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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3

Jerusalem

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GENESIS — 1:4 light

Rav Yisrael [Salanter]’s profound contemplation of Mussar led him to realize that its “light was good” [this verse] and that it was an excellent means to strengthen Torah observance amongst the general public. Thus, with the G-dly wisdom that permeated his being, he investigated, considered, and refined this body of study. His goal was to prepare and streamline a method that would make it easily accessible to the masses, as well as to raise the banner of its glory. He developed and nurtured it with righteousness and nobility, in order to set it as a path amidst the people and a trail amongst the living.  OHRYIS 122
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GENESIS — 2:7 dust

Insofar as man is a physical being – “dust from the ground” [this verse], his heart inclines to the material. Therefore, he desires to “eat, drink, and be merry.” He loves wealth and fortune, and longs for honor and dominion. He is full of arrogance and seeks to delight in bodily comforts, running after worldly pleasures and debasing himself with every type of ignoble vice. Together with this, the inclination of his heart contemplates only negative thoughts during his every waking moment. This is the evil inclination, rooted in man’s spiritual component.  Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men, depicted the yetzer hara with a compelling image.  We read in Koheles (9:14-15): “There was a small town with only a few inhabitants; and a mighty king came upon it and surrounded it, and built great siege works over it. Present in the city was a poor, wise man who by his wisdom saved the town.” In the Talmud (Nedarim 32a), Chazal explain that this verse is a description of man: “A small town,” this is the body. “With only a few inhabitants,” these are the limbs. “A mighty king came upon it and surrounded it,” this is the evil inclination. “Present in the city was a poor, wise man,” this is the good inclination.  This comparison teaches us that man must always be prepared to defend himself against an organized assault launched by the evil inclination, which seeks to swallow him into the bottomless depths of worldly desire and pleasure. Our enemy is a great and powerful king, who is free of all distractions. The yetzer hara has no wife and children and does not have to worry about supporting a family. Neither is he distracted by the vanities of this world. He does naught but fulfill the obligation for which he was created. He executes his tasks with extreme efficiency, with no sign of laziness or weariness.  What of man? He is weak like a worm, overwhelmed with toil and an unending workload. Because of this, his mind is confused and his intellect thick, and he gratefully slumbers in the beckoning arms of laziness. Through the siren call of base desires, he is stricken with blindness and confusion. How can he face his enemy and not fall slain at his feet in the heat of battle? What is the strategy to end the raging war against the evil inclination, and the secret to stop the spirit of desire that roars unendingly like a churning sea? Man’s only hope is to fortify himself with the fear of the Almighty G-d and His punishment. This fear is an impregnable fortress that can deliver him from every enemy and attach. It is mighty enough to bind his desires and prevent the evil intentions of his heart from bursting into a destructive rampage. Only it can serve as a valorous right arm to still the wild tempest of the evil inclination and allow man to emerge victorious in battle. All of this was revealed to us by the wisest of men, Shlomo HaMelech. It was he who taught us that the only effective weapon in the battle against the yetzer hara is the fear of Hashem, like arrows in an archer’s quiver. OHRYIS 69-70
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GENESIS — 3:5 know

The joy of knowledge.  When a person accustoms himself to study works of Mussar, his eyes will also be opened to see the immense reward reserved for those who perform Hashem’s will, and the goodness that is hidden away for the righteous—which not even the greatest prophet could truly comprehend (c.f. Talmud, Berachos 32b). Therefore, when he has internalized the fear of Hashem, his soul will perforce be stirred to pursue the path of goodness—whatever the degree. When this happens, not only will he not be saddened, but the opposite will occur—he will delight in his portion and “rejoice with trembling” (cf. Tehillim 2:11) – for his eyes will have been opened to know good and bad [cf. this verse] and to foresee the outcome of a deed (cf. Avos 2:13). The fear will give his strength and power. The great reward will nurture him and grant him the encouragement to improve his path even more: to save his soul from the shadowy depths of Gehinnom and to be illuminated by the precious light of life and eternal delight. His soul will be transformed, and an upright sprit will be renewed within him (cf. Tehillim 51:12). OHRYIS 130
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GENESIS — 4:7 door

