiph-it’s better to sit and do nothing.

Internalizing the Torah essentially means inculcating the Divine Giver of the Torah as well. As our sages taught: Oraysa V’kudshah Brich Hu kulo Chad-the Torah and the Holy Blessed One are all One (Zohar I, 24A; II, 60A). With HaShem directing traffic kivyachol-as it were; he who has chiseled the Torahs statutes into himself possesses an internal moral compass and an ethical GPS kivyachol. As the Midrash indicates the nearly-shipwrecked philo-Semitic gentiles traveling with the Jewish youth expected him to be incapable of losing his way or making a misstep even in a literal, geographical sense.

The Izhbitzer reveals an even profounder level of the mobility of those who “walk in/with the Torahs statutes/ decrees.”

The possibility of one losing one’s way or entering terrain or seaways fraught with danger is predicated on the notion that there are, in fact, diverse locations with dissimilar characteristics; some that are out of harm’s way while others are perilous. But if this were all a mirage, if a man thought that he had journeyed a thousand miles but had in truth never left the room; then whatever dangers or missteps that he confronted along the way were, in truth, illusory. One who walks with HaShem is in THE Place.  HaShem is sometimes referred to as “the Place” because, as our sages taught, He transcends space.  He is not situated within a particular space, on the contrary all individual spaces and locations are situated within HaShem.

Mindful of this inner truth, the Talmud resolves a very thorny question:  We derive all 39 melachos-categories of the creative activities; prohibited on Shabbos, as well as the precise specifications of each prohibited category, from the Mishkan-the portable Tabernacle that was home to the Divine Indwelling during the forty-year sojourn in the Wilderness. The category known as stirah-deconstruction/ demolition; is derived from the breaking-down of the Mishkan’s structure into its component parts whenever the Bnei Yisrael-the Jewish Nation; would break camp. Yet among the precise specifications for the prohibited category of stirah is that the one demolishing intends to build new construction on the site that he is now clearing:  “Rabbah asked Ulla, ‘Consider; all forms of melachah are derived from the Mishkan, yet there[in the case of the Mishkan]  it was deconstructing in order to rebuild elsewhere?’ Ulla answered ‘It was different there for since it is written: “By the Word of HaShem they camped and By the Word of HaShem they journeyed “(Bemidbar 9:23) it was like demolishing in order to rebuild on the same site.’ ”(Shabbos 31B). When one “travels” with HaShem no real change of location has occurred! In Halachah one can be a “traveler/ walker” with complete confidence. Still, the Izhbitzer cautions us not to allow confidence to outgrow healthy proportions and metastasize into arrogant smugness. In the pasukIf you will ‘go in’ my decrees etc.” the emphasis is on the word “if”.  Presuming that G-d walks with you, that G-d is on your side or, even, that you are on His; is always an uncertain, iffy proposition.  For even one who toes the halachic line may be contravening the depths of the Divine Will.

E.g. Debts are to be absolved during shmittah-the sabbatical year, and the Torah harshly criticizes potential lenders who withhold loans for fear of having to clear these loans. (cp Devarim 15:9) Yet the Mishnah still teaches (Shvi’is 10:8) that “If the borrower seeks to repay his debt during shmittah the lender should tell him ‘I absolve it’ but if the borrower persists and says ‘even so [I want to repay my debt]’ then the lender should accept payment from him. As the pasuk says ‘and this is the matter/ word of absolution.’ (Devarim15:2)” The very next Mishnah exclaims “the spirit of the sages is with all those borrowers who repay their loans on the seventh year.” (ibid:9).

On the surface, these Mishnayos seem counterintuitive and contra-halachic.  If the Torah refers to the sabbatical year as the shmittah-the absolution/ forgiving-of-debts year then it would seem that the releasing of loans is the very definition of such years. Then why should borrowers earn the sages favor by repaying their loans? We are compelled to dig beneath the surface and understand that the Torah contains depths of meaning beyond what is “written”, even within the oral tradition. Sometimes the halcahah, is like a baggy, loose-fitting cloak that conceals the true shape of what lies within [i.e. the Divine Will], rather than being a revealing, form-fitting, second-skin, leotard that conforms to the precise contours of that which/He Who is being clothed.

Regarding the mitzvah of shmittas kesafim-absolving loans during shvi’is; HaShem enlightened the sages to the Depths of His Will — that verbal forgiveness of the debt suffices and that actual absolution of the debt is not required.

But this is but a single example among the myriads of Mitzvos and Chukim of the Torah.  HaShem, kivyachol, is hedging His bets on us, His People.  He is, kivyachol, praying that we succeed in hewing to and completely fulfilling His Will. “If you will ‘go in’ my decrees etc.” because even if one observes every jot and tittle of the Shulchan Aruch-Code of Torah Law there is still no guarantee that he has conformed to the Will of HaShem on the profoundest levels, for what human being can plumb the Deepest Depths of the Divine Mind and Will?

~adapted from Mei HaShiloach I Bechukosai D”H Im
(the second of three)

Mei HaShiloach I Bechukosai D”H Im (the second)

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