Day 11: Develop Your Awareness of Hashem
Awareness of Hashem is hard to sustain in today's culture. What tools can I utilize to help me develop and maintain it?
Just as a security guard will deter a thief from robbing a store, the awareness that you are in G-d's presence will empower you with the ability to control your eyes. Without Yirat Shamayim, genuine awareness of Hashem, it is impossible to overcome desire.
King Solomon explained that Yirat Shamayim is the sole antidote for our yetzer hara(Kohellet 11:9). We define Yirat Shamayim as the awareness that:
(1) Hashem sees our actions and knows our thoughts.
(2) Hashem judges all of our deeds and metes out the consequences.
The spiritual reward and punishment that the soul experiences in the World to Come is infinitely greater than the physical pleasure and pain of this world.
How to Develop Yirat Shamayim
In Ohr Y israel, Rabbi Salanter confirms that, "Yirat Shamayim rules over everything. It has the power to curbdesire and keep it in check." (Letter Four)
How can you access this powerful tool? The most effectiveway is through the daily study of Mussar. Some of the classical Mussar texts are:
Mesilat Yesharim (The Path of the Just)
Orchot Tzaddikim (The Ways of the Righteous)
Chovot HaLevavot (Duties of the Heart)
Menorat HaMaor (by Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav)
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers)
Several works that are more contemporary are relevant and enlightening as well. A few of them are:
Michtav Me'Eliyahu (Strive for Truth)
Ahavat Chesed (Chofetz Chaim)
Many works of Mussar have been translated into English, but none should be just read through quickly. It's best to study these works methodically with a mentor or a chavruta. If that is not possible, self-study is a workable option.
In Maggid Mesharim, Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch, records Torah teachings and secrets that were revealed to him by an angel. The angel instructed him, "Read one section from Chovot HaLevavot every day in order to humble the yetzer hara." If Rav Yosef Caro, who was a pure and holy tzaddik, was told to learn Mussarevery day, is there any question that we need it even more?
In fact, the Rosh, the Tur, the Arizal, the Vilna Gaon and the Mishnah Berurah (chapters 1 and 603) ruled that every person should study Mussar every day. This is because, over time, continuous Mussar study instills the awareness that Hashem sees our actions and knows our thoughts. This is the primary and indispensable weapon to gain self-mastery. Once Yirat Shamayim is a reality to you, a force will be at your disposal that can effectively overcome desires.
Mussar Study Plan
(1) The key to success in Mussar is incremental steps.
(2) Devote about 20 minutes a day to Mussar study.
(3) Absorb the concepts at your own pace.
(1) Select a Mussar book.
(2) Schedule a daily time for Mussar study.
(3) Read it aloud so that it penetrates your heart.
(4) Even if you don't sense any immediate change - persevere! With time, you will be transformed and elevated.
(1) Highlight key ideas.
(2) Write these ideas on an index card.
(3) Carry the card with you.
(4) Review the ideas a few times a day.
(5) Know that Mussar is healing your soul.
Today: Make a commitment to study Mussar each day for about twenty minutes.
After my visit to Joe's shiva, I began to consider learning Mussar. Dave, of course, thought it was a great idea, and before I could stop him, he was pulling Mussar books off his bookshelves.
"Here, take a look at these," he said, as he piled them up in front of me. "Every author has his own approach, but they all lead to greater awareness of Hashem. Where do you want to start?"
I balked. To tell the truth, I've always had a negative concept of "Mussar." There used to be a guy in our shul who rebuffed reprimands by defensively raising his hand and retorting, "Don't give me any Mussar!" So I always associated it with being scolded. Dave said that's not it at all!
"It's all about Hashem and us," he said gently. "It's about His love for us and why He gave us the laws we keep." So I had a second confession to make.
"Dave, forgive me if this sounds childish, but my understanding is that G-d is a strict King, Whose main approach is punishment."
Dave slapped his forehead. "That's not only childish, it's not Jewish!" he groaned. "Of course, our obligations to Him are basic and we must remember He's watching us. But that's because He loves us."
Then Dave pointed out something incredible that he had learned in Netivot Shalom. When Hashem decided to take the Jewish People out of Egypt, he told Moshe to go to Pharaoh and tell him to release them: tell him they are "B'ni bechori Yisrael - Israel, My first-born [most beloved] son." Now at that point, we were at the 49th level of tumah! We were wallowing in practically the lowest level of depravity - yet Hashem called us His most beloved!
And it's still true today. Every Jew has His unconditional love.
He was on a roll. "Don't we owe Him a commitment to follow His laws? That's where Yirat Shamayim comes in, Steve. It's the best weapon against giving in to temptation."
That convinced me. I need to develop the kind of Yirat Shamayim that could stop me in my tracks. He said we should start learning Mussar for twenty minutes a day.
"Only twenty minutes?" I asked. "Can that really help?"
"You'd be surprised."
These e-mails are excerpts taken from the book "Windows of the Soul" by Rabbi Zvi Miller of the Salant Foundation.