The Sages versed in the topic of yirah [i.e., fear/awe of Heaven - AJL] wrote an explanation of the following verse: “Surely, if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, sin rests at the door” [this verse].  In this verse, Hashem informs Kayin of the confined power of the evil inclination. He is restricted in that he may not come “within the house” to tempt man to sin. He may only stand at the entrance to the house, like a poor man at the doorway. This is spoken about in the Talmud (Sukkah 52b).  “First he [the yetzer hara] is called a ‘passerby,’ then he is called a ‘guest,’ then he is called a ‘man’” (see the text there, with Rashi’s commentary).  This is the meaning of “sin rests at the door.” When man hearkens a little bit to the voice of the evil inclination, so that he opens the door for him, the yetzer hara overpowers him to become a guest in his house. This is what the satan showed Plimo through parables and riddles. At first, he appeared to him as a poor man. He stood outside the door, and he called out for Plimo to open it, which we now understand. [See Talmud, Kiddushin 81a for story of Plimo, a righteous man who encounters Satan on Yom Kippur and lets him into his home. - AJL]. OHRYIS 586
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GENESIS — 8:21 evil

The reason Hashem obligates man to actively strengthen his faith and persist in prayer is solely for the benefit of man. Hashem, Who is exalted beyond all blessing and praise—and everything is revealed before Him—does not need the praise of man Yet we know that the purpose of man’s creation in this world is only to enable him to receive benefit in the Next World, to grant him the inheritance of eternal life and everlasting joy.  There in the World of Recompense, he will receive the fruits of his efforts and exertions. Clearly the mitzvah to “Watch yourself, lest you forget the Lord, your G-d” Deuteronomy 6:13 serves the same purpose as prayer, as Rabbeinu Younah wrote in Sha’arei Teshuvah, “Through this mitzvah, we are exhorted to always remember Hashem.” This means that when man continuously reflects on Hashem, he will proceed in the straight paths of Hashem—observing Torah and mitzvos. This is the first halachah in the Shulchan Aruch, “’I place Hashem ever before me’ – this is a primary axiom of the Torah, and [fulfilled in] the exalted level of the tzaddikim.”  However, since the soul of man is imprisoned within his body, and “man’s heart is evil from his youth” [this verse], and his heart is attracted to earthly passions—man is apt to forget Hashem and to stray from the path of Torah and mitzvos. Therefore, Hashem wisely opened a path for man through which his interaction with the physical actually serves to constantly remind him of Hashem. It is for this reason that Hashem commands man to always pray to Him and to plead for mercy that Hashem provides his needs. Likewise, man must always remember the constant lovingkindness and unbounded goodness of Hashem, thank Him for the kindness that He bestows, and bless Hashem for each pleasure that he enjoys in this world. OHRYIS 576-7
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GENESIS — 17:1 perfect

Purity was the special quality of Avraham Avinu, a”h – he rectified all the internal forces that are part and parcel of the body. As the midrash states (Bereshis Rabbah 46:3): “HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Avraham, ‘There is no impurity within you save for he foreskin (orlah), remove it and eliminate your blemish – “Walk before Me and be perfect.” [this verse].’” Similarly, we read (Bereshis Rabbah 11:6), “Everything that came into being during the six days of Creation requires improvement – for example, the mustard see needs to be sweetened…even man needs rectification.”  … [Footnote of Rav Yisrael (Salanter):] this idea clarifies the Midrash (Bereshis Rabbah 30:10): “The verse states, ‘Noach walked with G-d’ (Genesis 6:9).   Rav Yehudah said: This may be likened to a king who had two sons – one an adult and the other a child. To the child he said, “Walk with me,’ but to the adult he said, ‘Come and walk before me.’ Similarly, to Avraham, whose strength was great, [He said] ‘Walk before Me and be perfect’ [this verse]. However, to Noach, whose strength was weak, [the Torah says,] ‘Noach walked with G-d.’”   Since Noach (according to his level) was not commanded concerning bris milah, he did not have the ability to achieve true rectification.   Rather, the level he reached, with the help of Heaven, was that of subduing his evil inclination. As Chazal state Sukkah 52b: “A person’s [evil] inclination intensifies itself over him every day, and if not for the help of KaKadosh Baruch Hu, man would not be able to overcome it” (see the text). This is the meaning of the verse: “Noach walked with G-d.” On the other hand, after Avraham removed his blemish (his foreskin), all the forces of his personality were rectified. Therefore, he was able to proceed on his own, to observe the way of Hashem “with heartfelt gladness, like one who walks with a flute” Isaiah 30:29. This is the meaning of the verse, “Walk before Me.”   OHRYIS 308-9
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GENESIS — 19:20 near

