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
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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

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Thurs., Sept. 20th)


There are two subdivisions of this sort of fear: the first is in regard to the present moment and the future, and the second is in regard to the past. In regard to the present it implies that you should fear and worry about what you are doing or are about to, lest there be or come to be something in it that is not fitting for G-d's honor, as we have explained above. In the regard to the past, you should constantly think about what you have already done, and fear and worry that some transgression might have unknowingly come your way. This was the case with Baba ben Buttah who used to offer a suspected-guilt-offering every day (K'ritut 25a), and with Job, who arose early in the morning after his sons' parties, and "offered burnt offerings according to the number of them, for Job said, 'It may be that my sons have sinned'..." (Job 1:5). Our sages pointed out (Horayot 12a) that in regard to the anointing oil with which Moses anointed Aaron as High Priest it is said, "it shall not anoint human flesh" (Exodus 30:32). Yet it was explicitly commanded that Aaron be anointed with it! Moses and Aaron were afraid they had misappropriated its use in some way, and had gone against a commandment. Moses was worried and said, "Maybe I have misappropriated the anointing oil!" But a voice was heard to say, "'As the good oil that is upon the head descends upon the beard, the beard of Aaron... as the dew of Hermon' (Psalms 133:2–3) -- just as the dew of Hermon is not misappropriated, the anointing oil on Aaron's beard is not misappropriated." But Aaron was still worried. Maybe Moses had not misappropriated, but he had, he wondered? But a voice was heard to say, "'How good and how pleasant it is when brothers sit together in unity'" (Psalms 133:1) -- just as Moses had not misappropriated, you have not misappropriated', it explained."

Here you see the ways of the pious. They would even worry about some small measure of impurity creeping (G-d forbid) into the mitzvot they have done. After Abraham finished coming to the rescue of his nephew who had been abducted, he was worried and wondered if perhaps all of his actions had not been completely meritorious. Our sages made reference to this in their explanation of the verse, "Do not be afraid, Abraham" (Genesis 15:1), when they said in the name of Rabbi Levi, "Because Abraham was afraid that somehow, between all of the soldiers that he had killed, there might have been a righteous or G-d-fearing man, he was told, 'Do not be afraid, Abraham (-- there was not)'" (Bereshit Rabbah 44:4). It is said in Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu (chapter 25), "'Do not be afraid', as in, 'Do not be afraid, Abraham' is only said to one who is truly G-d-fearing." This is the kind of fear about which it is said "The Holy One blessed be He only has His treasure-chest of G-d-fearers" (Berachot 33b). Only Moses found it easy to obtain this sort of fear, thanks to his great clinging to G-d, while others were certainly greatly deterred by their corporeality. However, every pious person should try to attain to this as much as possible, as it is said, "His holy ones will fear G-d" (Psalms 34:10).


The only way to acquire this sort of fear is to contemplate two truisms: that G-d's Presence is found everywhere, and that He involves Himself in everything, great and small. Nothing is hidden from Him, either because of its vastness or its insignificance. Whether a thing is great or small, scant or imposing, He constantly sees and understands it. This is what the Torah refers to when it says, "The whole world is full of His Glory" (Isaiah 6:3); "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" (Jeremiah 23:24); "Who is like G-d our G-d, who dwells on high-- who lowers Himself to look upon the heavens and the earth?" (Psalms 113:5-6); and, "Though G-d is high up, He nonetheless notices the lowly..."(Psalms 138:6).

When it will become clear to you that wherever you are, you are standing before the Divine Presence, you will arrive at the fear and dread of stumbling in actions that would not be fitting before G-d's profound Glory. This is what is indicated by the teaching, "Know what is above you-- a seeing eye, a hearing ear-- and that all of your actions are recorded in a book" (Pirke Avot 2:1). Since the Holy One (blessed be He) involves Himself in everything, and He sees and hears everything, you can be sure of the fact that all actions make an impression and are recorded in a book for merit or blame.

But this only touches you personally if you constantly reflect upon and observe it. This sort of thing is beyond our ordinary perceptions, and the mind can only grasp it after much meditation and contemplation. And even after it will have made an impression, that impression will be easily lost if you do not constantly work at it. Just as a lot of contemplation is the only way to attain constant fear of Heaven, diversion of attention (either purposeful, or because of external interference) or lack of concentration is the way to lose it. And all diversion of attention is a taking away from the state of constant fear of Heaven. This is why the Holy One (blessed be He) commanded all kings of Israel to have the Torah "with him and to read it all the days of his life so that he might learn to fear G-d his G-d" (Deuteronomy 17:19) This comes to teach that fear of Heaven can only be learned with constant study. A careful analysis of the verse further indicates that it reads, "so that he might learn to fear G-d his G-d" rather than, "so that he might fear G-d his G-d." That is so because the fear of heaven does not come naturally.

In fact, it is very unnatural to us, because of the limited, this-worldly nature of our senses. It only comes to us with study. And the only kind of study that brings it to us is constant diligence in Torah and its path, which involves reflecting and meditating upon this at all times-- when you are relaxing, travelling, lying down, and awakening. The veracity of this-- that the Divine Presence is ever-present, and that we stand before G-d each and every moment-- must be set in your mind. Only then can you truly fear and revere G-d. King David would pray for this and say, "Teach me Your ways, G-d, so that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart so that I might fear Your Name" (Psalms 86:11).


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Wed., Sept. 19th)


Another deterrent to humility is the association with flatterers who steal your heart away with their praise. They will praise and exalt you for their own ulterior motives by expanding upon the good points you possess to the hilt, and then praise you unjustifiably in addition. And sometimes the very thing you are being praised for is what you should not be praised for.

The point of the matter is that human intelligence is actually quite weak, and human nature is gullible and easily swayed-- especially when it comes to something it just naturally leans towards. When you hear those sorts of things being said about you by someone you trust, a certain poison enters into you, you fall into the trap of arrogance and are captured. We find this to be the case with Yo'ash who was virtuous as long as he studied with his master, Y'hoyadah the Cohen, but who, after Y'hoyadah's death, listened to and took in what his servants said when they flattered and lauded him, and likened him to a G-d (2 Kings 12:3). This sort of thing is clear in the case of most kings, Lords and people of stature. No matter where they stand spiritually, they still stumble and suffer ruination as a result of the flattery of the people who surround them.

Therefore, the intelligent person will be more careful and scrutinizing of the person he would want to befriend, be counseled by, or oversee his household than he would of what he eats or drinks. Food or drink could only harm his body, but bad friends and associates could ruin his soul, his possessions and his honor. King David said, "The one who goes along the honest way will serve me. A deceiver will not dwell in the midst of my house" (Psalms 101:6–7). There is nothing better for you than to make friends with honest people who will open your eyes to matters you are blind to, and reproach you lovingly. They will save you from all evil. For what you cannot see when you overlook faults as we all do, they can, and they will warn you about it so that you will be protected. Regarding this it is said, "Salvation comes about through a lot of counsel" (Proverbs 24:6).


You will notice that this trait [i.e., fear of sin] is placed after all of the exalted traits we have discussed to this juncture. That should be enough to point out to us its importance. It is only fitting that it would be a very special and essential matter which is difficult to obtain, as would be expected of a trait that could only be reached by one who has obtained those already discussed to this point. We must however start off by saying that there are two sorts of fear that are actually three, the first of which is very easy to obtain-- there is nothing easier than it-- and the second of which is the hardest. When you have perfected it, you have perfected a lot.

The first category is fear of punishment. The second is fear of, or reverence for G-d's Grandeur, of which fear of sin is the subcategory. We will now explain their essences and how they differ. Fear of punishment is when you are literally afraid of transgressing the dictates of G-d because of the punishments (either corporeal or capital) that are due transgressors. This is certainly very easy to come to because everybody has an instinct for self-preservation and is concerned for his well-being, and there is nothing that is more likely to keep you away from doing something harmful to yourself than fear of its consequences. But this sort of fear is only fitting for illiterates and for simple-minded women-- not for sages and intellectuals.

