Friday, August 31, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Shabbos, Sept. 1st)



To this point we have stressed the mitzvot that especially needed innocence (because they were the ones people are likely to stumble in). We will now delve deeply into the common and primary problematic personality traits, which are: arrogance, anger, jealousy and desire. Their harm is universally recognized and do not have to be substantiated. They are intrinsically harmful, harmful in consequence, and are outside the realm of the intellect and wisdom. Each can lead you on to grave sins in its own way. The Torah is explicit in its warnings against arrogance saying, "And you will come to make your hearts haughty and you will forget G-d your L-rd..." (Deuteronomy 8:14). Our sages spoke about anger, saying, "Angry people should be seen as idol-worshipers" (Shabbat 105b). And it is clearly said about jealousy and desire, "Jealousy, desire and glory remove a man from the world" (Pirke Avot 4:21). The profoundest thing that can be said is to flee from them and their offshoots for they are each "a degenerate plant of a strange vine" (Jeremiah 2:21). We will now begin to speak of them one at a time.

Arrogance entails consciously or unconsciously thinking yourself worthy of praise, for various and many reasons. For example a person might think himself very intelligent, or handsome, venerable, great, or wise. The principle is if one attributes to himself any of the good things of the world he is in immediate danger of falling into the trap of arrogance. After a person implants in his mind the notion that he is important or praiseworthy, not just one but many and various things may result-- and while some of them would have been intended for the same end, they may actually be diametrically opposed to each other. It may be that a self-centered person will think himself unique, impressive and worthy of praise and would think it only proper that he conduct himself uniquely, impressively and respectfully in the way he walks, sits, stands, speaks, etc. So he would only walk at a leisurely, studied pace, and would not sit without leaning. He would arise slowly and deliberately like a serpent, and would not speak to just anybody, but only with the eminent-- and even when he would speak with them he would only speak in short, pithy, seer-like phrases. And in all the rest of his deeds-- his movements or actions; his eating, drinking and dressing-- he would conduct himself in a heavy-handed manner, as if his flesh were lead, and his bones were stone or sand. Another egotist would think that since he is so praiseworthy and of such high quality, he should be the very instigator of all things in the world, that everyone should tremble before him, and it is only fitting that no one dare speak to him or ask anything of him. And should they be so presumptuous as to do so he would verbally crush and confound them in all impudence, enraged all along. There is another sort of egotist who believes that he is already so great and important that glory can never depart from him anyway, so he really does not need any more of it. And to prove that point he acts modest to draw attention to his character and to exhibit great humility and endless modesty, while his heart is actually exalted within him and he says to himself: "I am so great and important that I no longer need respect. I can renounce it. I already have a lot of it to begin with." Another egotist can be found who wants to make a great impression with his greatness and to be recognized as being unique. It is not enough for him that everyone praises him for the greatness he believes he exhibits. He would like everyone to further praise him as being the most humble person there is. This type of person is arrogant in his modesty, and wants to honor himself with the very thing he makes himself out to have transcended. This type of arrogant person places himself below people actually much lower than himself and vulgar people, thinking that he might prove utmost humility this way. He does not want to assume any titles of greatness, and refuses all honors, while all along in his heart he says, "There's no sage or modest person like myself in the entire country". Even though these kinds of egocentrics appear to be modest, they do not lack for clues to the contrary. Unbeknownst to them, their arrogance will peek through like flames between pieces of potters' clay. Our sages drew a parallel to the situation when they said that such a person is like a house full of straw that has a lot of holes in it. Everyone discovers the fact that there has been straw in it all along when it starts to fall out (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:13). That is just like our situation. Such a person cannot hide his nature forever. His misguided thoughts will become manifest in his actions, and it will become known that he was dishonestly modest and dishonestly humble. There is another sort of egotist whose pride is buried deep within him and is never made manifest. He believes that he is already a great sage who knows the way of all things, and that no one else quite shares his sagacity. He does not pay attention to anyone else's opinion and reasons that if the matter is difficult for him it could not possibly be easy for anyone else. And he holds that whatever his mind conceives of is so straight-forward and obviously so that he need not even listen to people with other opinions, be they earlier or contemporary scholars. He has no doubts whatsoever about his opinions.

All these things hold sages back and stupefy their minds, and abrogate the hearts of the very wisest. Even novice scholars whose eyes have just started to open often already think they are great sages. The Torah says about all of these, "The haughty are an abomination to G-d" (Proverbs 16:5). One who wants to acquire the trait of innocence must free himself from all of this and come to realize that arrogance is literally blindness as it causes you to overlook your imperfections and to not notice what you lack. If you were able to see and to realize the truth you would certainly flee and escape from these harmful, damaging things. With the help of Heaven we will continue to speak about this when we come to the trait of modesty, which was placed at the end of Rabbi Pinchas' beraitha because it is so difficult to obtain.

Let us discuss anger now. There is the furious type of person, about whom it is said, "one who is angry is likened to one offering to idols" (Shabbat 105b). He is the type of person who gets angry at everything done against his will. He is so filled with fury that he grows heartless, and his sensibilities dull. This sort of person would destroy the world if he could. He is irrational and as utterly unreasonable as a wild beast. It is said of him, "You (who) tear yourself in your anger: Shall the earth be forsaken for you?" (Job 18:4). It is very easy to commit all sorts of transgressions once rage has brought you to this state, as there is nothing but your anger to control you, and you must go where it leads you.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Messilas Yesharim (Fri., Aug. 31st)



And there are others who, while like them in kind, are not quite as guilty as they. They are the ones who lie by telling stories and giving false reports. They are not "professional" story-tellers who concoct whole tales or incidents that have never or could never happen. But when they come to relate something, they add on whatever occurs to them. This happens so regularly that it becomes second nature to them, and it is impossible to believe anything they say. Our sages said, "Such is the punishment of the liar: people will not listen to him even when he speaks the truth" (Sanhedrin 89b). This bad trait has been so imbedded in them that it is not possible for anything honest to come from their lips. This is what troubled the prophet Jeremiah so when he said, "They've taught their tongues to speak lies, and weary themselves in committing iniquity" (Jeremiah 9:4).

There is another category of liars whose malady is less serious than the former. They are not quite accustomed to lying, but they would not think of separating themselves from it, and if the opportunity for a lie would come up, they would take advantage of it. Many times they would do this for the sake of a joke, or for some other reason, with no particular malice intended. But as Solomon let us know, this is all against G-d's will and runs counter to His kindness. As he has said, "The righteous hate false things" (Proverbs 13:5), which is exactly what the Torah warned us about when it said, "Withdraw from a false thing" (Exodus 23:7). You might notice that this quote does not say "guard yourself from falsity", but rather, "withdraw from a false thing". This is so to warn us of how far we must withdraw from false things. It is said, "The remnant of Israel will not do iniquity, will not speak falsely, and no trickery will be found in their mouths" (Zephaniah 3:13). Our sages said, "Truth is G-d's seal" (Shabbat 55a). And if G-d has chosen truth as His seal, its opposite must certainly be abominable to Him. The Holy One (blessed be He) has already warned us severely about truth. It is said, "Let man speak truth to his neighbor" (Zachariah 8:16); "He has established His throne upon loving-kindness and will sit upon it in truth" (Isaiah 16:5); "For He has said, 'Surely they are My people, children that will not lie'" (Isaiah 63:8) (pointing out the fact that one is dependent upon the other); and, "Jerusalem shall be called the city of truth" (Zachariah 8:3), signifying its importance. Our sages said, "It is written, '... And he speaks truth in his heart' (Psalms 16:2). This is in reference to those like Rav Safra (Makkot 24a). (According to Rashi's commentary Rav Safra had something for sale once. When a customer came to him and asked him to sell the object for a certain amount, Rav Safra did not respond, because he was reciting the Sh'ma Yisrael at the time. The customer believed that Rav Safra did not respond to his offer because he did not think it was good enough, so he made a better offer. When Rav Safra finished the Sh'ma he told the customer that he could have the object for the price the man originally offered. "That was the price I had in mind to sell it for in the first place" he said). This comes to teach us how far the obligation for truth goes. The sages have already forbade a scholar from "altering the truth" in all but three extenuating circumstances (Baba Metsiah 23b). Truth is one of the very foundations upon which the world stands (Pirke Avot 1:18). As this is so, when you speak falsely it is as if you are nudging at the world's foundation. Conversely, when you are careful about truth you are likened to someone who maintains the world's foundation. The sages revealed that the angel of death does not hold sway in a place where truth is cared for (Sanhedrin 97a). They tell the story of a peaceful town where, because a certain sage's wife adulterated the truth (albeit for a good reason), the angel of death was let loose. As soon as she was removed, the town returned to its original peaceful state. We need not delve further into the matter, as the implications of it are obvious.

The ramifications of the desecration of G-d's name are great and numerous as well. You must be very compassionate towards the standing of your Creator in the eyes of others by considering and reflecting upon all of your actions, and making sure that none of them (G-d forbid) lead to the desecration of G-d's name. As we learned, "In matters of desecration of the Divine name-- both purposeful and accidental incidents of it are one and the same" (Pirke Avot 4:4); and, "What is an example of the desecration of the Divine name? Rav said, 'For example, if I were to buy meat and not pay for it on the spot.' And Rabbi Yochanan said, 'For example, if I were to go a small distance without reciting words of Torah or without my t'phillin on'" (Yoma 86a). The point is that each person, according to his standing, and according to how he is perceived by his generation, must recognize the fact that he can do nothing that would not be fitting for a person such as himself to do. He must be extremely careful and exacting in his Divine service in proportion to the greatness and value of his wisdom. If he is not, the name of G-d is desecrated through him (G-d forbid). The honor and glory of Torah comes about when the ones who study it very much perfect and ennoble their characters as well. Those amongst them who are lacking in this cause shame to be cast upon the study of Torah itself. That is (G-d forbid) a desecration of G-d's name. He has given us His Holy Torah and commanded us to occupy ourselves in it, and to reach perfection through it.

Observance of the Shabbat and of the holy-days is also important because there are many laws involved. It is said, "There are many halachot to Shabbat" (Brachot 12a). And the rabbinic ordinances are central. The sages said, "Never allow the rabbinic ordinances to appear light in your eyes: smicha is one, and the greats of the generation argued over it" (Chagigga 16b). The many particulars, sections and sub-sections of the laws are enunciated in the books of law, and they are equal in our responsibility to them and the amount of caution required to carry them out. What is most difficult for many to observe is refraining from conducting and speaking about business. The prohibition against this is clearly stated by the prophet when he says: "If, because of the Shabbat, you will restrain your foot from pursuing your business on My holy day, and call the Shabbat a delight, the holy day of the L-rd honorable; and you shall honor it, not doing your own ways, nor pursuing your own business, nor speaking of vain matters ..." (Isaiah 58:13-14). The principle is that all that is forbidden to be done on the Shabbat cannot be attempted or spoken of on the Shabbat either. The sages have also forbade us from analyzing our holdings, or from seeing what might be needed for the next day, or to go to the borders to be ready to go off on business immediately after Shabbat, and they forbade us from saying on the Shabbat, "I'll do such-and-such tomorrow", or "I'll buy such-and-such tomorrow", and the like.

Up to now I have addressed those mitzvot which I perceive to be most people's downfalls. From those we can extrapolate to all the other prohibitions, as there is no forbidden act that does not have its divisions and subdivisions, both serious and light. Whoever wants to be innocent must be innocent and purified of them all. As our sages said, "It is written, 'Your teeth are like a flock of sheep' (Song of Songs 6:6), that is, just as sheep are modest, so too was Israel modest and righteous in the war against the Midianites. Rav Hunna says in the name of Rav Aicha that that was evidenced by the fact that not one of them put their head t'philin on before they put on their arm t'phillin. Had one of them done so, Moses would not have praised them, and they would not have left the battlefield in peace" (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 6:12). And as it says in the Jerusalem Talmud, "One who speaks between yishtabach and yotzer commits a sin and must leave the battlefield because of it". This shows you just how exacting and truly innocent you have to be in your actions. And your character has to be just as innocent. However, innocence of character is more difficult to achieve than innocence of actions, as your nature is more manifest in your character than in your actions. Temperament and disposition either greatly cooperate with or summarily oppose the development of character. And anytime you struggle to do something beyond your nature you are involved in a great battle, which our sages were referred to when they said, "Who is a great warrior? One who conquers his yetzer hara" (Pirke Avot 4:1).

