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Thought for the Day: The Simplicity and Depth of M'silas Yesharim -- Both True, Both Deceptions

I get a mazal tov.  I just completed the first perek of Bava Metzia.  It is a about 20 daf (double sided pages).  I am not at all embarrassed to tell you that it has taken my almost a year and a half.  I learned it twice through, because Chazal tell us that learning without reviewing is like sowing without reaping; so what's the point?  When I first started (in Adar II year before last), I was feeling a bit down on myself; they learn this in 5th grade, for goodness sakes... so why was I having so much trouble.  I expressed that sentiment to talmid chacham who reassured me:  They learn the second perek in 5th grade.  Everyone has difficulty with the first perek!  (Whew...)

There is no question that the first perek of Bava Metzia reveals deep and fundamental ideas.  It is not for beginners.  I don't mean just because of the topics covered, but also the way they are covered.  The methodology of the analysis is itself complex.  Were I to make an analogy to physics (as I am, of course, wont to do), I would say like this: To learn basic rate problems (if are going from Chicago to Nashville on Aug 21 to see the total eclipse of the sun this year, will take two 15 minute rest breaks, and will leave at 7:00 AM to arrive at 1:20PM; what does your average speed need to be?), you only need to know basic math.  To calculate the speed at which the eclipse will travel across the planet, you really need calculus.  To calculate the speed of the solar flares you might see, you need differential equations.  The first perek of Bava Metzia is like that last one; the second perek like the first.

That's fine for learning gemara or astronomy; you can put those subjects off till you are older.  What about Chumash, though?  Even our five year olds (and younger) know "bible stories".  On the Chumash, of course, is the very blueprint of Creation?  How do you even begin to understand that?  It would seem you need a whole series of course.  However, HaShem gave us a great gift: Rashi.  Rashi is the ultimate teacher.  He speaks to five year olds, 60 year olds (and older), and everyone inbetween.  I learn Rashi, בעזרת השם, every year.  Each new review is both refreshing and energizing, as more depth and dimension is added to the picture of reality being created in my mind.  The greatest minds in history -- Ramban, Ohr Chayim, Gur Aryeh, to name but a few -- have analyzed each and every Rashi.  At the same time, every new generation of five year olds starts with those very same Rashi's.

But what do about character building?  Where is there a course in building ourselves into tzadikim and tzidkonios?  For that, HaShem gave us another gift: M'silas Yesharim.  The sefer itself tells you that you may feel like there is nothing much here.  After all, no one questions that we have a mitzvah, for example, to love G-d.  We have a mitzvah, for another example, to act kindly.  But how do you do that?  The Torah itself commands you to love G-d... but how in the world do I love a Being (the Being, as it were) that I do not and cannot truly know?  The Torah directs us to act with loving kindness to every Jew... but that must mean more than simply smiling and talking nicely, otherwise why would I need a directive from the Creator of the world.

M'silas Yesharim is the first course, the middle school course, and the graduate course in all that and more.  It is written with a deceptive simplicity that begs -- nay, demands -- careful attention.  Yet the benefit (as the author himself states) is not from digging into it's depth on first reading, but on review and re-review.  Each review is not a repetition, since the conscientious reader is not the same person he was on last review.  With all that, however, he doesn't need a new course... the Ramchal managed to put everything at all levels into one (deceptively) simple text that contains any number of levels of sophistication.

Which reminds me... it's been too long since my own last review.


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