The second category is fear of, or reverence for G-d's Grandeur. This holds sway when you keep away from transgressions and do not commit them, for the sake of G-d's great Glory. After all, how can it ever occur to the lowly and despicable heart that is man's to do something that runs counter to G-d's will? This sort of fear (or reverence) is not so easy to obtain. It only comes about through the knowledge and understanding that is brought on by the contemplation of the Grandeur of G-d and the markedly lower state of mankind. These are the sorts of realizations that come to those who understand and delve into these matters, and are like the reverence we noted earlier on in the second section of one of the subcategories of piety. A person in this category would be abashed and would tremble when standing before, praying to and serving his Maker. This is the most praiseworthy of fears for which the pious of the world are most exalted. It is what Moses was referring to when he said, "... to fear this glorious and fearful name, G-d your G-d" (Deuteronomy 28:58). This, the fear we are explaining now, that is, the fear of sin, is both a subcategory of fear of, or reverence for G-d's Grandeur and a category in its own right. It essentially involves your constantly fearing and worrying that your actions might contain a trace of transgression, or that there might be some small or even large thing therein that is not fitting for the Glory and Grandeur of G-d.

You can see the obvious relationship between this sort of fear and the aforementioned fear of, or reverence for G-d's Grandeur. Their common denominator is that you do nothing against G-d's lofty Honor. But what makes them different enough that they are two separate sorts and require two different names is the fact that the fear of, or reverence for G-d's Grandeur pertains only when you are either doing something, or are in the midst of serving G-d, or you are at the crossroads of a possible transgression. Because when you are worshipping or serving and a transgression is set before you and you recognize it as such, you should be abashed and ashamed, should shake and shiver for the loftiness of G-d's honor, and not do it so as not to (G-d forbid) rebel before G-d. But fear of sin should be a constant thing. You should always be afraid of stumbling and doing something or some half of something that is against G-d's honor. That is why this trait is called "fear of sin", because its essence is the fear that sin might enter into or mix in with your actions due to some negligence, weakness, or one or another unconscious reason. It is said regarding this, "The man who is constantly afraid is fortunate"(Proverbs 28:14), which our sages explained refers "to matters of Torah" (Berachot 60a). Even at those times when you do not see the stumbling-block before your eyes you should be anxious that it might be hidden and you are not being careful enough. Regarding such a fear our master Moses said, "G-d has come to test you so that His fear may be on your faces, and you will not sin" (Exodus 20:17).

This is the sort of fear a person should have. He should be agitated at all times and never allow this fear to leave him, for he will thus by never come to transgress. And should he transgress, it will be considered to have been done under duress. Isaiah said in his prophecy, "but I will look to this man-- to him that is poor, broken of spirit, and trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66:2). King David praised this trait when he said, "Princes pursued me unjustifiably, but my heart feared only Your word" (Psalms 119:161). We find that the great and awesome angels constantly shiver and tremble for the Majesty of G-d. Our sages said parabolically about this, "From where does the River of Fire emit? From the perspiration of the Chayot Angels" (Chagiga 13b), all of which comes about from the great terror the angels experience at all times in regard to G-d's Grandeur. They fear that they might overlook some small aspect of the honor and holiness due Him.

Whenever or wherever the Divine Presence is revealed there is shaking, shivering and trembling. The Torah refers to this when it says, "The earth shook and the heavens dropped at the presence of G-d" (Psalms 68:9); and "Would that you would tear the heavens and come down, that the mountains would melt at your Presence" (Isaiah 63:19). This goes even more so for humans. It is only right that we should tremble and shiver in the knowledge that we are constantly standing in the Presence of G-d, and that it is so easy for us to do something that is not fitting before G-d's exaltedness. This is what Eliphaz was referring to when he said to Job, "What is man that he should be worthy, that one born of a woman should be righteous? Behold he has no faith in His holy ones, and in his sight, the heavens are not worthy" (Job 15:14–15); as well as, "Behold, he does not have faith in His servants, and he charges His angels with foolishness. How much more those who live in houses of clay" (Job 4:18–19). Therefore every person must certainly tremble and shiver at all times. Elihu then said, "My heart trembles and is moved out of its place at this as well; listen closely to the noise of His voice" (Job 37:1–2). This is the sort of fear that the truly pious should have on their faces at all times.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Eight Chapters" (Chapter Eight, Part 6)

“Spiritual Excellence” with Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Our Current Text: Moshe Maimonides's (Rambam's) “Eight Chapters”

-- Rabbi Feldman's ongoing series for


"Eight Chapters"
Chapter Eight (Part 6)

Some believe that G-d compels each and every step we take; that “our rising up, our sitting down, and all our movements are dependent on G-d’s will”, as Rambam puts it. They honestly think that nothing we do is in our own hands -- that G-d alone decides what’s to be done, when, and how -- and that at best we can come along for the ride happily or sadly, but come along we must.

But Rambam adamantly pooh-poohs that. After all, it suggests that we’re incapable of independent action and that we haven’t any free will which allows us to claim any number of inanities if we sin. That’s unacceptable to Rambam, since we’re specifically charged to do this or avoid that, and we’re to answer for all of our actions.

(It’s important to appreciate that this controversy lies at the heart of many disparities between the so-called “rationalists” and “mystics”. Rationalists like Rambam -- who was not always the stark rationalist he’s taken to be by the way, in that he certainly had his mystical side -- contend that G-d allows us complete independence. Mystics such as the Baal Shem Tov and others assert that everything, ourselves included, is utterly dependent upon G-d moment by moment, since He’s omnipotent and can never be disobeyed in fact. But understand that this touches upon a world of arguments that are far beyond our scope here.)

Rambam does admit though that it can be said that G-d controls our moves in a certain, broad sense. For just as “if you were to throw a stone in the air and it came back down, it would be correct to say it did that because G-d wanted it to” since He set the laws of gravity in place, it’s nonetheless “not true to say that G-d wants” that particular stone “to fall at that very moment”. And so while I could certainly claim that G-d “wanted” me to touch a particular person’s credit card if I lowered my hand down to it in order to steal it, I certainly couldn’t claim that He wanted me to take it. That decision was my own.

Those who disagree -- who “contend that G-d’s will manifests itself in everything, each and every moment” -- are wrong, Rambam asserts. He contends that “G-d had already expressed His will (about the general pattern of events) in the course of the six days of creation, and that things act in accordance with their nature from then on”. In other words, He doesn’t dictate nature moment by moment. Our sages said about it that, “the world always pursues its usual course“(Avodah Zara 54B), and they “always avoided ascribing G-d’s will to particular things at particular moments” Rambam adds.

The bottom line as far as Rambam is concerned is that “just as G-d designated man to stand vertically, be broad-chested, and have fingers” and thus granted him the tools with which to act, “so too did He designate him to move about or stay in place at will, and to act freely, without anything compelling him to or preventing him from doing so”.

So, there are a couple of lessons we’re to take from this. First, since we’re free to make our own moral decisions, we need to know the difference between right and wrong as the Torah lays it out, and to bear the consequences of our deeds. And second, that we’re to “accustom ourselves to do good things and achieve character virtues, and avoid doing bad things” as well as to “undo any flaws we might already have” rather than claim that we can’t change. Because, Rambam adds, “any circumstance can be turned round from good to bad or from bad to good-- the decision is in your hands alone”.

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Project Genesis

(Feel free to contact me at )

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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"

Messilas Yesharim (Tues., Sept. 18th)


We have thus explicated the general aspects of modesty, but their particulars are so numerous that you must use your own judgment about them as the situation would indicate. (Proverbs 1:5) "Let the wise listen and take more." One thing is sure-- modesty removes many stumbling-blocks along the way, and brings you closer to the great good. The modest person is little concerned for matters of this world, and he is not envious of its vanities. Also, the friendship of a modest person is very wonderful-- people enjoy his company. Of a necessity he does not come to anger or argumentation-- everything he does is done peaceably and serenely. One who merits this trait is fortunate. As our sages put it, (JT Shabbat 1:3) "The very thing wisdom made a crown for its head, humility has made a heel for its sandal", because wisdom cannot compare to it; but that goes without saying.


There are two things that bring you to humility: force of habit, and reflection. Force of habit involves your slowly habituating yourself to act humbly along the lines we have delineated-- by sitting in a less than auspicious place, by walking at the back of a company of people, and by dressing in modest clothing (that is, clothing that is respectable, but not outstanding). By habituating yourself in this path you will find that humility will slowly enter and penetrate your heart as it should. As it is in our heart's nature to swell and grow haughty, it is difficult to uproot this natural inclination at its source. The only way anything like it can be accomplished is by your taking control of the external actions that are available to you. Thus you can slowly affect the internality of it, which you do not have as much control over, as we explained in the chapter on enthusiasm. All of this is expressed by our sages as, "Let a man always be creative in his reverence" (Berachot 17a). That means to say that you should always look for some special means of going against your nature and inclination so that you may succeed in subduing it.

