2.03 DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP WITH G-D: PATHWWAYS TO G-D Part 1
Yesterday we spoke about the need to make G-d the major priority in our lives. We also spoke about the importance of studying every day the things that will bring us close to Him. The following are a few suggestions for long and short term projects that one can undertake to develop a greater relationship to G-d.
THE NEED TO EXPERIMENT
When trying to build a relationship with G-d it is essential to realize that your soul is a complicated puzzle. Your goal is to try to solve it. No one knows the way to get you close to G-d. Only you can discover the secret. It requires a certain amount of experimentation on your part. It also requires a realization that it might take a few unsuccessful attempts until you find a methodology that works. So take one of these pathways and get to work. Choose the one that is most appropriate to who you are and get started.
It must be clearly understood that these projects should not interfere with any of your other Yeshiva obligations. They should be done in the unscheduled free time of your day. Please consult with your Rebbe or Program Director on any decisions that you make.
PATHWAY NUMBER 1-LEARN THE SIX CONSTANT MITZVOS
The Sefer HaChinuch, the famous work on the 613 mitzvos, wrote in his “Author’s Note” about the different types of mitzvos that we are required to fulfill. He writes about a series of mitzvos that are different from all the other ones:
The obligation to observe most of the other mitzvos does not apply constantly, but only for certain times of the year or day. The following six precepts, though, are an exception; their obligation is constant; it is not interrupted or removed from a person for even one moment in all his days. These are:
1. To believe in G-d
2. Not to believe in anything other than Him
3. To Know He is One
4. To Love Him
5. To Fear Him
6. Not to turn after the thoughts of the heart or the sight of the eyes
The Six Constant Mitzvos are the backbone of all of Judaism. Without a proper awareness of what they are and how to do them, one is truly missing the most powerful tools that exist to get to G-d. If one hasn’t had a class on them or hasn’t studied them, now is the time to resolve to understand them once and for all.
Practical Suggestions — 1. Find an older student who has learned the material and ask him to teach them to you.
2. Aish HaTorah has a pamphlet called ‘The Six Constant Mitzvos.” It can be very helpful for a beginner to the subject.
3. Study the Six Constant Mitzvos in the Sefer HaChinuch. For those who can’t read about them in Hebrew, Feldheim Publishers has an excellent English translation.
4. Listen to some of the tapes in the library on the subject.
With the High Holy Days fast approaching, and people making various resolutions to become close to G-d, make a commitment to learn this very important topic.
PATHWAY NUMBER 2-STUDY THE SIDDUR AND KNOW IT WELL
The Siddur, constitutes a major Torah compendium which includes a large portion of the Holy Scriptures. It includes also the compositions of Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly, including a number of the last prophets, who were the authors of the Brachos (including the Shmoneh Esrei). The use of the Siddur is therefore a means of learning and it is the study of the fundamentals of Torah ideology in their most abstract and generalized form. By proper use of the regular prayers they can serve as a table of contents and an index to almost all of the general principles of the Torah and the duties of the Heart and the ways of Love and Fear of Hashem. Thus the study of the siddur is an important form of Torah learning, and is also a major method of gaining greatness of soul and acquiring the True Knowledge. (Praise My Soul, R. Avigdor Miller, p. 8)
R. Avigdor Miller is telling us about a second pathway to G-d. When one considers that he spends close to two hours a day in prayer, the obvious conclusion should be that one should know its meaning. R. Avigdor Miller is emphasizing that the Siddur can add for us tremendous insights about how to get close to G-d.
Practical Suggestions — 1. Since we are now in the month of Elul, the obvious place to begin is to learn the Machzor of the High Holy Days. Look at an Artscroll or Metzudah Machzor and begin to study the Shmoneh Esrei of the Shacharis and Musaf Services.
2. For those who know Hebrew, try Sifse Chaim by R. Chaim Freidlander. In the back of the sefer there is an excellent supplement called Rinas Chaim which gives beautiful explanations of the holiday prayers. You can also try the Otser HaTfillos . For those who need an English text, try The Shemoneh Esrei: Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur by R. Aaron Werner. Another possibility is the Hirsch Siddur or the World of Prayer by Rabbi Munk.
3. For the rest of the year, try to make a commitment to study the meanings of the prayers. For practical suggestions on how to do this, see the Tisha B’av Series, Sheet number 15, page 2.
