2.02 DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP WITH G-D: THE GREATEST PRIORITY
When Elul and the High Holy Days come around, we normally make very deep and profound resolutions that this year will be different and we will truly work on getting close to G-d. Then the year zooms past us and we somehow don’t seem to achieve what we claimed was our top priority.
Why does that happen? And what can we do in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal, (1707-1746) in the introduction to his classic work the “Mesilas Yesharim’ (The Path of the Just) deals with this question extensively.
The following sheet is a condensed presentation of the Introduction to the “Mesillas Yesharim.” It offers no novel insights. But there is no greater and more powerful message for the month of Elul than to get into one’s heart what the Ramchal wrote in his Introduction over 250 years ago to the people of his generation.
G-D ASKS ONLY ONE THING FROM YOU: DO THE THINGS THAT BRING YOU CLOSE TO HIM
The most important goal of our lives should be to develop a deep relationship with G-d:
And now Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d ask of you, but that you fear the L-rd your G-d to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and serve the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and all your soul, to observe the mitzvos of G-d and His statutes…(Devarim 10.12)
THERE ARE NOT THAT MANY ROLE MODELS IN THE AREA OF RELATING TO G-D
The Ramchal wrote that in his generation the majority of capable individuals were not involved in the pursuit of a relationship with G-d:
A consideration of the general state of affairs will reveal that the majority of men of quick intelligence and keen mentality devote most of their thought and speculation to the subtleties of wisdom and the depths of analysis each according to the Inclination of his intelligence and his natural bent. There are some who expend a great deal of effort in studying the creation and nature. Others devote all of their thoughts to astronomy and mathematics, and others to the arts. There are those who go more deeply into sacred studies, into the study of the holy Torah, some occupying themselves with Halachic discussions, others with Midrash and others with legal decisions. There are few, however, who devote thought and study to perfections of Divine service — to love of G-d. fear of G-d. cleaving to G-d and all of the other aspects of piety.
This Elul we have to ask ourselves which of these groups do we belong to: to those who devote their time and energy to perfecting their relationship to Cd, or to those who do not.(see Note Below)
EVERYONE ADMITS THAT GETTING CLOSE TO G-D IS THE TOP PRIORITY, BUT THEY STILL DON’T WORK ON IT
What happens when you ask people why they don’t spend the proper amount of time on the study of how to get close to G-d? The Ramchal answers this question:
It is not that they consider this knowledge unessential; if questioned each one will maintain that it is of paramount importance and that one who is not clearly versed in it cannot be deemed truly wise.
Their failure to devote more attention to it stems rather from it being so manifest and so obvious to them that they see no need for spending much time upon it.
Now we have the answer as to why people neglect this subject. It is too obvious to them. And since it is so simple to them, they move on to more complicated matters and then totally forget about this important subject:
PEOPLE DON’T SUCCEED IN THEIR DIVINE SERVICE BECAUSE IT DOESN’T REALLY OCCUPY A PLACE IN THEIR MIND
As a result of the fact that people don’t spend much time learning about G-d, their minds are not occupied with the service of G-d.
The real, desired piety that we are looking for, is very far from our mind for It Is obvious that a person does not concern himself with what does not occupy a place In his mind.
IF YOU DON’T MAKE GETTING CLOSE TO G-D A MAJOR PRIORITY IN YOUR LIFE YOU WILL LOSE COUNTLESS OPPORTUNITIES TO DRAW CLOSE TO HIM
As a result of not having the service of G-d in our minds, we miss many opportunities to draw close to Him:
And though the beginnings and foundations of piety are implanted in every person’s heart, if he does not occupy himself with them, he will witness details of piety without recognizing them, and he will pass them up without feeling or perceiving that he is doing so.
WE NEED TO MAKE THIS STUDY OUR MAIN PRIORITY IN THE DAY
The conclusion that we should draw this Elul is that our biggest priority for the upcoming year must be the study of how to draw close to G-d. Nothing should budge us from this resolution:(see Note Below)
How, then, is it conceivable that is not be necessary to expend time upon this study in order to know these truths and the manner in which they may be acquired and fulfilled? How will this wisdom enter a person’s heart if he will not seek It… What will we answer in the day of reproof If we weaken In this study and forsake that which Is so incumbent upon us as to be the very essence of what the L-rd our G-d asks of us? Is it fitting that our Intelligence exert itself and labor in speculations which are not binding upon us, in fruitless argumentation, In laws which have no application to us, while we leave to habit and abandon to mechanical observance our great debt to our Creator … If we analyzed the matter honestly, would we not extract the truth and thereby benefit ourselves, and also be of benefit to others by Instructing them In it.
YOU MUST STUDY THIS SUBJECT IN DEPTH IN ORDER TO SUCCEED
When you study this subject, the only way to really integrate it is to study it slowly and in depth:
Fear of G-d and only Fear of G-d is considered wisdom. And there is no doubt that what entails no analysis is not considered wisdom. The truth of the matter is that all these things require deep study If they are to be known In truth and not through imagination and false logic. How much more so if they are to be acquired and attained.
YOU MUST SEARCH FOR THIS IN THE SAME WAY AS YOU HAVE GONE AFTER MONEY IN YOUR LIFE
One of the best ways to judge to what extent you should be motivated in this area is to ask yourself what you have done for money in the past and then apply that knowledge to your pursuit of G-d:
As stated by Shlomo, (Mishle 2.4), If you seek it as silver and search for it as a treasure, then you will understand the fear of G-d.” He does not say, ‘Then you will understand philosophy; then you will understand astronomy; then you will understand medicine; then you will understand legal judgements and decisions. We see, then, that for fear of G-d to be understood, it must be sought after as silver and searched for as a treasure. All this is part of our heritage and is accepted in substance by every devout individual.
The only way to succeed is to go after the pursuit of G-d the same way the rest of the world goes after money.
Now is the time to commit for the rest of the year to set aside time every day to work on how to get close to G-d:
Is it conceivable that we should find time for all other branches of study and none for thIs study? Why should a man not at least set aside for himself certain times for this speculation if he is obliged In the remainder of his time to turn to other studies and undertakings… That which the earthliness of nature seeks to remove from our hearts, reading and contemplation will summon to our consciousness and will awaken us to what is incumbent upon us.
*NOTE: It must be clearly understood that just because something is the major priority in your life, you don’t necessarily spend all of your day on it. Past experience has shown that it just isn’t productive. The purpose of this sheet is to encourage setting the proper time aside to work on these subjects, not to reject all other priorities in learning. We mentioned in sheet three, that the Rosh Yeshiva suggested spending between 30-60 minutes a day on these subjects, depending on your personality.