Reflection involves various things. The first is as indicated in the statement of Akavyah ben Mahalalel, "Know where you have come from-- a putrid drop; and where you are going-- to a place of dust, vermin and worms; and before Whom you are destined to give an account and reckoning-- the King of kings, the Holy One (blessed be He)" (Pirke Avot 3:1). In truth, these realizations stifle all arrogance and help foster humility. When you will face the imperfection inherent in your humanity and the lowliness of your origins, you will find that you have no reason to be proud at all. On the contrary-- you would be abashed and mortified. To what can this be compared? -- to a pig-herder who becomes a king. It is impossible for him to become too proud if he remembers his origins. He will likewise be humbled when he would reflect upon his current greatness's ultimate destiny-- the return to dust and the becoming food for worms-- and all the more so when he will consider the fact that his reign will eventually be undone, and all the uproar of his personal pride will be forgotten. What, after all, is his goodness, what his greatness if he is destined to shame and mortification?

If you will reflect further and try to imagine for just a moment your appearance before the great angelic Court, when you will stand before the King of kings, the Holy One (blessed be He), who is the ultimate in holiness and purity, thick in the mystery of the Holy Ones, the mighty servants who are great in power, who do His will without a blemish-- you: lowly, imperfect and inherently shameful, impure and sullied because of your actions... Could you even lift your head? Is there anything you could say? If they were to ask you, "Where's your tongue? Where's the power and honor you bore in the world?" what would you say? How would you respond to their reproofs? If you were to honestly and convincingly impress this scene upon your mind for just one moment, all of your arrogance would surely flee, never to return.

The second object of reflection involves the consequences of the changes that come about through the passage of time. The rich can easily become poor; the ruler can easily become the ruled; the honored the despised. Since it is so easy to transform into something which is so abhorrent to you at this point, how can you possibly be proud of your current, so tenuous situation? An illness may strike you (G-d forbid) that will force you to seek someone's help so that you can be a little relieved. Pains and sorrows of all sorts could come your way (G-d forbid) that would force you to seek out certain people for help whom, at this point, you would just hate to offer a hello to in the street. You see these sorts of things happening every day. They are enough to wipe out arrogance from your heart, and envelope you in humility and submission. When you will further reflect upon your obligations to G-d, and of how often you disregard them or are lax in them, you can never grow haughty-- you will certainly be embarrassed rather than proud. So the verse says, "I have surely heard Ephraim lamenting.... For after I turned away I repented; after I was made to know, I smote my thigh. I was ashamed and confounded" (Jeremiah 31:17 -18). What you should ultimately do is recognize the fallibility of human knowledge and of how liable it is for error and untruth. It is more likely to be wrong than right. You should therefore constantly be afraid of the dangers inherent in this situation, and try to learn from all people and take advice so that you will not stumble. This is what our sages were referring to when they said, "Who is a sage? -- one who learns from all" (Pirke Avot 4:1). And the Torah says, "One who takes advice is a sage" (Proverbs 12:15).

What deters from this trait is the overabundance of and the being full of the good things in this world. As the verse clearly states, "(Beware, lest) you eat and grow full (and forget G-d) and your heart be made proud" (Deuteronomy 8:12–14). The pious find it better to deprive themselves sometimes, so that they might subdue the inclination towards arrogance, which prospers in a climate of plenty. Our sages have said along these lines, "A lion does not roar over a basket of straw, but, rather, over a basket of meat" (Berachot 32a). What is most likely to deter is ignorance and lack of true knowledge. As can be seen, arrogance is most often found in the more ignorant. As our sages put it, "A sure sign of haughtiness is poverty in Torah learning" (Sanhedrin 24a) ; "A sure sign that someone knows nothing is bragging" (Zohar, Balak); "A single coin in a bottle makes a loud clanging sound" (Baba Metziah 85b); and "They asked the barren trees why their voices were heard, and they responded, 'We only wish our voices would be heard. That way we would be remembered'" (Breishit Rabbah 16:3). And we see that Moses, the best of men, was the most modest of men.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Monday, September 17, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Mon., Sept. 17th)


To this point we have spoken about humility in our thoughts. We will now concentrate upon humility in our actions, which can be divided into four subsections: conducting oneself in a humble manner; enduring insults; detesting power and avoiding honor; and attributing honor to others.

The first-- conducting oneself in a humble manner-- should show in your speech, the way you walk, the way you sit, and in all of your movements. Regarding how it should show in your speech our sages said, "One's speech with others should always be gentle" (Yoma 86a). The Torah explicitly says, "The words of sages will be heard when said gently" (Ecclesiastes 9:17). Your words should be words of respect rather than castigation. So too it says, "One who castigates his neighbor is heartless" (Proverbs 11:12), and "When an evil person comes, castigation comes with him" (Proverbs 18:3). Regarding the way you walk, our sages said, "Who is a person of the world to come?-- the humble and bent-of-knee who enter humbly and exit humbly" (Sanhedrin 88b), who do not walk with a haughty stance or with great dignity, heel to toe, but rather like those who just go about their business. They also said, "Whoever walks with a haughty stance is considered to be one who pushes away the feet of the Divine Presence" (Kiddushin 31a). It is written, "The high ones of stature shall be hewn down" (Isaiah 10:33). Regarding the way you sit-- your place should be amongst the lowly and not amongst the proud. Here too we find an explicit verse in the Torah that says as much: "Do not give yourself airs before a king, and do not stand in the place of the greats" (Proverbs 25:5). Our sages said, "Move two or three places down from your regular place and then sit so that they would sooner say to you, 'Move up!' rather than, 'Move down!'"(Vayikra Rabbah 1:5). Our sages said about those who humble themselves, "Whoever humbles himself for the sake of Torah in this world is made great in the World to Come" (Baba Metziah 85b). Corresponding to this they said, "It is written, 'Take off our turban, and lift off your crown' (Ezekiel 21:31) which is to say, whoever is great in this world is lowly in the World to Come" (Yalkut Yechezkel 361). From this we can extrapolate the opposite, that whoever is lowly in this world will enjoy his hour of greatness in the world to come. It has been said, "Man should always learn what to do from the reasoning of his Maker. The Holy One (blessed be He) rejected all the other mountains and hills, and had His Divine Presence dwell on Mount Sinai (because of its humble stature)" (Sotah 5a). Our sages also said, "It is written, '...of the remnant of His inheritance' (Micha 7:18) refers to one who considers himself to be scattered remains" (Rosh HaShannah 17b).

The second aspect is the endurance of insult. That just-mentioned verse from Micha begins with, "Whose transgressions does He bypass? -- those of the ones who overlook transgressions against themselves...." It is also said, "It is written regarding those who take insult but do not insult back, who are abused and do not respond in kind, "So may Your enemies, G-d, be destroyed, while those that love You come to be like the sun in full strength" (Judges 5:31) (Shabbat 88b). It is said regarding the humility of Baba ben Butah, "A man of Babylon left to go to Israel to get married. He told his wife to cook something for him and to break it over the top of the gate (the "baba" in Aramaic). Baba ben Butah was presiding over the court at the time. The woman came to him and broke what she had over his head. He said, 'What have you done!?' And she said, 'My husband told me to do that!' To that he responded, 'Since you are doing the will of your husband, may G-d provide you with two sons like Baba ben Butah'" (Nedarim 66b). Our sages spoke as well about the humility of Hillel: "Our Rabbis taught that one should always be as humble as Hillel" (Shabbat 30b). Despite all of his modesty, Rabbi Abahu found that he could not in all honesty be called modest. He said, "I used to think that I was modest, but when I saw Rabbi Abbah from Acco not get angry when he said one thing and his spokesman said another instead, I realized that I was not humble" (Sotah 40a).

Regarding detesting power and avoiding honor the Mishna explicitly states, "Love doing the work but detest the power" (Pirke Avot 1:10). It is also said, "One who swells with pride upon tending legal decisions is a fool, an evil person and a braggard" (Pirke Avot 4:9); "Honor flees from whoever pursues it" (Eruvin 13b); "It is written, 'Do not fall into argumentation easily' (Proverbs 25:8), and that means to say do not run after power. Why? Because what will you do after that? -- they will come to you the next day with questions and you will not have answers for them" (Pesikta Rabbati); "Rabbi Menachamah said in the name of Rabbi Tanchum, 'Whoever assumes power in order to derive personal benefit from it is like an adulterer deriving pleasure from the woman's body alone'" (Pesichta Rabbati); and, "Rabbi Abahu said in the name of G-d, 'I am called Holy. You should not accept authority upon yourself if you do not have all the traits attributed to Me'" (Pesichta Rabbati). The students of Rabbi Gamliel are a case in point. Because of their poverty they were very needy, yet they never wanted to assume roles of authority. This is what was being referred to in the section called "The annointed priest": "Do you imagine I am giving you authority? I am giving you servitude!" (Horayot 10a). Our sages also said, "Authority is woesome-- it buries its carriers" (Pesachim 87b). "How do we know that authority buries its carriers? -- from Joseph's case: he died before his brothers because he conducted himself with authority" (Berachot 55a).

