Sunday, September 23, 2007

Unaccustomed As I Am to Public Blogging …

I've been waiting a very long time to use that title; it seemed so appropriate for this blog which is isn't at all personal and bloggish. It's a shame it had to wait so long, and to make it into what's very likely my final entry here.

The crisp Elul morning has turned old and cloudy, and it's now winter. The truth is that very few people read it (some regularly -- and you both know who you are …) and others irregularly, but most by accident.

I'll maintain its stand-alone offshoots, though: , , , and , and may set up another on who-knows-what, but A Crisp Elul morning has ended for all intents and purposes. If I do go back to it, you'll know, but it's not likely. You're aslo invited to subscribe to either my Ramchal or Spiritual-Excellencw series at (at and respectively).

As always, feel free to contact me at .

Best wishes for a good, new year (5768),

Yaakov Feldman


Rabbi Feldman's translation of "The Gates of Repentance" has been reissued at *at a discount*!
You can order it right now from here
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). His new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on entitled
"Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal"

Friday, September 21, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Yom Kippur, Sept. 22nd)


So you see, the way you obtain this trait is with a lot of abstention, with serious reflection upon the mysteries of G-d's great involvement in the world and the secrets of creation, and with the sure knowledge of G-d's exaltedness and praise. Only then will you have become attached to Him strongly and know how to concentrate your thoughts while moving through the world and making use of it. This was the way the kohen was supposed to concentrate in order to draw down G-d's blessing of life and peace as he ritually slaughtered sacrifices and received and sprinkled their blood upon the altar. Without all this it is impossible to reach this great height. You would remain corporeal and of-the-earth like all other people.

What helps in the attainment of this level is a lot of solitary meditation, and abstinence. With this lack of distractions, your soul can more easily strengthen and attach itself to G-d. What detracts from attaining this trait is a lack of knowledge of the truth, and the over-association with others. Materiality is attracted to its kind, and is energized and made stronger by association with it. The soul that is seized by it cannot escape from its trappings. But when it is separated from it, the soul can stand alone and ready itself for the indwelling of holiness. It will be accompanied upon the path it wants to take. With the help G-d gives you, your soul can be strengthened and made to grow victorious over physicality, attach itself to G-d, and grow whole within you.

From there you can grow to an even higher level, "Holy Inspiration", where your intellect will rise above all human capabilities. That will allow you to enjoy a yet higher form of attachment to G-d. Then the keys to the "Resurrection of the Dead" will be passed on to you as they were passed on to Elijah and Elisha. That would indicate the great degree of attachment to G-d you would experience. As G-d is the source of all life, the one who gives life to the living -- as our sages say, "Three keys were not given to tributaries: the keys of the Resurrection of the Dead ..." (Taanit 2a) -- one who utterly attaches himself to G-d can elicit from Him life itself, which is the one thing that is attributable to Him more than anything else. That is how the beraita of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair ends: "holiness brings you to Holy Inspiration, and Holy Inspiration brings you to Resurrection of the Dead".

Precious reader-- I realize that you know as well as I that I have not exhausted all the requirements for piety in my book, and that I have not said all that can be said about the subject. But that is because there is no end to the matter, and we cannot fathom the extent of it. What I have done is mentioned some small part of all the particulars of the beraita upon which I have based this book. It is a beginning which will allow for further investigation into these matters. Their paths have therefore been charted, and their ways exposed to our eyes so that we might go on the righteous path. As it is said, "The wise man will hear and will increase learning, and the man of understanding shall obtain devices"(Proverbs 1:5); "One who tries to purify himself is helped" (Shabbat 104a); and, "For G-d gives wisdom, and out of His mouth comes knowledge and understanding" (Proverbs 2:6) to guide each and every person on his path to his Creator.

It is obvious that each person must be directed and guided according to his own field of endeavor and his concerns. The path to piety for the one whose whole occupation is Torah scholarship is different from the one for the laborer, which is itself different from the one for the professional person. And that goes as well for all the other differentiating factors between people, each of which is its own path to piety. But that is not so because piety changes-- it is the same for everybody: it involves doing what brings satisfaction to your Creator. But since the individual participant changes, the means to bring him to that end must necessarily be particular to him. A humble laborer could be as thoroughly pious as someone who never stops studying Torah. As it is said, "All that G-d does He does for His own sake" (Proverbs 16:4), and, "Know Him in all of your ways, and He will straighten your path" (Proverbs 3:6).

May He, in His great compassion, open our eyes to His Torah. May He teach us His ways, lead us upon His path, and make us worthy to bring honor to His name and satisfy Him.

"May the Honor of G-d endure forever; May G-d be pleased with His creations" (Psalms 104:31); "Would that Israel will be happy in its Creator; that the sons of Zion will rejoice in their King" (Psalms 149:2).

Amen, amen, and amen.

I thank G-d now, I sing and chant to Him whose compassion has helped me until now to bring my book, The Path of the Just, into print which I wrote to teach myself, and which I give over to the many like myself for their elevation. Perhaps I may merit to have others accrue merits and to improve through my work, thus bringing satisfaction to my Creator. May that be my consolation in the land of great drought (cf. Hosea 13:5), and may I "call it Rechovot" (cf. Genesis 26:22). So too may G-d say that my portion will be in His Torah: to study, teach, observe and follow His will successfully.

