After relating some of the miracles that G-d performed on behalf of the
Jewish people, and prior to commanding us to keep the mitzvos (Divine
commandments), the Torah instructs us, "You shall know this day and take to
your heart that G-d, He is the Lord - in the heavens above and on the earth
below - there is none other." (Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:39)
It is part of human nature that our rational knowledge that certain actions
and attitudes are wrong, when this knowledge is not taken to heart, will
most likely do nothing to change our behavior and help us to become better
people. The Torah, therefore, advises us that in order to truly be a G-d
conscious Jew we must take our knowledge of what is right and wrong and
actively instill it within our hearts. Our challenge is: How exactly are
we supposed to take this knowledge to heart? We are often fully cognizant
that we have developed habits that, while enjoyable, are ultimately
harmful. What do we have to do in order to bring our knowledge of right
and wrong from our heads to our hearts?
In the preface of his classic work, Mesilas Yesharim (Path of the Just),
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1) states that it is quite possible that the
reader will not find in the text many things of which he was not already
aware. The stated purpose for writing the book was to remind people of
these essential concepts and philosophies and, through constant and
consistent review, the ideas will be inculcated into one's daily activity
due to his heightened awareness.
Another approach to help us take these ideas from the conceptual to the
practical is that of Rabbeinu Bachya (2), who advocates intense meditation
upon the conceptual truth. A more profound understanding and appreciation
of the ramifications of one's actions can help prevent him from justifying
the negative consequence of the deed.
Whatever method works for a particular individual, the Torah is telling us
that it is our responsibility to see to it that we take our knowledge of
true right and wrong to heart, and act upon it. By setting aside time to
focus upon our actions, understanding them, and reminding ourselves of the
course we genuinely wish to follow, we will be able to excise our bad
habits and become the type of people the Torah is encouraging us to become.
Have a Good Shabbos!
(1) 1707-1746; of Padua, Italy, and Amsterdam; Mesilas Yesharim is one
the most popular Mussar (introspective Jewish self-improvement) works in
Jewish literature: a moving, inspiring work describing how a thoughtful Jew
may climb the ladder of purification until he attains the level of
(2) 1263-1340; author of a Biblical commentary containing all four modes of
interpretation: simple text definition, and midrashic, philosophical and