The point of the matter is that authority is nothing but a great burden on the backs of those who bear it. While you are an individual among many, you are subsumed in the many, and are only responsible for yourself. But when you are put into a position of authority and power, you are in the clutches of everyone under you, for you have to be responsible for them-- to show them the way and to correct their actions, for if you do not, "The sin is on your heads" (Deuteronomy 1:13), as our sages point out (Devarim Rabbah 1:10). Honor is vanity of vanities, and has a man challenge his own judgments as well as those of his Creator, and to forget his obligations (Devarim Rabbah 1:10). One who recognizes this will certainly be disgusted by it and grow to hate it. The very praises lauded on him by others will burden him. He will see them lavish praise upon him inappropriately, and he will be abashed and full of grief not only for the fact that his many faults so outnumber his good points, but that he is being further burdened with false praise so that he might be even more embarrassed.

The fourth subsection involves attributing honor to others. And so we learn, (Pirke Avot 4:1) "Who is honorable? -- one who honors others." Our sages also said, (Pesachim 113b) "From where do we learn that if you know that your friend is greater than you in some way that you must pay him homage?..."; (Pirke Avot 4:15) "Be the first to say hello (when meeting with others)."; and they said (Brachot 17a) that no one-- not even a non-Jew in the marketplace-- ever had a chance to say hello to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai before he said it first. The point is, you have to honor others, whether you do it through speech or action. Our sages warned us (Yevamot 62b) that the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died because they did not honor each other. Just as castigation is connected with evil-doers, as the aforementioned verse says, (Proverbs 18:3) "When an evil person comes, castigation comes with him", honor is connected with the righteous. Honor dwells with them and never leaves them. The verse reads, (Isaiah 24:23) "Honor faces His elders."


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Petach 2 (Part 3)

Klach Pitchei Chochma -- 138 Openings to Wisdom

By Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto

as adapted by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman


Petach One (Part 3)


Now on to the role of wrong and injustice in the grand scheme of things.

We’re liable to reason that since G-d is said to be utterly beneficent, and given that there’s nonetheless wrong and injustice in the world, it must follow then that some other Force exist that allows for -- or even encourages -- it. But as Ramchal puts it, No: “All that’s … wrongful does not emanate from another sphere of influence that could oppose Him” -- “there’s only one Sovereign Being”; G-d alone is in control of the cosmos [6].

Ramchal is referring to the fact that there was a school of thought in antiquity that first “came up with the fallacious theory that it’s impossible to imagine something existing without assuming its complete opposite” and which then argued that if “there’s a G-d who’s utterly beneficent, then there must (G-d forbid) be another one who’s utterly malevolent” [7]. In fact that would seem to solve the dilemma. But it would also deny G-d’s sovereignty, so it’s unacceptable.

For “even though we see … so many different and conflicting great and major triggers and prompts” in the world, “we nonetheless know that there is only One G-d, with one (overarching) will”. In fact, G-d’s having created and allowed for wrong and injustice will only underscore His omnipotence, as we’ll see.


[6] Ramchal’s full statement is that “All that’s originally wrongful does not emanate from another sphere of influence that could oppose Him”. The term “originally” refers to the fact that everything that appears to be wrongful and unjust on the face of it will prove not to be in the end. He’ll make that point later on.

[7] See Da’at Tevunot 36 for a discussion of this. Like our sages (see Sanhedrin 39a) Ramchal is referring to Zoroastrianism which thrived in Talmudic times and threatened Jewish beliefs, since it maintained that a pair of co-equal spirits called Ahura Mazda (the beneficent “Wise Lord”) and Angra Mainyu (the malevolent “Evil Spirit”) competed with each other for control of the universe.

The idea that “it’s impossible to imagine something existing without assuming its complete opposite” somewhat parallels Newton’s third law of motion which indicates that whenever two equal objects interact with each other they exert “equal and opposite” forces upon each other.

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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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"

Messilas Yesharim (Sun., Sept. 16th)


We have already spoken of the disgrace of arrogance, from which you can infer the praiseworthiness of humility. We will now focus more on humility itself and will, as a result, come to understand arrogance.

The general rule in regard to humility is that you should not consider yourself important for whatever reason whatsoever. That is the very opposite of arrogance. What results from it will be diametrically opposite to what would result from arrogance as well. Careful scrutiny will further reveal that humility is dependent upon both thought and action. You must first be humble in thought, and only then can you act humbly. If you are not humble in thought and you want to act humble, you will wind up being one of the previously referred-to "so-called humble"-- the hypocrites who are the worst of all. We will now explain the various categories of being humble in thought and in action.

Humility in thought involves your reflecting upon and coming to realize the fact that praise and honor, and all the more so aggrandizement above other people, are not due you, for two reasons: because of what is necessarily imperfect in you, and because of things you have done in the past. As to what is lacking in you, it is obvious that it is impossible for a person not to have many faults, no matter how perfected he may be. Those faults may either be a result of his nature, because of family influence, because of circumstances, or because of certain of his own actions. For "No man is so righteous that he would do good and never sin" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). All these are inherent blemishes in a person that could never allow for self-aggrandizement. Even if you were an otherwise extraordinary person, your imperfections would be enough to overshadow your other traits.

The trait that would most likely bring you to arrogance and self-aggrandizement would be wisdom, as it is a personal trait that is in a special part of yourself, your mind. Yet there is no wise man who never makes a mistake and could not learn from his colleagues or even from his students often enough. In that case, how could you ever boast of your wisdom? Anyone with a good mind-- even one who merits to be a great and famous sage-- must admit, upon honest reflection and consideration, that there is no room for pride or self-aggrandizement. One whose intellect is greater than someone else's is only acting in a way that comes naturally to him, as a bird would just naturally fly and an ox would naturally be able to pull with his brute strength. If you are wise it is because you are that way by nature. And those who are not as natively wise as yourself at this point could very well train themselves to be as wise as you if they were of that nature. As that is the case, you have no reason to be proud or to boast. If you are a great sage, it is incumbent upon you to teach whoever may need your knowledge. And, as Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai has said, "If you have learned a lot of Torah, do not laud yourself with it-- that is why you were created" (Pirke Avot 2:9). If you are wealthy, you should be pleased with your good fortune and come to the aid of one who does not have. If you are strong, you must help the defenseless and rescue the oppressed. To what is this analogous? -- to house-guards who are assigned to specific assignments. It is only right that they guard what they have been appointed over so as to be a part of the general well-being of the whole household. In truth, there is no place for personal pride on their parts.

This is the kind of contemplation and reflection that is fitting for everyone that is right-minded and not misguided. And it is only when this has become clear to you that you may be called truly humble. For in your heart and in your inner-being you will be humble. This is what David was referring to when he said to Michal, "And I have been lowly in my own eyes" (2 Samuel 6:22). Our sages have said, "How great are the humble. When the Holy Temple yet stood, a person would offer an olah sacrifice and he would receive the merit of having offered that olah sacrifice. And if he would offer a mincha sacrifice, he would receive merit for that. But one who is humble is considered to have offered all of the sacrifices. As it is written, 'G-d's offering is a contrite spirit' (Psalms 51:19) (Sotah 5b). This is a praise for those who are humble in their hearts and in their thoughts. Our sages have further said, "It is written, 'Not because you are greater in number than all the other nations did G-d send His love upon you or choose you, for you were the fewest of all people' (Deuteronomy 7:7). G-d said to them, 'I long for you, My son. Even when I attribute greatness to you, you humble yourself before me. I attributed greatness to Abraham and he said, 'I am dust and ashes' (Genesis 18:27). I attributed greatness to Moses and Aaron and they said, 'What are we?' (Exodus 16:7). I attributed greatness to David and he said, 'am a worm, not a man' (Psalms 22:7)" (Chullin 89a).

