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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Path of the J... Straight

It is currently 4:11am in Cleveland, Ohio, and there are many thoughts occupying my mind. One of the particularly intriguing ones to me is a rather amusing question my sister-in-law, SIL, asked me tonight as we were waiting to make havdalah. "If you could change the name of your blog right now to anything, what would it be?"

In truth, I like the name SerandEz and am not changing it. But immediately, three possibilities that I'd play around with popped into my head. One was Clarity. The second was Balance. The third, and somewhat favorite, was Yashrus (Straight [referring to how one acts]).

Tonight at my parents' shul in Cleveland Heights there was a guest who - for the second consecutive year - was particularly thought-provoking when speaking briefly before ma'ariv. His topic this year was... chasidus (not that kind), or piety. One aspect that was particularly interesting was that he spoke entirely from the direct words of the classic text, Mesilas Yesharim - as he noted, often mistranslated as "Path of the Just", it actually means "Path of the Straight".

While I can easily write countless lengthy posts on either what he spoke about or on Mesilas Yesharim (and am considering doing just that), a couple points in particular that were interesting were among the first notes he made. The first, famous line of the text is
יסוד החסידות ושרש העבודה התמימה הוא - שיתברר ויתאמת אצל האדם מה חובתו בעולמו
...loosely translated as "The foundation of chasidus and the root of service that is pure is: That it be clear and truthful to a person what his responsibility is in his world." The speaker* noted that the task is really straightforward: Birur, or clarity. A person needs to understand what exactly it is they are trying to do, where it is they are trying to get to.

Second, while people often call Mesilas Yesharim a mussar sefer (texts regarding ethics, self-improvement, conduct, et al.), he noted that it is not one - mussar plays a minimal role, and the author specifically only uses it to accomplish certain goals and make specific points throughout the text. The goal of the text is in fact to steer someone onto that "Straight Path".

Finally, the speaker noted and discussed a curious aspect of the text: Only one large section, the one on chassidus, has a subsection on what to look out for in determining whether or not one should pursue it. Up until that point, everything discussed are things that a person must do and must not do to be righteous and do what is right. However, for chassidus - going above and beyond what is necessary - a person must weigh and determine what is and is not appropriate for them in their world. The text specifically warns against chassidus because it can lead to people making mistakes that hurt both themselves and others.

There was a ton of interesting material; enjoy this food for thought. Moadim L'Simcha!

* Please note that I'm relating, from memory, my own impressions from the speech. Any and all mistakes are mine; any ideas may be and often are my own interpretations based loosely on what I heard or thought I heard.

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