Chazal tell us that a person must say, "When will my actions rival the actions of my forefathers, Avraham, YItzchok and Yaakov." The source for this obligation, writes Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II p. 159), can be found in this week's parsha. In the first paragraph of Shema Hashem commands us, "You shall love Hashem with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources"(Devarim 6:5). The Medrash (Yalkut Shemoni 837) cites Rebbi Meir's explanation: "You shall love Hashem with all your heart like Avraham, with all your soul like Yitzchok and with all your resources like Yaakov."
Focusing on the greatness of our forefathers and striving to emulate their love for Hashem, forces every Jew to acknowledge the innate greatness that can be found in each and every individual who is part of our exalted Nation. This idea is extremely important for anyone engaged in bettering himself. Before one begins working on rectifying his negative character traits, it is imperativethat he be cognizant of and familiar with his positive character traits. Otherwise, as he learns through a mussarsefer, he will end up concentrating solely on the negative aspects of his own personality. Such behavior is a sure-fire way to bring about depression or to cause him to give up the possibility of curing his spiritual maladies.
Before starting Mesillas Yesharim, one should open to the table of contents and peruse the various different chapters. He must become aware of the fact that, not only do the virtues of zehirus, zerizus, nikius and taharah etc. exist,they are very much within a person's reach. Moreover, it is advisable that the first time he learns through the sefer, he should not stop after each chapter to size up where he stands in relation to what the Mesillas Yesharim writes. Rather, he should simply appreciate themiddah being discussed and yearn to achieve it himself.
The Ramchal writes in Derech Eitz Chaim, that merely thinking about the awesome spiritual levels attainable, aids a person in his journey toward perfection."A person should spend some time free of all distractions and think about what we have mentioned. He should ask himself, 'What did our forefathers do that caused Hashem to cherish them? What did Moshe Rabbeinu do? What did Dovid, the anointed of Hashem, and all the great people who preceded us do? Then He should think how worthy it is for a person to act in a similar fashion so that it will be good for him! He should then contemplate where he stands in relationship to the path followed by the great men of prior generations...The bottom line is that for one who does not think about this, it is exceedingly difficult to reach perfection, while the person who does think about this is very close to perfection." Even just thinking about the greatness attained by our predecessors helps us achieve the goal for which we strive.
The first step to self improvement is being cognizant of one's ma'alos, because if we would appreciate our innate greatness we wouldn't bother ourselves with the pettiness that brings about most lapses in avodas Hashem. The summer is a time which affords many people some extra time for relaxation. It might be very worthwhile to relax with a book about one of the greats of the past century. Their spiritual stature is something to strive toward, and if they could do it so could we! The purpose of reading these books is not to imitate those portrayed, rather to appreciate what we too can achieve if we would utilize our virtues to the best of our ability!