All this comes about if you are honest and will not allow yourself to be seduced by any advantages you might enjoy. You would know that in truth with all of the imperfections you undoubtedly have, you have not outgrown your lowliness. You should also not evidence pride in the mitzvot you have performed, for just by having done them you will not have necessarily reached their ultimate goal. Even if you had no other fault other than that you were flesh-and-blood and born of a woman-- that should be more than enough to indicate your lowliness and imperfection and the fact that you need not at all be haughty. For, whatever advantages you might possess were given to you by G-d who wants to be gracious to you because of your piteous and humble corporeality. You can only acknowledge Him who is so gracious to you and be even more submissive to Him. This is comparable to a pauper who receives a gift out of the goodness of someone else's heart. It is impossible for the pauper to take the gift without being embarrassed. The more generous the giver is to him, the more embarrassed will the pauper be. Such is our case, which is obvious to anyone whose eyes are open to perceive that whatever advantages you enjoy come to you from G-d. As King David put it, "How can I respond to all the generosity G-d has bestowed upon me?" (Psalms 116:12).

We have seen many greatly pious people who have suffered retribution because, despite of all of their piety, they took some of the credit for themselves. This is what Nechemyah ben Chachalyah did, for example. Our sages said, "Why wasn't his book called by his name? -- because he attributed certain things to himself" (Sanhedrin 93b). Chizzkiyah said, "Behold-- in peace I have great bitterness..." (Isaiah 38:17) because G-d said to him, "I have defended this city so as to rescue it for My sake and for the sake of David, My servant" (Isaiah 37:35). Our sages said further, "Whoever attributes some merit to himself has his merit attributed to someone else" (Berachot 10b). From all this we can infer that you are not even to assume goodness in your goodness. All the more so are you not to grow haughty and proud over it.

But all that has been said and that is so fitting to reflect upon is for one who is like Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David or the other saintly ones mentioned. But as for us-- orphans of orphans-- we have no need for this. We so clearly have so many faults that we do not need to reflect very deeply to recognize them. All our wisdom is nothing. The greatest of our sages is nothing but a student of the students of the early ones. It is proper to understand and know this so that our hearts will not swell vainly. We should recognize that, over-all, our minds are superficial, and our perceptions very limited. Foolishness is rampant amongst us and error is triumphant. Whatever we do know is only the very minimum. It is certainly therefore inappropriate for us to be at all haughty. Instead, we should be humble and lowly-- but that goes without saying.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Shabbos., Sept.15th)


You are duty-bound to follow the mitzvot as strictly as possible, no matter who is watching you as you do, and are to neither be afraid nor embarrassed. This is what the Torah means when it says, "I will speak of Your ordinances (even) before kings and will not be ashamed" (Psalms 119:46), and "Be as strong as a lion..." (Pirke Avot 5:23). But even this requires discrimination and forethought, as it refers to those mitzvot which we are absolutely obligated to do. In regard to them you have to be as hard as flint. But as to those extra flourishes of piety which, when done in front of most people would cause laughter and mocking, and would have them sin and be punished because of the pious person's extra measures-- the pious person should abandon such things, as they are not an absolute obligation upon him. The prophet referred to this when he said, "Walk humbly with your G-d" (Micha 6:8). So many great pious people abandoned their saintly practices while among the common people when such acts would appear to be rooted in pride.

The crux of the matter is that you should do any essential, obligatory mitzvah when its time comes, no matter who may mock you. But you should not do anything which is not essential and which will cause laughter and mockery. We can infer that one who would truly be pious must evaluate all of his actions in light of their results, and according to the concurrent conditions: in light of the company he finds himself to be in, the circumstances, and the physical location. If refraining will result in further sanctification of the name of G-d and satisfy Him more than the performance of the act, you should refrain rather than do. If an act appears to be good but is actually bad in its results or its ramifications; or if another act seems to be bad, but is actually good in its results-- you are to act in consideration of the ultimate effect and outcome, as that is in truth the fruit of all actions.

These words are passed on only to the understanding of heart and the ready of mind, because it is impossible to enunciate the endless particulars. "G-d will give wisdom from His mouth, knowledge and understanding" (Proverbs 2:6). The story of Rabbi Tarphon goes to prove that. Because he was strict and acted in accordance with the decisions of the House of Shammai he was "deserving of corporal punishment, because (he) went against the words of the House of Hillel" (Berachot 10b)-- even though he was more stringent-- because the controversies between the House of Hillel and Shammai were a burden upon Israel, as they were numerous. It was finally decided that the Halacha would always follow the decisions of the House of Hillel. The upkeep of Torah demanded that this decision stay in place ad infinitum and never weaken so that Torah should never, G-d forbid, become divided. Therefore, in the opinion of this Mishnah it would have been the better part of piety to enforce the rulings of the House of Hillel even when that would mean a certain leniency rather than to be stringent and follow the decisions of the House of Shammai. This should indicate to us the path the light of truth actually and faithfully dwells upon so that we might do what is correct in the eyes of G-d.


A lot of introspection and profound reflection especially helps in the acquisition of piety. The more you reflect upon the exalted nature of G-d, the infinite nature of His perfection, and the great and unfathomable difference between His greatness and our lowliness, the more will you be filled with trembling and reverence before Him. When you reflect as well upon the great goodness He has provided us with, His vast love for Israel, the closeness to Him the righteous enjoy, the excellence of Torah, mitzvot and other learned matters-- an intense and powerful love will arise within you, and you will want nothing but to attach yourself to Him. When you will see that He is literally a father to us, and has compassion upon us as a father has compassion upon his children, the desire and longing to reciprocate, as a child would want to do for a father, will constantly be aroused in you. To do this, you have to sequester yourself in your room and collect your thoughts for the introspections and considerations of these truths. What will certainly help in all this is a thorough familiarity with and profound understanding of the Songs of David, and a reflection upon their statements and main points. As they are full of love, reverence and all manner of piety, there cannot help but be aroused in you a great urge to follow in David's footsteps and to go on his path when you reflect upon them. It also helps to read the stories of the pious in the Aggadot they are found in. Obviously, they excite the mind to take note and follow their noble deeds.

What deters from piety are preoccupations and worry. When the mind is preoccupied and is stewing in its worries and external concerns it is impossible for it to reflect. And without reflection you will never obtain piety. Even if you will have already obtained it, preoccupation will compel and confuse your mind, and will not allow you to grow in your reverence, love and the other matters relevant to piety we have mentioned. That is why our sages said, "The Divine Presence doesn't dwell in the midst of sadness" (Shabbat 30b). All the more so is piety deterred by the delights and pleasures that are literally the opposite of piety, which flirt with the heart and draw it after itself rather than anything relevant to abstinence and true knowledge.

The only thing that can stand guard over a person and save him from these deterrents is trust-- casting one's lot upon G-d completely. That comes about with the knowledge that it is utterly impossible to lack what is already determined to be yours. As our sages have put it: "All of one's sustenance is fixed on Rosh HaShannah" (Betzah 16a); and, "One person cannot have as much as a string's-breadth worth of what is of another" (Yoma 38b). It would have been possible for you to simply sit back and do nothing and still be provided for were it not for the fact of the penalty exacted from all people which is enunciated in the Torah by the phrase, "You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow" (Genesis 3:19), because of which man is obligated to attempt one way or another to procure a livelihood. Thus did the Great King decree. It is an unavoidable tax that is incumbent upon all human beings to pay. Our sages put it thusly: "I might think that you could even get by sitting and doing nothing. But the Torah tells us, "...with all the products of your hand which you make" (Deuteronomy 14:29) (Sifre). But it is not so much that the effort will produce results, only that the effort is necessary. By producing the effort you meet the requirement, and there comes to be a place for the blessings of heaven to dwell, so you need not spend your life in diligence and effort. This is what David was referring to when he said, "Growth does not come from the east, from the west, or from the desert; G-d adjudges that this one will be demeaned and another will be advanced" (Psalms 75:7–8). King Solomon said, "Do not toil to grow wealthy; do not try to understand" (Proverbs 23:4). The true path is that taken by the early pious ones who would make their Torah-study primary and their occupations secondary, and were successful at both. Once you work just a little, all you need further do is trust in G-d and you will never be concerned about worldly matters. Then your mind will be free and your heart readied for true piety and complete service to G-d.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Messilas Yesharim (2nd Day of Rosh Hashanna Fri., Sept.14th)


Our sages said about the verse, "And I have come because of your words" (Daniel 10:12), that Gabriel did not go through the curtain again until he acted as an intercedant for Israel (Ain Yaakov, Yomah, Ch. 8). It is said that Gideon was allowed to "Go with this, your strength" (Judges 6:14) because he had acted as an intercedant for Israel (Yalkut Shimoni).

G-d only loves those who love the Jewish nation, and He enlarges His love for someone who enlarges his own love for them. Those kinds of individuals, the true shepherds-- the ones who sacrifice themselves for Israel, who ask and strive for their welfare and well-being in all ways, who stand by the breach to pray for them so any edicts against them would be nullified and so that the gates of blessing would be open for them-- are the ones whom the Holy One (blessed be He) desires so much. Toward them He is like a father who cannot love anyone more than the person he sees faithfully loving his child, which is only natural. This is in fact the whole matter of the High Priest, about whom is written, "(They) should have asked for mercy for their whole generation, but they did not" (Makkot 11a). We find that "a certain man was eaten by a lion a distance of three parsangs from Rabbi Joshua ben Levi. (Because of that) Elijah did not appear to (Rabbi Joshua ben Levi) for three days (in a vision)" (Ibid.) and that shows the responsibility a pious person has to ask and strive for, for the sake of his generation.

What we have done is explained the major aspects of piety. The particulars are left to the thinking person with a pure heart to come to so that he can go on the honest path based upon them at the proper time.


What has to be explained now is the process of evaluating that is involved in piety. It is a very, very essential matter as well as the most difficult and subtle element of piety. The yetzer hara has a lot of input in it, so there is a lot of danger, because the yetzer hara can have you avoid many good things as if they were bad, and draw you in to many transgressions as if they were great mitzvot.

In truth, the only way a person can succeed in this evaluating process is by these three means: his heart must be the most forthright of hearts; his only motivation should be to bring satisfaction to his Creator, nothing else, and he should reflect deeply upon his actions and try to rectify them toward this end; and after all this he should cast his burden upon G-d so that it may be said of him, "Happy is the man who places his strength in You... There is no lack of good for those who go about wholeheartedly" (Psalms 84:6–12). You will never reach wholeness if you lack one of these conditions and will be dangerously close to stumbling and falling instead. If your motivations will not be the highest and purest, or if you slacken off from thorough reflection or if, after all this, you do not place your trust in G-d, it is unlikely that you will not fall. But if all three conditions-- purity of thought, analysis, and trust-- are met, you can truly go safely and no misfortune will come upon you. This is what Channah was prophetically referring to when she said, "He will watch over the feet of His pious" (Samuel I, 2:9). David alluded to this as well when he said, "He will not abandon His pious; they will always be protected" (Psalms 37:28).

What you have to understand is that you cannot judge matters relevant to piety by first impressions. You must reflect and analyze their ramifications. Sometimes an act may appear to be good, but it must be abandoned because what would come out of it would be bad, and if you were to do it you would actually be a sinner, not a pious person. The actions of Gedaliah ben Achikom bespeak this (see Jeremiah 40:16). Because of his over-piety and his unwillingness to adjudge Ishmael guilty or to hear out slander, he said to Yochanan ben Koreach: "You are lying about Ishmael." What happened because of that? He died, Israel was dispersed and their last dying ember was extinguished. The Torah credits him with the death of those who were killed as if he himself had killed them, as our sages explained (Niddah 61a). They based their proof on the verse, "... all of the corpses of the men struck by the hand of Gedaliah" (Jeremiah 41:9).

The second Temple was destroyed because of this kind of piety-- piety not weighed on the scales of balanced insight. It involved the actions of Bar Kamsa: "The Rabbis wanted to offer the animal, but Rabbi Z'charia ben Evkolas said to them, 'People will surmise that blemished animals can be offered on the altar.' The Rabbis then wanted to kill Bar Kamsa, but Rabbi Z'charia ben Evkolas said to them, 'People will surmise that whoever wants to offer a blemished animal will be killed by the Rabbis'" (Gittin 56a). All the while the evil-doer was slandering Israel, and Caesar came to destroy Jerusalem. Rabbi Yochanan said that Rabbi Z'charia ben Evkolas's caution caused the destruction of his household, the burning of the Sanctuary and our exile among the nations. So you see that you cannot make judgments relevant to piety according to how they first appear. You have to turn it over in your mind a number of times until you can judge what would be most fitting -- to act, or to refrain from acting. The Torah commands, "You shall surely rebuke your companion" (Leviticus 19:17). How many times does a person start to rebuke a sinner at a time or place he would not be listened to? He actually causes the person to advance in his bad ways, to profane the name of G-d, and to add rebelliousness to his transgressions. In this instance the pious thing to do would be to remain silent. This is what our sages meant when they said, "Just as it is a mitzvah to say something when it would be listened to, so too is it a mitzvah sometimes to not say what would not be listened to" (Yevamot 65b).

Obviously, it is proper for a person to be eager and run to do a mitzvah and try to be one of those who busies himself with it. But sometimes controversy can result from this, and you would thereby more likely shame the mitzvah and profane the name of G-d than honor it. In such a case the pious individual has the responsibility to abandon the mitzvah rather than pursue it. As our sages said in regard to the Levites, "Because they knew that whoever would carry the Ark would get the greater reward, they left the table, Menorah and altars behind, and ran to carry the Ark instead to get the reward. They would argue back and forth saying to each other, 'I'll carry the Ark!' As a result of that they were disrespectful, and the Divine Presence struck them ..." (Bamidbar Rabbah 5:1).


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Messilas Yesharim (1st Day of Rosh Hashanna Thurs., Sept.13)


The reason for this is obvious. One who loves his friend could never endure seeing him attacked or abused. He would certainly come to his aid. Likewise, one who truly loves G-d could never endure seeing His name being profaned, G-d forbid, or His commandments being overrun. Solomon was referring to this when he said, "Those who abandon Torah would praise the wicked, while those who keep it would rebuke them" (Proverbs 28:4). Those who would praise the wicked for their wickedness instead of castigating them for their blemishes are abandoning Torah and allowing the name of G-d to be profaned, G-d forbid. But those who keep Torah and strengthen themselves to maintain it would certainly rebuke them, and would not hold themselves back or keep still. G-d said to Job, "Cast the rage of your wrath abroad. Behold everyone that is proud and abase him. Look upon everyone that is proud and bring him low, and tread upon the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together and bind their faces in the hiding-places" (Job 40:11–13). This is the greatest love one who really loves his Creator could ever exhibit. As is written, "Those who love G-d hate evil" (Psalms 97:10).

To this point we have explained piety in terms of the actions themselves that are required for it. We will now discuss it in terms of the motives behind those actions. We have already spoken about the notion of acting either altruistically or for an ulterior motive, and all the degrees in between also. The truth of the matter is that someone who serves G-d so that his soul could be purified before Him, that he might merit residing among the just and pious and "witness the pleasantness of G-d and visit His Sanctuary" (Psalms 27:4), as well as to receive the reward of the World to Come cannot be said to be ill-motivated. But, he cannot be said to have the best intentions either. As long as someone is moved by selfish reasons he is serving G-d for self-serving purposes. The motivation in serving G-d found among the truly pious, those who toil and strive in it, is only that His glory grow and spread. But this only comes after your love of G-d is developed, and you come to long for the expansion of His honor and suffer with its lessening. Only then will you be motivated to serve G-d so that His honor grows and enlarges through you at least. And then you would want others to act hat way and would grieve over their lessening G-d's honor, (though you would grieve most over your own diminution of it, even if it came about by happenstance or because of a character flaw, which might very well happen, for in truth it is difficult to avoid sin at all times, as the Torah says: "There is no man so righteous in the land that he only does good and never sins" [Ecclesiastes 7:20]). This is all expounded in Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah (Ch. 4) where it says, "The sage of Israel who has honest Torah within him and grieves over the honor of the Holy One (blessed be He) as well as the honor of Israel his whole life; who longs for and worries about the honor of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, and hopes that salvation will blossom soon and the exiled will be gathered is worthy of Divine inspiration in his words...." We can infer from this that a motivation which is based upon the honor of the Creator and the sanctification of His name (accomplished when His creations do His will) is the best and farthest from being self-serving. Regarding this it is said, "Who is pious? One who is pious towards his Creator" (Zohar, Mishpatim).