PATHWAY NUMBER 3-LEARN AGADA
One of the greatest ways to get close to is from the study of the Agadic literature is spread out all over the Torah:
Is it your desire to know the One that spoke and the world came into being? Learn Agada. (Sifre, Ekev 49.11.22)
The Sifre is telling us that the Agada as a form of learning has the power to bring us to know G-d in a very powerful way.
Practical Suggestions — Unfortunately, Agada can be very difficult. It is not always easy to understand its true meaning. Therefore one should study it with someone who is knowledgeable enough in Torah to give you the correct understanding.
1. Remember all those fascinating Agadas that when you studied in your Gemora Shiur you studied the “Pshat” (the basic meaning) and you always wanted to go back to understand them more in depth? Hunt around during Bein HaZman (yeshiva intercession) for a Rav that has some spare time. Then have him teach it to you. See in a deeper way what the piece is trying to tell you. Pull out an Ein Yaakov (the classic set of commentaries on the Agada) and try to gain even deeper insights into it.
2. For those who don’t have access to a Ray, try to find a book that will take the place of the Ray so that you won’t make a mistake in understanding its meaning. An excellent example of this is The Juggler and the King by Rabbi Aaron Feldman.
If you do this over a period of time, you will realize the power of the Agada to bring a greater and more powerful understanding of who G-d is and how to get close to Him.
PATHWAY NUMBER 4-LEARN A PIECE OF TORAH VERY DEEPLY AND APPRECIATE IT AS AN AMAZING GIFT FROM G-D
It is stated, “You shall Love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and all your soul and your might.” While it is stated, “and you shall love” this does not tell me how a man is to love G-d. Therefore the Torah states, “And these words which I command you today shall be on your heart (Dvarim 6.6): for as a result of this you- will “recognize” the One who spoke and the world came into existence. (Sifre, Dvarim #33)~ In other words, by reflecting (hitbonneut) on the Torah, the love of G-d settles in your heart.(The Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 418):
This pathway suggests that you take a topic that has always interested you in Torah and then study it on a very deep level. Take a topic, verse, or mitzvah and study it from many different angles. Research it as deep as you can, and just when you think you have gone as deep as you possibly can, go even a little more in depth. When you do this you will see the beauty of the Torah. If you enjoy this, just imagine the tens of thousands of other topics like this in the Torah.
Now take a moment to reflect on the beauty and genius of the Torah. In every area of life, there are so many ingenious and wonderful things that the Torah has to offer. This is precisely the moment to sit down and realize the greatness of G-d who gave you such a present. It is also the time to realize that the giving of the Torah is a sign of G-d’s total love for us. With these thoughts according to the Sefer HaChinuch you will come to ”recognize” G-d.
PATHWAY NUMBER 5-TAKE EACH ONE OF THE 613 MITZVOS AND SEE WHAT IT TEACHES YOU ABOUT A RELATIONSHIP WITH G-D
The 613 Mitzvos seem like a vast and endless ocean and many times we don’t understand how they relate to a greater understanding of G-d and life. What does the Beis HaMikdash teach me about G-d? What does Tuma and Tahara (purity and impurity) teach me about G-d? Why not explore the world of the 613 and see how they enable you to reach and understand G-d in a powerful and exciting way.
Practical Suggestions — Take a piece of paper or an index card and write down on the top the mitzvah name and number. Research the meaning of each mitvah in the various different mitvahs books and develop a workable pshat as to how each mitvah brings you closer to G-d or teaches about G-d in one fashion or another. This method has been proven successful to help people to see G-d and how He relates to everything in every aspect of one’s life.
PATHWAY NUMBER 6-STUDY THE MEANINGS BEHIND ALL THE HOLIDAYS
Every holiday is a phenomenal opportunity to get closer to G-d. Each of the mitzvahs of the holiday period is a tool to accomplish what is the purpose of the holiday. This pathway suggest to have a set time in understanding the holidays all year round, for a half hour a day. Start at the most upcoming holiday and spend a month on researching all the pertinent aspects of the Holiday including the mitvahs, the scroll relating to the Holiday (i.e. Eichah, Ruth, Shir HaShirim), the customs, the halachos etc.
If a person does this all year around, he will find that he will be prepared for all the holidays that come around. One won’t have that sinking feeling of having to cram in all the aspect of a holiday just a few days before it begins.
Now is the time to take practical steps to get close to G-d. Try one of the options presented, then refine it and make it more powerful to you. If it doesn’t work, then choose another and try again. The main thing is to – make the attempt and then Hashem will surely open up the avenues to help you find the answer. Tommorow we will be discuss ing more Pathways to grow to a relationship to G-d.