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.
About Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman
Rabbi Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. Since 1989 he has been studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.
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July 22, 2012 1:00PM - 2:00PM Messilat Yesharim: Part 4
Today we studied the means of acquiring piety. Ramchal says that the great impediment to piety is worry and anxiety. People who worry and are anxious lack the ability to calmly contemplate their relationship with Hashem; and it is only by means of contemplation that a person achieves piety. So how does the anxious person find calm? Ramchal says that people need to live lives of "bitachon"- trust in Hashem. When a person truly believes that his or her livelihood is provided by Hasehm, then that person will stop worrying and he will be calm enough to meditate on Hashem. We saw the essay of the Chazon Ish on the subject of "bitachon." "Bitachon" does not mean that a person must believe that every situation will have a happy outcome. Rather "bitachon" means that the person believes that everything that happens is the will of Hashem. Both Ramchal and the Chazon Ish say that "bitachon" does not relieve the person of the need to pursue his goals via honest effort. But the person who possesses "bitachon" is able to maintain a state of calmness and will not engage in desperate and pointless endeavors to reach his goals. I wish everyone a pleasant summer and bli neder we will meet in Elul.
July 15, 2012 1:00PM - 2:00PM Messilat Yesharim: Part 4
Hello and welcome back to Tehillah Leah. Today we studied chapter 20 of Mesillat Yesharim. In this chapter, Ramchal explains how piety works in the "real world." Many times the behavior that seems correct can lead to disastrous consequences, while behavior that seems to be inappropriate may lead to a very welcome outcome. So Ramchal says, whenever we are faced with a choice of how to proceed we need to consider the following: 1) Am I being asked to violate something that is clearly prohibited by the Torah? If this is the case, then you must refuse 2) Am I being asked to violate something whose prohibition is not unambiguous? If this is the case the person should examine all the possible ramifications of action and inaction and realize that quite often behaving in a "pious" manner may lead to a mockery of the Torah. Ramchal lists three factors which a person needs to keep in mind so that his or her goal of Chassidut will be realized: 1) Sincerity of one's motives 2) Constant self-examination 3) Bitachon in Hashem
July 8, 2012 1:00PM - 2:00PM Messilat Yesharim: Part 4
Dear Shiur Members, Thank-you for attending today's shiur , and welcome to Ms. Shohet from London.Today we completed chapter 19 of Mesillat Yeshrim and the discusssion of Chassidut. Ramchal concludes his discussion of "saintliness" (that's how I translate "Chassidut") by observing that a saintly person serves Hashem with only a single goal in mind, and that goal is to bring greater glory to God. By serving as an example of an ideal personality, the Chassid hopes that people will say, "Look how wonderful the Torah is if it produces people like that." Now, there are a lot of people out there who need to be inspired and it would be easy for a person to say, "What can I accomplish with my prayers or my good deeds?" Ramchal quotes the sayings of Chazal that Hashem created only one person in the Beginning so that each person should say, "The world was created for me." Hashem expects everyone to do what she or he can; no more- but no less.
July 1, 2012 1:00PM - 2:00PM Messilat Yesharim: Part 4
Today we spoke about "zealotry" as a component of Chassidut. The Mesillat Yesharim quotes pesukim and sayings of Chazal that demand that we fight sinners and we may not remain passive towards sin. We then saw passages from the Ralbag, Netziv and Chazon Ish about zealotry. These authorities all say that zealotry may be used only where the violence will lead to a positive outcome for society. However, even if zealotry is not the tool to be used these days we must not become indifferent or apathetic towards improper behavior. Our patience and tolerance must be conscious decisions and not the results of religious apathy.
June 24, 2012 1:00PM - 2:00PM Messilat Yesharim: Part 4
Hello everyone. Today we continued with Ramchal's discussion of love of Hashem. We compared Ramchal's ideas about prayer with the ideas of Rav Chaim of Volozhin and Rav Soloveitchik zt'l. We also discussed (and saw opposing definitions in various on-line dictionaries) the meaning of "obsession" and if it is a necessarily negative emotion (I think it is neutral but I found myself in the minority ). Finally we saw the importance of happiness in avodat Hashem and we saw what the Rambam and Rabbi Nachman say on this. We welcome back Joel Nowicki to the shiur and wish a bon voyage to Tehilla Leah who is travelling to a place where there is no Internet connection.
