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Yirat Shamayim: Fear and Awe of Heaven as a Mussar-Based Motivation for Change

This week’s introduction and Lesson 7

Welcome to Week 2 of the Elul Program 5777. The theme for this week is Fear and Awe of Heaven as a Mussar-Based Motivation for Change

Please click the image below to access a short video by Avi Fertig that will introduce this week’s theme.


Lesson 7: September 3 / Elul 12

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, known as the Ramchal, was a sage, philosopher, ethicist and kabbalist born in Padua, Italy in 1707, who died in Israel at the age of 39, in 1746. He is buried on a hillside overlooking Tiberias, by the side of Rabbi Akiva.
Ramchal began teaching kabbalah at an uncommonly young age, an activity that aroused the suspicion of the authorities of the Jewish community of Venice. Ramchal was threatened with excommunication and was persecuted for over nine years. He was coerced into signing an official document retracting his writing and in 1735, he left Italy and made his way to Holland where he took refuge in the more liberal Amsterdam. In 1740, at the age of 33, he published Path of the Just or Messilat Yesharim, as it is called in Hebrew.
The Vilna Gaon is reputed to have stated that had he been alive at the time of the Ramchal, he would have walked across Europe to study under him. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the father of the modern day Mussar movement, held the Messilat Yesharim in the highest esteem and encouraged his students to study this great work as a seminal Mussar treatise. It is accurate to say that it has become the most widely used and accepted book among all Mussar literature.
Messilat Yesharim, ch. 24 states:
There are two types of Yirah. The first type is very easy to attain, the second is the most difficult to attain, and perfection in it, accordingly, is of very high order. The first is the fear of punishment / Yirat Ha’onesh, and the second is fear of Divine Majesty / Yirat Ha’romemut
Fear of punishment, as the words imply, consists of a person being afraid of violating God’s commands because of the punishment to body or soul which is meted out for transgressions…
The second type of fear, fear of Divine Majesty, consists of withdrawing from sin because of the great honor of the Blessed One… This is the extremely worthy type of fear in which the saints distinguished themselves.

Does fear of punishment or consequences motivate you on your spiritual path? Why or why not? In what way do you relate to the middah of Yirah? Do you have a real sense that there are serious consequences to the choices you make? How can you nurture that feeling in a healthy way, allowing you to become more careful in your personal choices?

In your cheshbon ha’nefesh practice for today, bring a focus to the consequences that your choices make to your inner being. Allow your inner eye to perceive the damaging effect that sin brings to your otherwise illuminating soul. Click this link to access your practice instructions for this week.


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If you would like to sponsor a day or week in Elul in memory or honor of somebody, please contact Steven Kraus steven@mussarinstitute.org


Today’s learning is sponsored by Bonni and Steven Kraus and Family, in loving memory of Stanley Kraus, father, father-in-law and grandfather. “Grandpa had a very clear mastery over the middah of SEDER. Everything was timed to the minute, and everything always in its place. He also was very careful about NEKIUT, and taking care that everything he had was pristine (even if that meant discarding anything that wasn't.) To that end, he was also amazingly aware of living with ZERIZUT and CHATZIRUT. Once Grandpa made a decision, there was no wavering, and he was ready to go, now, no matter what time it was.”

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