Beside serving G-d by performing His mitzvot with this motivation, the pious person must be in a constant state of agitation about the exile and the destruction of the Holy Temple, because both are the cause of the lessening (so to speak) of G-d's honor. He should long for the redemption which will bring an uplifting of G-d's honor. This is what the quote from Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah was referring to when it spoke of someone, "who longs for and burdens himself over the honor of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, and so forth." The pious person should constantly pray for the redemption of Israel and the restoration of the previous glory of Heaven. Should you say, "Who am I that I should be so esteemed as to pray over the exile and for the sake of Jerusalem, as if the exiled would ever be gathered or salvation blossom because of my prayers?" our response would be based on the statement "... that was why man was created alone, so that each individual should say, 'The world was created for my sake'" (Sanhedrin 37a). G-d finds satisfaction in His children's prayers for this. While He may not respond to their prayers because the right time has not come, or for some other reason, they should do what they must and G-d will be happy with that. The prophet thundered about the lack of this, saying: "And I saw that there was no man, and I was dumbfounded that there was no interceder"(Isaiah 59:16); and, "I looked and saw that there was no helper, and I was dumbfounded that there was no supporter" (Isaiah 63:5). It is also said, "It is Zion, for whom no one cares" (Jeremiah 30:17). Our sages explain that we can imply from this that someone must care for it (Sukkah 41a). So we see we are duty-bound in this, and we cannot excuse ourselves by claiming a lack of power, for we have learned "It is not for you to complete the task, but you are not free to avoid it" (Pirke Avot 2:16). The prophet also said, "There is no leader for her from amongst the children she has borne, nor a protector from amongst the children she has raised" (Isaiah 51:18); and, "All flesh is like hay and all its kindness is like weeds in the field" (Isaiah 40:6). Our sages interpret that to mean that all the kindnesses they did was for their own sake, their own good and benefit, and no one was idealistically motivated or wanted the redemption of Israel and the restoration of her glory (Avodah Zara 2b), though it is impossible for the Divine glory to increase any other way, as one is actually dependent upon the other. As we quoted from Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah, one has to "grieve over the honor of the Holy One (blessed be He), as well as the honor of Israel."

We see that there are two aspects to this matter: the motivation behind the performance of mitzvot and Divine service (for the elevation of G-d's glory by bringing satisfaction to Him) and the suffering in demand for the elevation of this glory and the general well-being of Israel. There is another major object of a pious person's concentrations: the well- being of his generation. The pious should direct their actions toward the good of the entire generation to earn them merit and protect them. This is the point of the verse that reads, "Praise the righteous for they are good-- they eat the fruits of their deeds" (Isaiah 3:10), signifying that the entire generation eats of their fruits. Our sages say about the verse, "... (see) if there are any trees... (in the land)" (Numbers 13:20)-- "(see) if there is anyone who can protect the generation like a tree" (Baba Battra 15a). So you see, it is G-d's will that the pious of Israel atone for and make worthy all sorts of people of the nation. And our sages used the lulav and its co-components as an example, saying "These will come and atone for those" (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12). G-d does not want the destruction of the evil. The saintly have been commanded to try to make them worthy and to atone for them. And that has to be done with certain concentrations in worship and prayers. The pious person should pray for his generation to atone for whomever needs atonement, to returning repentance whomever needs that, and to act as an intercedant for the entire generation.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Messilas Yesharim (Wed., Sept.12)


One thing is certain: the love of G-d should not be the sort that is dependent upon something. It should not be that you love G-d because He has done good for you, given you wealth, or made you successful. It must be the kind of love a son has for his father-- a visceral love that just naturally overtakes you. The Torah refers to it when this when it says, "Is He not your father, your master?"(Deuteronomy 32:6). The true test of this love comes during troubles and sorrows. Our sages said, "It is written 'And you will love G-d, the L-rd, with all of your heart, and all of your soul' (Deuteronomy 6:5) -- (that is to say) even if He should take away your soul-- (Ibid.) 'and all of your might'-- (that is to say) with all of your possessions" (Berachot 54a).

But in order for sorrows or woes not to deter you from this love, you would have to say one of two things to yourself. The first of these should be said by all, and the second should be said by the wise and fully-understanding. The first statement is that, "Everything done by Heaven is for the good" (Berachot 60b), which means to say that even our sorrows and woes are only for our ultimate good, though they may not seem to be. It can be compared to going to a doctor who sutures your flesh or an infected limb to make you healthy and prevent a mortal disease. Even though on the surface the act seems to be cruel, it is actually an act of great compassion for your ultimate good. The patient would not lessen his love of the doctor because of the procedure. In fact, he would love him even more. In the case of G-d's love for you as well, when you consider the fact that all that G-d does to you, physically or monetarily, is for your good, even though you may not understand how, you will not lessen your love for Him for any woes or sorrows, but will rather strengthen and enlarge upon it at all times. Those of true understanding have no need for this sort of explanation, because they have no self-serving needs. Their prayers are for the express purpose of increasing the honor of G-d and bringing satisfaction to Him. Whenever deterrents that would require a lot of determination to overcome get in their way, they simply strengthen their hearts and become pleased with the opportunity to manifest the power of their faith. They are like the warrior famous for his strength who constantly chooses to fight difficult battles just to illustrate his might and abilities. This sort of behavior is common amongst lovers who become happy when anything that gives them the chance to show their great love comes their way.

We will now go on to explain the various aspects of love of G-d. As we have said, there are three of them: attachment, happiness and vengeance. Attachment involves clutching onto His name at all times with all your heart, so that you care about nothing else. This was the object of Solomon's metaphor when he said, "A loving hind and a pleasant roe-- let her breasts satisfy you at all times and be ever ravished with her love" (Proverbs 5:19). Our sages said, "It was said of Rabbi Elazar ben P'dat that he would sit and study Torah in the upper part of the marketplace of Tziporri while his cloak would be hung on the lower part of the market-place" (Eruvin 54b).

Attaching yourself to G-d at all times is the ultimate degree of this trait. At the very least attach yourself to Him at the time of worship, if you truly love G-d. It is said in the Jerusalem Talmud, "Rabbi Chaninah ben Dosah was standing and praying, and if a lizard came by and bit him, he did not stop praying.... His students asked, 'Master-- didn't you feel that!?' And he said, 'When my heart is concentrating on prayer, I don't feel anything come what may'" (Berachot 5:1). The Torah refers to attachment many times: "Love G-d your L-rd, listen to His voice, and attach yourself to Him..." (Deuteronomy 30:20); "...attach yourself to Him" (Deuteronomy 10:20); and, "...attach yourselves to Him" (Deuteronomy 13:5). David said, "My soul is attached to You" (Psalms 63:9). The point of all of these verses is the same-- the attachment you have for your Creator should be the sort that will not allow you to separate or disassociate yourself from Him. Our sages said, "Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said, 'The Holy One (blessed be He) expressed his love for Israel in three ways: by His attachment, longing and desiring...'" (Breishit Rabbah 80:7). These categories-- the aforementioned longing, attachment, satisfaction and enjoyment-- are in fact the central offshoots of love.

The second aspect is happiness, which is a big element of Divine service. This is what David was referring to when he said, "Serve G-d with joy; approach him with song" (Psalms 100:2); and "The righteous will rejoice -- they will exult before G-d and be joyously happy" (Psalms 68:4). Our sages said, "The Divine Presence only dwells within a person that is happy doing a mitzvah" (Shabbat 30b). About the verse "Serve G-d with joy", the Midrash Shochar Tov says, "Rabbi Abihu says that this indicates that your heart should be happy when you are praying, for you are praying to the incomparable G-d." This is truly the kind of happiness the heart should rejoice with-- happiness for the fact that you are worthy to serve, and be engaged in the Torah and mitzvot of the L-rd, who is like no other. This is the true, most valuable and eternal sort of wholeness you can obtain. Solomon said it in this wise and parabolic way: "Draw me out-- we will run after you. The king has brought me to his chamber; we will be happy and rejoice in you" (Song of Songs 1:4). That is to say, the closer you merit to draw towards the chamber of the knowledge of G-d, the happier you will be and the more your heart will rejoice in intimacy with Him. As it says, "Israel will rejoice with its maker; the sons of Zion will regale their King" (Psalms 149:2). David reached this level to a very high degree and said, "May my ruminations be sweet to Him; I will be happy in G-d" (Psalms 104:34); and, "I will go to the sanctuary of G-d-- to the G-d who is the very happiness in my rapture-- and I will acknowledge G-d with the harp as my G-d" (Psalms 43:4); and, "My lips will rejoice when I sing to You as well as my soul, which You have redeemed" (Psalms 71:23). This means to say that happiness so overpowered him that his lips moved by themselves and were thrilled to be engaged in the praise of G-d. This was a result of the great incandescence of joy with which his soul was burning before G-d. That was why he finished with, " soul, which You have redeemed". We find that G-d was furious with Israel when they lacked this in their worship. It is said, "Because you have not served G-d your L-rd with joy and a good-natured heart..." (Deuteronomy 28:47). When he saw that Israel had already attained this great trait because the people had been so generous in the building of the Holy Temple, David prayed that it would be fixed in the people and would never leave. He said, "... and now I have seen Your people here, offering to You joyously and freely. O G-d, L-rd of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, our fathers-- keep this forever in the inclinations of the hearts of Your people, and direct their hearts to You" (I Chronicles 29:17-18).

The third subdivision involves vengeance and refers to your being vengeful in regard to His Holy Name. It includes hating those who hate Him and trying to subjugate them as much as you can so that worship of Him can be carried out and His glory can be magnified. This is what David was referring to when he said, "Do I not hate those who hate you, G-d, and contend against those who rise up against you? I hate them thoroughly" (Psalms 139:21–22). The prophet Elijah said, "I have avenged for the L-rd of Hosts" (I Kings 19:10). And we have already seen what he merited because of his vengeance for the sake of G-d. As it is said, "Because he was vengeful for His G-d and brought atonement to Israel" (Numbers 25:13). Our sages underscored the notion by saying that one who has it within his power to rebuke and does not is in the same category as the transgressor himself (Shabbat 54b). It is written in the Midrash, "It is said, 'Her leaders were like harts' (Lamentations 1:6)-- just as harts hide their heads one under the other in the scorching heat, so did the leaders of Israel hide their heads one under the other when they saw transgressions being committed. The Holy One (blessed be He) said to them, 'The time will come when I will do the same for you!'" (Eicha Rabbah 1:6).


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Tues., Sept.11)


Since it is clear that honoring the Sabbath is a mitzvah, and there are many ways to honor it, we should do anything that would bring out the importance of the Sabbath. The early sages would each prepare for the Sabbath in their own way. "Rabbi Abbahu would sit on a stool of ivory and stoke the fire; Rav Saffra would singe the head of a cow for the meal; Rava would salt carp; Rav Hunah would light a fire; Rav Papa would ready the wicks; Rav Chisda would shred beets; Rabbah and Rav Yoseph would chop wood; and Rav Nachman would carry things in and out on his shoulders, reasoning that if Rabbi Amai or Rabbi Assai would visit he would certainly carry things in and out on his shoulders" (Shabbat 119a).

The reasoning of Rav Nachman gives us pause to reflect upon the fact that he would consider what he would do in his own way to honor a person, and then do the same to honor the Sabbath. Regarding this it is said, "Let a man always be creative in his reverence" (Brachot 17a), that is, let him reflect upon things, and arrive at new means of giving satisfaction to his Creator whichever way he can so that he might recognize G-d's exalted nature, and so that everything associated with Him will be honored as much as possible. Since, in His great humility and goodness and despite our lowliness, G-d wants to honor us by passing on to us His holy words, let us at least honor those holy words with all of our might, and show Him how precious they are to us. This is true reverence-- reverence of His exaltedness as we said. The honor that brings about the longing-love we will be writing about is dependent upon this sort of reverence, not the inessential fear of punishment from which these great traits do not come.

Let us return now to the matter of honoring the Sabbath. It is said, "Rav Annan would dress in over-alls, that is, he would dress in black clothing purposefully on Friday, so that it would be noticeable on the Shabbat that he was dressed in fine clothing" (Shabbat 119a). We see from this that preparation for the Sabbath is not all there is in honoring it: even contrasting it by withholding something during the week matters, because it accentuates the honoring of it, and is part of the mitzvah. In the same vein, our sages forbade the partaking of a full meal on Friday afternoon for the honor of the Sabbath, and the like (Gittin 38b).

Honoring the Torah and those who study it is another aspect of reverence. As it is said, "Whoever honors the Torah is honored by people" (Pirke Avot 4:6). We find, "Rabbi Yochanan says, What was it that merited Achab's twenty-two year reign over Israel?-- his honoring the Torah which is written with the twenty-two letters, as it is said, "(Ben Hadad) sent messengers into the city to Achab, king of Israel, and said to him, 'Thus says Ben Hadad: your silver and your gold are mine; your wives also, and your children, even the best, are mine' (I Kings 20:2-9). And the king of Israel answered and said, 'Indeed, my L-rd, O king: according to your saying. I am yours and all that I have.' And the messengers came again and said, 'Thus speaks Ben Hadad saying, "Although I have sent for you saying you will surely give me your silver, your gold, your wives and your children, yet I will send my servants tomorrow about this time, and they will search your house... and take (your possessions)...."' Wherefore he said to the messengers, 'All that you sent for your servant (to do) I will do, but this thing I will not do....' And what was so precious to him? -- A Torah scroll" (Sanhedrin 102b). It is said, "If you travel from place to place, you should not leave a Torah scroll in a bag and place it on your donkey which you yourself then ride upon. You should rather place the bag on your lap" (Berachot 18a). The sages further forbade us from sitting on a bed a Torah scroll is lying on (Moed Kattan 25a). They said, "You are not to discard sacred writings-- even Halachot and Aggadot" (Eruvin 98a). And they forbade us from laying books of the Prophets and the Writings on top of the Pentateuch (Megillah 27a). These are things that the sages forbade all of the people of Israel. The pious are to learn from these examples and to add to each and every one of them to give honor to the name of their G-d. Also included within this category are the innocence and purity necessary for Torah study. You are not to be engaged in it or even give thought to it in untoward places or when your hands are unclean. Our sages expanded upon this and warned us about it in various places.

As to your attitude toward those who study Torah, the Torah itself says, "Rise up before a grey-haired person and honor the face of an elder" (Leviticus 19:32). From this we can extrapolate all sorts of honoring fitting for the pious to be a part of. The sages said, "It is written, 'He will honor the reverential' (Psalms 15:4). This refers to Jehosephat, king of Judah. Whenever he would see a Torah scholar he would arise from his throne, hug and kiss him, and call out to him "My Rabbi, my Rabbi!; my teacher, my teacher!" (Ketubot 103b). Rabbi Zaira, we are told, would seat himself at the doorway to the study hall when he would be fatigued from his own studies and engage in the mitzvah of rising before a Torah scholar (Eruvin 28a). We have already seen how, in His infinite wisdom, G-d has revealed and enunciated these desires of His. One who would like to bring satisfaction to his Creator will do whatever he can to do what is righteous before Him. Within this category we also find respect for synagogues and study-halls. Not only must you not be frivolous within them, you must also show respect and reverence for them in your behavior, and do nothing within them you would not do in a king's palace.

Let us now speak about the matter of love of G-d. There are three aspects to it: happiness, attachment, and vengeance. This love is an actual desiring and longing for closeness to G-d. It is pursuing G-d's Holiness as you would pursue something you strongly long for-- to the point where even mentioning His name, speaking His praises, and occupying yourself in His mitzvot and G-dliness is a pleasure and delight to you, the way someone who loves the bride of his youth, or his only child so strongly would be pleased to just speak about them. As the Torah says, "As I speak of Him I yet remember Him" (Jeremiah 31:19). One who truly loves his Creator would not abandon his worship of Him for any reason in the world other than an utterly compelling one. He would not need convincing or persuasion to serve Him-- in fact, unless he is held back by a major deterrent, his heart would have him surge forward and would drive him towards this love. This is the lovely trait the early pious ones who were referred to as "the supremely holy" had. As King David put it, "My soul yearns for You, G-d, like the hart yearns for the rivulets. My soul thirsts for G-d-- the living G-d. When will I see G-d's face?" (Psalms 42:2–3); and, "My soul longs for, pines for G-d's courtyards" (Psalms 84:3); as well as "My soul thirsts for You, my flesh hungers for you" (Psalms 63:2). This comes with the greatness of the yearning that is a yearning for G-d. As the prophet said, "The longing of the soul is for Your name and Your remembrance" (Isaiah 26:8) and, "My soul has longed for You in the night. While the spirit is still within me I will seek You" (Isaiah 26:9). King David used the expression, "When I think of you on my couch during the night-watches I meditate upon You" (Psalms 63:7) as an explanation of the delight and pleasure he experienced when he spoke about or praised the Creator. He said further, "I delight in Your mitzvot which I so love" (Psalms 119:47), and "Your ordinances are also my delight" (Psalms 119:143).

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman