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footprints in the sand

You can Change! Focusing on Free Will

Week 3, Lesson 17: September 14 / Elul 23

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (1916-2005) was one of the last great products of the world of the Mussar yeshivas from before World War II. Born in Berlin, in the 1930s, he spent several years at the Mir Yeshiva, where he became a close student of Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz and Rabbi Chatzkal Levenstein. Rabbi Wolbe spent the war years in Sweden, after which he moved to Israel, where he married the daughter of Rabbi Avrohom Grodzinsky, the last mashgiach (spiritual advisor) of the Slobodka Yeshiva. In 1948, Reb Wolbe himself became mashgiach at Yeshivah Gedolah of Be’er Yaakov, a position he held for over 35 years. Later, he served as mashgiach in the Lakewood Yeshiva in Israel as well as the Mir Yeshiva of Jerusalem. Over the course of some thirty years, he published two volumes called Alei Shur that are a handbook of Mussar thought and practice, as he knew it. These texts are not currently available in English.

Bechirah (free will) is not at all the daily spiritual bread of a person, but rather it is from the most exalted [spiritual] levels that a person must toil in order to achieve. It is no less [a level to acquire] than love and fear [of God] and cleaving to God (dveikut), which are plainly obvious to us that their attainment is achieved by a person through much toil. We can merit/achieve free will, and therefore we are required to acquire [this level]…
The determining point in one’s life occurs in the moment that there appears a desire for the spiritual or for spiritual pleasure on the horizon of one’s free will as a rival to one’s desire for physical/bodily pleasure. The moment one perceives that wisdom and holiness can bring pleasure, and that one appreciates the difference between bodily pleasure and spiritual delight – in this moment one’s true “I” has become known. [Alei Shur vol 1, pp.156-7]

Have you had the experience to which Rav Wolbe refers, when “desire for the spiritual or for spiritual pleasure on the horizon of one’s free will as a rival to one’s desire for physical/bodily pleasure”? Why would an appreciation for spiritual pleasure be a moment that “the true ‘I’ becomes known?"

Your practice for this week is to form and articulate kavvanot for yourself, and to direct your words and deeds in line with those conscious intentions. Continue with your intention for the week to exercise your free will in a situation that challenges you. For today, add the intention to appreciate and to experience the pleasure of the spiritual in whatever way you understand that to mean. Journal your insights.

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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 Lisa Gildar in honor of her Chevruta’s, Joan Zecherle, Sharona Silverman and George Gabanyi. “The middah of emet — truth — comes most to mind as I reflect on our work together. Their friendship and support have been instrumental as I inch forward to uncover personal truths. I am grateful and blessed to have them as companions in this transformative work.”

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