Amen, may that be His will.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Messilas Yesharim (Fri., Sept. 21st)


Holiness is a two-fold matter: it begins in effort, and ends in recompense; and it begins in striving, and ends in being given as a gift. That is to say, its beginnings are your sanctifying yourself, and its conclusions are your being sanctified. Our sages referred to this when they said, "A person only has to sanctify himself a little and he is sanctified a lot-- he need only sanctify himself down here and he is sanctified up above" (Yomah 39a).

What all of your efforts should be directed towards is the utter separation and removal of yourself from all physicality, and the constant attachment to G-d. Because of their practice of this, the prophets were referred to as angels. As it was said of Aaron, "For the lips of the priest should guard knowledge, and Torah should be sought from his mouth, for he is an angel of the L-rd of Hosts" (Malachi 2:7); and as it is written, "And they would mock the angels of G-d ..." (II Chronicles 36:16). Even when you are embroiled in matters of the world for the sake of the well-being of your body, let your soul not be moved from its state of great attachment. As it is said, "My soul attaches itself to You, for Your right arm supports me" (Psalms 63:9).

I said that holiness ends up being a gift to you. That is necessarily so, because it is impossible for a human to place himself in this state which-- because he is in truth physical, and flesh and blood-- is so difficult for him. All you can do is make the effort of seeking the true knowledge, and try to constantly give thought to the sanctification of your actions. Ultimately, G-d alone can direct you in this, the path you would like to follow, and can have His holiness dwell upon you and sanctify you. Only then can you succeed, and only then will you be able to constantly attach yourself to G-d. G-d will help you and see to it that you get what your native being would detain from you. As it is said, "No good will be held back from those who walk uprightly" (Psalms 84:12). As was said in the above-quoted statement of our sages, "A person only has to sanctify himself a little...."-- because that is all he can do by his own efforts-- "and he is sanctified a lot", which is G-d's help to him, as I have explained. Even the mundane actions of the person sanctified in the holiness of His Creator are turned around to actual holiness. This can best be illustrated by the eating of sacrificial-offerings (which is a positive commandment), about which our sages said, "Those who offered them would be atoned for as the priests would eat of the sacrifices" (Pesachim 59b).

You can see now the difference between purity and holiness. The pure only do those physical things that are absolutely necessary, meaning to derive no benefit from them other than what they must. They are thus by freed from any sort of harm from the physical world, and remain pure. But they have not reached the level of holiness, because it would have been better for them to have been altogether without those things. But the holy-- those who constantly attach themselves to G-d, and whose souls move about in the true notions of love and reverence for the Creator-- are considered to be walking before G-d in the land of the living while they are in this world. The very person of this sort of human being is considered to be a tabernacle, sanctuary, and altar. As our sages said about the verse, "And G-d alighted from him" (Genesis 35:13) -- "this indicates that the patriarchs were a vehicle of G-d" (Breishit Rabbah 62:6). They also said, "The righteous are a vehicle of G-d." What they meant was that the Divine Presence dwells upon them as it did in the Holy Temple. The food that such a person would eat would be like a burnt-offering brought upon the fires of the altar. And what was offered upon the altar was considered to have enjoyed a great spiritual elevation, because it was brought before the Divine Presence, and would also enjoy the advantage of having all of its kind blessed throughout the world, as our sages explained in the Midrash (Tanchuma, T'tzava). So too, the food and drink the holy person would ingest would enjoy a spiritual elevation as if it were actually being offered upon the altar. This is what our sages were referring to when they said, "Whoever brings a gift to a Torah scholar is likened to one who brings a first-fruit offering" (Ketubot 105b); and, "Let them fill the gullets of the Torah scholars with wine (in the place of libations)" (Yomah 71a). This does not mean to say that the Torah scholars should be encouraged to chase after food and drink, G-d forbid, and that they should fill themselves like gluttons. But the matter is as we have indicated: Torah scholars who are holy in all of their ways and deeds are considered to truly be like a Temple and an altar, because the Divine Presence dwells upon them as it actually did in the Holy Temple. Something that is offered to them is likened to something offered upon the altar; and filling their gullets is comparable to filling the Temple basins. Therefore, the things of this world they make use of after having attained the level of attachment to G-d's holiness are elevated because they enjoyed the advantage of having been used by a righteous person. Our sages made reference to this in the case of the rocks that were found in the area which Jacob took to put around his head. They said, "Rabbi Yitzchak said... they joined together and said, 'Let the righteous man lay his head on me!'" (Chullin 91b).

The general principle behind holiness is that you remain so attached to G-d that you never separate nor even move from Him no matter what you are doing. Then the physical things you make use of will have had a greater spiritual elevation for your having used them than whatever spiritual descent you would have suffered for having used physical things. But such a state can only come about when your mind is set constantly on G-d's greatness, exaltedness and holiness. Then you will be as one who joined the ranks of the angels while yet in the world.

We have already pointed out, however, that you cannot manage to do this on your own. You can only be expected to be attracted to it and to attempt it. And even that can only come about after you will have attained all of the traits we have mentioned thus far, from the initial promptings of caution to the fear of sin. Only then can you approach holiness and be successful at it. If you lack the other traits, you will be a foreigner and a cripple. And as it is said, "a foreigner shall not draw near" (Numbers 18:4). But after you will have readied yourself in all the ways mentioned, and after you will have further attached yourself to G-d with a strong love and a powerful reverence by recognizing His vast exaltedness, then disattach yourself from material matters, step by step, and direct all of your movements and actions to the truly hidden aspects of attachment to G-d. A spirit from on high will descend upon you, and the Creator will dwell upon you as He does for all of His holy ones. Then you will actually be like one of the angels, and all of your actions-- even the most common and corporeal-- will be part of your offering and your service.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman