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Messilas Yesharim 01/18/09

As we continued the 3rd Chapter we learned more about the necessity for watchfulness. Ramchal compares each of us to merchants which must check, double check and triple check our wares to ensure their quality. Similarly, we must check our actions for their quality.

There was a tangential discussion about how the Rabbis will use verses form TanaKh to teach us ideas using puns or plays on the words – very interesting stuff.

We concluded with Ramchal’s introduction of a new set of problems. We are blinded by the darkness of our world – how can we even begin to evaluate our actions to know what is right and wrong?

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Inspiration. It’s as easy as 1-2-3! | Connections 1/12/09

We had such a nice program tonight. The event was sponsored by Elizabeth Liber as she moves to New York to attend Stern College. Thank you for your sponsorship and we will miss you!

Our topic tonight was Inspiration. Much of our discussion was rooted in R’ Akiva Tatz’s distillation of some very profound ideas. The main idea revolves around the numbers one, two and three. Listen to the class to find out just what that means! We learned more about the secrets behind the splitting of the sea, why food spoils, how to make a marriage work and “coping” with the load of our daily lives. There was some really great input from the attendees including some science, geometry and philosophical thoughts.

All in all the class was exciting, the questions were thought provoking and everyone in attendance had a really nice time. It makes the preparation and delivery worth the effort when the attendees are so engaging and positive.

I hope you will join us next Monday night for our next “Connections” we would love to see you there!

You can listen to the entire class below (55 minutes)

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Messilas Yesharim 01/11/09

Today we started the 3rd Chapter of Messilas Yesharim. Ramchal has given us the importance of Zehirus (watchfulness) and has taught us that we need to integrate this idea into our lives. What remains is the definitions of Zehirus. Today we began to uncover just what Zehirus actually is. Ramchal gives us the two main areas of Zehirus. Firstly we need to figure out what is right and what is wrong and then we need to figure if what we are doing is helping or hurting us in doing what is right.

We also discussed my previous blog post which prompted a short discussion on preparing for moral challenges and not just relying on our skill as moral warriors.

Finally we discussed examining your actions to see what is good and what is bad and then examining your good actions to see if they can be refined or improved in any way.

Enjoy the class (25 minutes)

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Messilas Yesharim 01/04/09

We had quite an interesting class today. Ramchal continues his explanation of the importance of Zehirus – watchfulness. The first point we discussed today was the idea that our animalistic instinct inside of us is very clever. One of his mian tricks is to keep us so busy with distractions that we don’t have time to think about our lives. We see this in our own lives all the time. We want to analyze ourselves and try and improve – there is just no time… This is one the many weapons in the arsenal of our evil inclination. It is the same idea George Orwell uses in 1984 to prevent all creative thought crushes the spirit and does not allow for any growth. The second topic discussed today was that we are promised that if we try our best then and only then we are promised the assistance of God. The idea is that if we don’t care enough about ourselves to make changes in our lives then no one – not even God is going to do it for us. The Ramchal ends off by invoking the Talmudic principle that if one does not care to grow then we are not supposed to work on that person Our time is much better spent other ways. This prompted a great discussion.

It is all here – just click. (30 minutes)

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Messilas Yesharim 12/28

We began the Ramchal’s chapter describing the characteristic of “watchfulness”. The main thrust of the section is that it is necessary to think about our actions that we normally take in advance of the actions occurring. So we prepare for life’s challenges by thinking about the potential challenges we will have and the past challenges we have had. After we are mentally prepared for all situations and circumstances we can be confident that we will prevail in those challenges that we encounter. Ramchal compares being unprepared for life’s challenges to a blind man walking along a river bank. The danger is near and the chance of catastrophe is greater than the chance of survival. I think it is clear that we must be watchful and to do this we need to begin by analyzing the situations life throws at us before they happen. There was also a discussion about how to cope with daily issues and we tried to use R’ Wolbe’s ideas about Seder. R’ Wolbe’s main idea is that Seder is a system / routine that we live by so that in case of a challenge we have a framework from which to react. In other words – the Seder is not for the sake of Seder rather it is for clarity when we need it.

The class was shortened due to the long davening for Rosh Chodesh Chanukah. (20 minutes)

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Messilas Yesharim 12/21

Ramchal continues his chapter on the role of man in this universe. Ramchal argues that no sensible person could really believe that the purpose of creation is for our existence in this world. If you think about it, an intelligent creator would not possibly crate the world that we live in as the primary place of existence. People suffer much of their lives and no one dies with their desires and dreams completely fulfilled. The system is constantly in break down mode! No one actually gets what they want. Further argues Ramchal there would no point in creating a soul which does not get any pleasure from our physical world. It seems like cruel joke on the soul! The soul was happy to stay in a spiritual place – why burden the soul with being created in to a physical world?! The only explanation that is sensible is that the soul and all of creation is truly created for its existence in the post physical eternal spiritual world. There the soul can enjoy the benefits of all it accomplished in this world. The soul is thus willing to go through the travails of this physical world in order to gain the pleasure of the next world. The way that the soul earns that pleasure is by perfecting the physical imperfect body that it inhabits. The way we achieve that perfection is by the performance of Mitzvahs. Practicing mitzvahs gives our souls the key it needs for entry into the next world where it can enjoy its place in the spiritual realms.

This soul talk prompted some lively discussion regarding the nature of the soul. The soul has a mission and while it is here it is our body’s job to assist the soul in accomplishing that mission. When the mission is accomplished the soul remains in its eternal home for eternity. If the mission is incomplete then the part of the soul that has not achieved what it was meant to do returns to the physical world. The cycle continues until the soul has done its job to completion. The current souls are all fragments of the original souls which appeared at Sinai for the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people and the rest of the world. The Jewish soul was infused with its mission at that time and therefore the Jewish soul originated at the point which that mission was delivered.

To us humans the soul is an enigma but if we are confident in the existence of the soul then Ramchal makes a strong argument that our ultimate purpose it greater than just the physical life in which we find ourselves.

Click below to listen to the entire class (45 minutes)

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Messilas Yesharim 12/14

Today we continued our discussion of the purpose of man in this world. Ramchal deals with this central issue by offering 2 options for the existence of man.

Option 1: Man is created to perform in this physical world as best as he can. He is given mitzvahs (commandments) by God to help him do the best job possible while he is in this world. After man dies he reaps the rewards for that which he has accomplished in his lifetime.

Option 2: Man is created for his eternal existence in the world to come. That existence is based upon his actions in the physical world in which we live. This world is our opportunity to carve out a wonderful eternal existence. The mitzvahs are given to us as tools to achieve spiritual greatness as our eternal existence is spiritual and being in touch with spirituality will enhance that eternal existence. The physical world can also function as tools for our growth as long at is used properly.

Ramchal chooses option 2 as it justifies such a short lifespan in comparison to the eternity of the world to come. If we are to live such a fleeting existence that cannot be the purpose of our existence. He then goes on to describe the inner battle which we constantly grapple with. The rich has its challenges, the poor has its challenges. The intelligent has its challenges and the not so gifted has its challenges.

This prompted a discussion of a number of relevant topics. Firstly we discussed how each person has the opportunity for spiritual growth when we are presented with moral challenges. Each person’s moral challenges are their own and cannot be compared to another’s moral challenges. In other words when I am grappling with a moral challenge it requires a certain amount of effort to prevail in that particular challenge. That amount of effort is the same level of effort required by another person in their completely different moral challenge. Each one of us is challenged in different areas but it is futile to try and compare our challenges with another’s. I may think that your challenge is easier for me, and it may very be so, but for that person that challenge requires the same amount of moral effort that my challenge demands from me.

We also discussed the incalculable reward for mitzvah observance. This is for 2 reasons. Reason 1: we must do our best to successfully execute each mitzvah and if we were aware of which carried greater rewards then we may neglect some of the mitzvahs. This is tragic because the mitzvahs are all part of an intricate system of personal growth that requires the sum of its parts to function properly. Reason 2: For each person in their individual situation each mitzvah may in fact carry a different weight. For me one mitzvah may be simple while it is a challenge for you. This has an effect on the reward for each mitzvah relative to my effort required to execute that mitzvah.

To be continued next Sunday!

Listen to the entire class by clicking below.

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