The Rambam wrote, “It is possible that a man will commit a severe transgression or a myriad of transgressions, until judgment demands, before the True Judge, that the punishment for the sins … will be that he be prevented from repentance.” We see from the Rambam that sometimes the severity of the sin is the cause for the sinner to be prevented from performing teshuvah, as the verse says, “One sin destroys an abundance of good” Koheles 9:18. On the other hand, sometimes the quantity of sin causes the prevention of teshuvah, for the sins multiply on themselves. The Talmud (Shabbos 10b) alludes to this: “Let man always dwell in a recently populate city, for since the city is new, the sins are few.” As the verse says, ‘Behold now, this city is near (kerovah) to flee to, and it is a little one’ [this verse]. What is meant by kerovah? Since it is recently populated its sins are few.” This teaches that quantities of sins, which are compounded, cause much culpability.  OHRYIS 541-2
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GENESIS — 24:1 everything

… we are now in position to understand the following passage found in Chazal Genesis Rabbah 59:7: “[The verse says,] ‘And Hashem blessed Avraham with everything’ [this verse].  This means that He granted him mastery over his yetzer hara.”   The Midrash states further Genesis Rabbah 59:8: “[The verse says] ‘And Avraham said to his servant … who controlled all that was his’ Genesis 24:2.  This means that he [his servant Eliezer] ruled over his yetzer hara just as he [Avraham] did.” This is astonishing!   How could Eliezer have attained the same level of perfection on his own that came to Avraham by way of a blessing?   … we can explain that Eliezer’s mastery was in the realm of middos [character trait – AJL] subjugation [whereas Avraham mastered middos rectification].  We see this from the continuation of the midrash (59:9): “[The verse states,] ‘The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman shall not wish to follow me to this land; should I take your son [Yitzchak] back to the land from which you departed?” Genesis 24:5. Concerning this, it is written, ‘Canaan, the scales of deceit are in his hand, who loves to cheat’ Hosea 12:8.   [Says the midrash,] ‘Canaan,’ this is Eliezer. ‘The scales of deceit are in his hand,’ for he sat and weighed [considered] whether his daughter was fitting or not fitting [as a wife for Yitzchak]. ‘To cheat the beloved one’ (ibid.) [means] to cheat the most beloved one in the world, namely Yitzchak. He said, ‘Perhaps the maiden will not want … and I will give him my daughter.’” One who has merited the virtue of middos rectification has nothing to do with the yetzer hara and corrupt character traits, and he has no affinity for them. However, someone who has only attained the level of middos subjugation is still subject to the desires of his yetzer hara and he loves them – but, nevertheless, resists them.   Moreover, even if one who has not attained middos rectification evaluates his path – in keeping with the verse: “Weigh the course of your foot, and all your ways will be established” Proverbs 4:26 – nevertheless, his every step is entangled with misjudgment. The reason for this is because the forces of desire inject their poison into his intellectual faculties, blinding the eyes of the wise (cf. Exodus 23:8 and Deuteronomy 16:19).  OHRYIS 323-4
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GENESIS — 28:17 house

The obligation of the mitzvah to learn Torah is well known. Indeed, we are taught in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a): “When a man is led in for judgment [in the Next World]   he is asked … ‘Did you fix [daily] times for Torah study?’” Therefore, every G-d fearing person should endeavor to strengthen himself in this area, thereby ensuring that he will not be interrupted by any incident or problem, or be distracted by cares of laziness. Accordingly, even if a person can study in his house, he should, nonetheless, choose a place for himself in the “Abode of G-d” [this verse], and go to study in the beis hamidrash.  In this way, his conduct will be governed by the force of habit. Furthermore, the man of understanding will employ strategies to fortify himself in this area, such as joining together with others who have similarly established set times for Torah study.  This is particularly true concerning the neglected subject of Mussar, a topic wherein the obligation to study is hidden from the eye, and which many consider to be unnecessary. Even a person who has already resolved to set fixed times for this study is easily derailed – a light breeze can carry away all his resolution and cover over its every trace. OHRYIS 135
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