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Levels of Chassidut

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen

The Mesilas Yesharim teaches us that there are three divisions of chassidut (piety). The first relates to deed, the second to performance of mitzvot, and the third to intent. The Ramchal teaches that mitzvot should be performed with ahava (love) and yirah (fear), the two key pillars of avodat Hashem. Yirah expresses itself in the verse, “Et Hashem Elokecha tirah,” one should fear Hashem. This refers not only to fear of punishment but yirat haromemut (awe of His exalted grandeur). Ahavat Hashem is expressed in the verse, “V’ahavata et Hashem Elokecha,” and you should love Hashem and “U’vo tidbok,” and you shall cling to Him. Yirah is hachnaah (humility) and boshes (shame). Ahava is manifested by performing mitzvot with joy and passion.

The Rambam teaches that there’s a constant mitzvah to love and fear Hashem. One should perform mitzvot out of love for Hashem, not out of obligation or routine. The Mesilas Yesharim explains that yirat haromemut is expressed when a person prays and is aware that he is standing in front of Hashem. Therefore the Gemara says when a person davens he should know before whom he is praying. Intellectually this understandable but in actuality it is very difficult because we cannot perceive it. The Mesilas Yesharim tells us that with minimal contemplation one can implant in one’s heart that one is entering into a discourse with Hashem. Just like if we speak to someone on the phone thousands of miles away we’re convinced the person is listening, otherwise why would we speak to him, so too Hashem is certainly listening. The problem is we don’t think so.

The Rambam writes that when a person stands in prayer, no other thoughts should enter his mind. He should feel as if he is standing in front of the King of kings. If you had an interview that could make or break it for you, would your mind be on shopping for Shabbat? No, you’d be totally involved. Why not in front of Hashem? And if you’d say, maybe I understand this concept but I don’t see or feel it, the Rambam tells us, one must prepare, and one should do so before davening so that one can approach the King of Kings in a befitting way.

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