June 17, 2012 1:00PM - 2:00PM Messilat Yesharim: Part 4
Today we discussed the idea of love for God. We saw the Rambam's description of this mitzvah which apparently is founded upon the idea that as a person studies nature he or she will become enraptured with the great Creator of nature, and this is the love of God that the Torah commands us all to pursue. The Ramban says that the love of God is the willingness to lay down one's life in order to fulfill God's will. The Ramchal combines aspects of both the Rambam and Ramban. The Ramchal says that the thoughts of one who loves God are focused constantly on God. The Ramchal also says that the test of one's love for God is if the person is willing to accept martyrdom, as the Ramban says. We saw an excerpt from writings of Rav Yehoshua Aaronson zt"l, who was a rav in Poland before the Shoah, who survived Auschwitz and was later a rav in Petach Tikva. Rav Aaronson writes that with Hashem's help he was able not only to keep his own spirits up during his time in the camps, but to help maintain the spirits of his fellow inmates. I think that Rav Aaronson demonstrated the greatest form of ahavat Hashem that we can imagine. The shiur ended with a Sfat Emet. the Sfat Emet says that we all have our jobs to do in this world, and that our jobs basically involve seeing through the foolishness of life on this world and discovering what Hashem wants done. Success in this mission requires an abandonment of all self-interest and looking only at Hashem's will. This, the Sfat Emet says is what it means to be an angel; and the Sfat Emet says it is truly a challenge to be an angel.
June 10, 2012 1:00PM - 2:00PM Messilat Yesharim: Part 4
Hello everyone, Thank-you for attending the shiur. Today we focused on how Ramchal explains the teaching "to be clever in the awe of God." Usually "cleverness' has a somewhat negative connotation, but in this context perhaps " ingeniously creative" would be better a translation. Ramchal says we must be ingenious in finding new ways to serve Hashem, because that is how we demonstrate our appreciation of the gift that He gave us. We saw the story that Rav Oshry wrote about his time as a rabbi in the Kovno Ghetto during the Holocaust. A group of Jews were ordered to spend the day cleaning out the Gestapo latrines with their bare hands. At the end of the day, when they were brought back into the ghetto, the first thing they did was to go to Rav Oshry and ask him a question about how they should say their evening prayers. This is a breathtaking tale not only of spiritual heroism, but of "cleverness" in the service of Hashem, because they could have found many (valid) rationalizations to excuse themselves from prayers that night. However they understood the glory of serving Hashem in any and all circumstances and they would not be denied their evening prayers.
June 3, 2012 1:00PM - 2:00PM Messilat Yesharim: Part 4
Hello to everyone and welcome to Mr. Haywood who joined us for the first time. Today we saw what Ramchal and others have to say about awe as the proper state of awareness that a person should have when engaged in prayer, or any other mitzvah. Ramchal says awe from Hashem should accompany every mitzvah. The Radak and Rabbeinu Yonah write that a person should entertain feelings of awe from Hashem's greatness as well as happiness at the opportunity to speak with Hashem in prayer. The Maharal writes that there are two schools of thought, whose ideas are brought in Masechet Brachot, on this matter. One opinion says that as creatures made by the Creator, prayer should be solemn, reflecting our absolute dependence on Hashem. the other opinion is that prayer should suffused with happiness since prayer is our opportunity to be in contact with Hashem. Finally we saw the Sfat Emet. Rashi quotes a Midrash that Aharon was so seized with awe that he could not approach the altar to bring the sacrifices, and his brother Moshe had to prod him on, saying, "Go, you were chosen for this." The Sfat Emet acknowledges that the experience of awe can lead to paralysis, since the person will feel unworthy of performing mitzvot. The Sfat Emet not only recognizes this as a possibility but he embraces it and says that as long as the inaction was caused by sincere fear of Heaven (and not mere laziness)then the person who performs fewer, but purer, mitzvot will be blessed by Hashem.
May 20, 2012 1:00PM - 2:00PM Messilat Yesharim: Part 4
Hello everyone, Thank-you for attending today's shiur. We discussed more aspects of chassidut . Ramchal emphasized that chessed is required of us not only in our dealings with other people, but also in our dealings with animals. We saw teshuvot from contemporary poskim dealing with the conditions in which animals are raised and bred for consumption. The poskim emphasized that even if the Torah permits us to eat meat, we may not abuse the animals that are raised for consumption. At the end of the shiur we started Ramchal's discussion about the proper relationship to God which I hope we will continue in two weeks. Have a happy Shavuot, Stuart Fischman
May 13, 2012 1:00PM - 2:00PM Messilat Yesharim: Part 4
Hello and welcome to the shiur in Mesillat Yesharim. Today we started chapter 19 which is an analysis of "chasidut" which is usually translated as "piety." So what does chasidut/piety actually entail? It entails the striving of a person to excel in his or her service of Hashem.This pursuit of excellence applies to excellence in mitzvot as well as excellence in one's relationship with other people. There was a a rabbi who sold some his clothes to buy wine for kiddush and there was a rabbi who would not go to sleep if he knew there was someone who was angry with him. Respect for others is as least as important as any other mitzvah and I hope that by learning Mesiilat Yesharim together we can make our own and other people's lives a little bit better.