There are many character traits-- as many of them as there are deeds in the realm of human possibility, as they come from deeds.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Thurs., Aug. 30th)



In regard to deceiving someone by giving him bad advice, we learn that "When the Torah says, 'Do not place a stumbling block before a blind' (Leviticus 19:14) it refers to placing a figurative 'stumbling-block' before someone 'blind' to anything. Should someone ask you if a particular woman would be permitted to marry a Kohen, do not tell him that she would be when she would not. And should someone come to you for advice, do not give him advice that is not right for him.... Do not advise someone to sell his property so that he might, for example, buy a donkey, and then go behind his back and buy the property yourself. And should you reason that, after all, you are still giving him good advice-- in your heart you know the truth. As the verse concludes, 'And you must fear your L-rd'" (Torat Kohanim). The point is, whether you are going to benefit by the outcome or not, it is your duty to pass on the clear and unadulterated truth to whoever might come to you for advice. But just see how deeply the Torah penetrates into the recesses of a deceitful person's mind. We are not concerned here with the words of an idiot, whose advice is clearly and obviously bad, but rather with the words of a schemer. By all appearances the advice is only in the interests of the person to whom it is directed, but in fact it is to his disadvantage and to the advantage of the schemer. Therefore it says, "and should you reason that, after all, you are still giving him good advice-- in your heart you know the truth..."

How many people stumble in this matter every day because they are drawn to and follow the strong urge for profit. The Torah enunciated the severe punishment for this trait when it said, "Cursed is he who misdirects the blind upon the path" (Deuteronomy 27:18). The honest man's duty when someone comes to him for advice is to offer the advice that he would give himself, and for no other reason than for the good of the person asking for it, not for any ulterior motive, no matter how likely or unlikely it may be. If by giving out such advice you might harm yourself, you should point that out. If pointing it out will be useless, simply do not give the advice. But in any case, do not give advice that will be to the detriment of its receiver. But if his intentions are for bad, it is certainly a mitzvah to deceive him. As it is said, "With the perverted, you act perversely" (Psalms 18:27). The incident of Chushai the Arkite (cf. Samuel II, 15:32 ff) is the paradigm of such a thing.

The seriousness of tale-bearing and slander, as well as the great variety of situations in which it can be found is so well known that our sages noted that, as we already mentioned, "Most people commit sins of theft, some commit acts of promiscuity, but all succumb to some small measure of slander" (Baba Batra 165a). They ask, "What are examples of small measures of slander?" and answer "a person's suggesting, for example, that a fireplace can only be found in so-and-so's house" (Arachin 15a), or "pointing out someone's good traits before his enemies", and so forth. (Arachin 16a). Even though these appear to be light matters, far removed from tale-bearing, they do bear traces of it. The point is that the yetzer hara follows many paths, and anything that might be said whether to that person's face or not that may result in damage or embarrassment to him, is within the parameters of that trait that is detestable and an abomination to G-d-- slander. It is said, "Whoever spreads slander is likened to one who denies G-d" (Arachin 15b) and "I will cut down whoever slanders his neighbor in secret" (Psalms 101:5).

The traits of hate and revenge are also very difficult to escape from, given man's scheming heart. We are very sensitive to insult, suffering very much because of it; and revenge, the best solution for it, is as sweet as honey. You would have to be extraordinarily courageous and strong to have it within you to abandon what is innate to you, bypass this inclination and not hate someone who has aroused hate in you, and to not arise against him in revenge, or bear a grudge against him, but instead to forget it all, and wipe it away from your heart as if it never happened. Such an act would be easy for the ministering angels, who do not suffer from such attributes. But for "those who dwell in houses of clay, and are founded in dust" (Job 4:19) it is not. Yet, according to the decrees of the King, that is exactly what we must do. The Torah is explicit and clear about that, requiring no interpretation: "Do not hate your brother in your heart" (Leviticus 19:17–18) and, "Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people" (Leviticus 19:18). The elements of revenge and bearing a grudge are well known. Revenge involves refraining from doing good for whoever would not do good to you, or who has already done you harm. Bearing a grudge involves reminding a person of the harm he has done to you when you were about to do him a favor. The yetzer hara waxes, and infuriates the heart and wants to leave behind the memory or some trace of the incident that caused you pain. (And if it cannot retain a great deal of the memory, it will settle for a small amount). It might say to you: "If you would like to give him what he wasn't willing to give you when you needed it, at least don't give it to him cordially"; or, "If you won't go so far as to do harm to him, at least don't do him any great favor or help him in any great way"; or, "if you do care to help him out a lot, at least don't do it to his face"; or, "you shouldn't befriend him again-- it's enough that you have forgiven him and no longer hate him"; or, "if you want be his friend again, at least don't be as close to him as you had been before." Such is the way of the yetzer hara in its resolve to fool you in these things. The Torah has established a general all-encompassing principle: "And you will love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) -- that is to say, "as yourself", without any differentiation; "as yourself", without any distinctions, contrivances or tricks-- literally, "as yourself".

In regard to oaths said in vain, even though everybody except perhaps the ignorant is careful not to mention the name of G-d in vain, and especially not to vow in vain, there are some particulars of vain oaths which it is best to remain innocent of and which you have to watch out for, though they may not be the most serious. Our sages said, "Rabbi Elazar said that 'yes' and 'no' are oaths. But Rava said that is only so if you have said 'yes, yes', or 'no, no'" (Shavuot 31a). They also said, "It is written, 'An honest measure (hinn) ...' (Leviticus 19:36), that is to say that your 'no' should be honest as well as your 'yes' (henn) (Baba Metzia 49a).

Lying is another malady that is widespread. But there are various degrees of it. There are people for whom lying is actually a profession. They go about concocting utter lies, either for laughs, or to be considered wise or knowledgeable. It is said about them, "Lying lips are an abomination to G-d" (Proverbs 12:22) and, "Your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness" (Isaiah 59:3). Our sages ordained that there are four categories of people who will not be received by the Divine Presence, and one of them is the liars (Sotah 42a).


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Wed., Aug. 29th)



And in terms of the sense of hearing our sages said, "A woman's singing voice is considered nakedness" (Brachot 24a). Our sages screeched like cranes about the promiscuous use of lips and ears, that is, speaking or listening to profanity. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Terumot 1:4) they observed that it is written, "Your camp-sites shall be holy so that G-d will see no unclean thing (ervat davar) amongst you and turn away from you" (Deuteronomy 23:15). This, they say, refers to unclean speech (ervat dibur), profanity. They stated that "Troubles reappear and death (G-d forbid) comes to the young men of Israel because of the sin of profanity" (Shabbat 33a) ; that, "All who speak profanely deepen Gehenom for themselves" (Ibid.); that, "Everybody knows why a bride gets married, but anyone who utters profanity enunciating it can turn around even a judgment of seventy good years to bad" (Ibid.); and that, "Even the small talk that goes on between a husband and his wife is related back at the time of judgment" (Chagigga 5b). They said about listening to this evil that "even the one who hears and remains silent (suffers), as it is written, 'The mouth of a prostitute is a deep pit; he who incurs G-d's indignation will fall therein' (Proverbs 22:14)" (Shabbat 33a). So we see that all of our senses need to be innocent of licentiousness and matters associated with it.

If someone comes to confound you saying that when the Torah speaks against profanity it is only doing so to frighten and draw a person away from an actual sin, and that the prohibition is for the more "hot-blooded" type of person who might be brought to desire by his speech, but that someone who uses it as a joke does not have to worry about it-- you should tell that person that what they are doing is speaking for the yetzer hara. The sages quoted a verse from the Torah that explicitly says other than what that person is saying. It says, "Therefore G-d shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall He have mercy on their fatherless or widowed: for everyone is a flatterer and a tale-bearer, and every mouth speaks obscenity" (Isaiah 9:16). Notice that the passage says nothing about idol-worshipping, outright licentiousness or murder, but only flattery, tale-bearing and obscenity. All of these are speech-related sins, and as a result of them a decree was made in Heaven that, "G-d shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall He have mercy on their fatherless or widowed." The fact of the matter is that obscenity is truly the promiscuity of the power of speech, as our sages observed. It was forbidden because it, like other things like it, is within the category of licentiousness. And while these things do not carry with them the punishment of the soul being cut-off from eternity, they are forbidden in their own right (aside from the reason that they cause the essential prohibition to come about, as we saw in the example of the Nazir above.)

In terms of thought-- we have already mentioned in the beginning of our beraita when the Torah says, "And you shall guard yourself from any evil" (Deuteronomy 23:10) it means "a man should not think lewd thoughts in the daytime..." (Avodah Zara 20b). Our sages said, "Thoughts of sin are worse than sins themselves" (Yoma 29a), and based it upon the statement which reads, "Evil thoughts are an abomination to G-d" (Proverbs 15:26). We have spoken thus far about the two most serious prohibitions people are likely to stumble in the details of, both because there are so many of them, and also because the heart is so often inclined in the direction of these desires.

The third category of prohibitions we will be addressing in the realm of coveting-- after thievery and promiscuity-- is forbidden food. This includes foods that are inherently forbidden, those that are forbidden because they are accidently combined with forbidden food, mixtures of meat and dairy, forbidden fats, blood, meals cooked by non-Jews, utensils owned by non-Jews, and sacramental versus ordinary wines. Great care and determination are required to stay innocent in these matters, because the heart is easily drawn to good food, and there is often monetary loss in the accidental mixing of forbidden and permitted foods etc. As is known and taught in the books of the rabbis, the laws in these matters are numerous, and all who are lenient in their observance of them where the rabbis advise to be stringent are destroying their souls. The Sifra (Sh'mini) quotes Leviticus 11:43, where it is written: "Do not make yourselves unclean with them, that you should not be defiled by them", and explains, "If you will make yourselves unclean with them, in the end you will be defiled by them." What they mean to say is forbidden foods actually cause spiritually unclean elements to enter into your heart and spirit, and the Holiness of G-d is removed and drawn away from you. Our sages also said, "'And you will be defiled (nitmaytem) by them' should be understood as 'and you will be stupefied (nitamtem) by them'" (Yoma 39a)-- the sin will stupefy your mind: the true knowledge and sense of understanding G-d gives to His holy ones (cf. Proverbs 2:6, "For G-d will give wisdom") will be withheld from you. You will instead remain animal-like and of-the-earth, stuck in the coarseness of this world. This is more so for forbidden foods than for other prohibited things because they enter into your body and become your very flesh.

In order to let you know that not only the inherently forbidden animals and reptiles are defiling, but also those animals that are usually permitted but become forbidden for one reason or another, our sages quote the statement, "... to distinguish between the impure and the pure" (Leviticus 11:47) and they explain that "it is not necessary for the Torah to spell out the need to distinguish between a donkey (which is forbidden) and a cow (which is permitted), so why does the Torah differentiate between the impure and the pure? So as to teach you that you must distinguish between what is pure and impure to you-- between the animal whose windpipe is fully severed (making it permissible) and the one whose windpipe is only partially severed (making it forbidden). And what is the difference between 'partially' and 'fully' severed? -- a hair's- breadth" (Sifra, Sh'mini). And they use the phrase, "and what is the difference between 'partially'... "to teach you how wondrous the power of the mitzvot are-- that a hair's- breadth makes the difference between impure and pure. A thinking person would consider forbidden foods poisoned or mixed with poison. If you were sure or even suspected that some food was poisoned, would you eat it? Certainly not. You would be considered a fool if you did. That is how it should be with forbidden foods which as we have explained are poisons to the heart and soul. What thinking person would be casual about forbidden foods when there is reason to be suspicious? It is asked, "Would you place a knife to your throat if you had any sense at all?" (Proverbs 23:2).

Let us speak now about those sins that often come about in human interaction, such as verbal abuse, embarrassing or deceiving others, tale-bearing, hate, revenge, oaths, lies, and desecration of the Divine Name. Who can honestly say, "Oh, I'm innocent of that; I'm blameless as far as that's concerned"? The off-shoots of those traits are very great and very subtle, and caution in them requires great effort. In general, verbal abuse refers to speaking to someone in private in an abusive manner and shaming him. Or, in a more serious vein, shaming someone in public, or doing something which would cause someone shame. This is what our sages were referring to when they warned us that if someone you know has repented of his ways, "do not say to him, 'Remember how you used to be!....'", or if someone you know is ill, do not say as Job's friends said to him, "Just try to remember-- have the innocent ever perished; or, wherever were there upright who were cut off?" (Job 4:7). If donkey-drivers were to ask you for grain, they told us, do not say to them, "Go to so-and-so-- he sells grain", knowing that he never sold grain in his life (Baba Metziah 58b). The sages said that "verbal abuse is worse than monetary abuse" (Ibid.). How much more is this true if it is done in public! It explicitly says, "One who shame-faces his friend in public has no place in the World to Come" (Pirke Avot 3:11). Rabbi Chisda said, "All gates of prayer are closed except those reserved for the verbally abused" (Baba Metziah 59a). Rabbi Elazar said, "The Holy One (blessed be He) demands retribution from all through his messengers but the verbally abused" (Baba Metziah 59a). And it has been said that there are three sins before which Heaven's curtains can never be shut, and one of them is verbal abuse (Baba Metziah 59a). Even in regard to abusive language for the sake of a mitzvah, while the Torah says "You must admonish your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:17), our sages warn, "You might think that this would allow you to cause him to blush. But the Torah continues with, 'And do not bear a sin because of him'" (Arachin 16b). From all of these sayings you can see how far the warnings against this trait go and how great is the punishment for it.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Tues., Aug. 28th)

Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta was married last night and is doing well. Thanks for your tephillos!




Let us consider deceit. It is so easy to fool yourself and stumble in this. You might think it is only right for example to make a product you are selling to a customer as attractive as possible so you could profit from your work, and to speak cunningly and enticingly to him so that he would want it. After all, have not our sages themselves pointed out that "It is an enthusiastic salesman who will sell, as it is written, 'The hand of the diligent will grow wealthy' (Proverbs 10:4)" (Pesachim 50b)? But if you do not fully reflect upon or are not conscious of your deeds, you might pick a thorn when you mean to get wheat-- that is, you might inadvertently sin and stumble in matters of deceit. We have already been warned by the Torah to "let no man deceive his fellow" (Leviticus 25:17), to which our sages have added that it is forbidden to fool a non-Jew as well (Chullin 94a). The Prophet says, "The remnant of Israel will not do iniquity, will not speak falsely, and no trickery will be found in their mouths" (Zephaniah 3:13). Our sages warned us not to paint-over old wares to make them like new, and to "not mix together different bunches of fruit -- even new fruit with other new fruit; even high priced with low so as to sell the higher priced for less" (Baba Metziah 60a), for "whoever does this is guilty of iniquity" (Deuteronomy 25:16) and is called five things: wrong, hateful, abominable, unbearable, and reprehensible (Sifra 19:35). Our sages added that "one who steals even a minute amount from his neighbor is likened to one who has taken his life from him" (Baba Kama 119a), indicating the severity of even a minor act of thievery. They also said, "the only reason rain is withheld from the world is because of acts of thievery" (Ta'anit 7b); and "what testifies against you first out of a load of your transgressions? -- thievery" (Vayikrah Rabba 33:3); and "The judgment against the generation of the flood was what it was because of their thievery" (Sanhedrin 108a). You may be saying, "How can I not try to point out the value of my product to my customers?" You should know that there is a difference between pointing out the true value, worth or beauty of a product-- which is a perfectly honest and honorable action-- and covering over the product's imperfections, which is deceitful, and therefore forbidden. This is a major principle in honest business practice.

Needless to say this refers as well to the matter of honest weights and measures. The Torah clearly states that, "All who do these things are an abomination to G-d" (Deuteronomy 25:16). Our sages said, "The punishment for dishonesty in weights and measures is more severe than that for promiscuity" (Baba Batra 88b). And they have demanded that the wholesaler clean his scales once in thirty days so that he might not unwittingly cheat his customers and have to be punished (Baba Batra 71a).

All the more so is this true in the case of the great sin of loaning money on interest, which is likened to denying the existence of the G-d of Israel, G-d forbid. Our sages said about the verse which reads, "He has given out money on interest, and has accepted increase; shall he then live? He shall not live!" (Ezekiel 18:13) that it means to say that such a person will not arise at the time of the resurrection of the dead (Shemot Rabbah 31:6). Both he and his dust are abhorrent and abominable in the eyes of G-d. I see no need to expand on this; the dread of it already rests upon the hearts of all Jews.

The point is that the stumbling-blocks on the path to them are as numerous as the yearnings for possessions. Great and profound self-reflection is required to actually free yourself of it. You should know that if you do free yourself of it, you have reached a very great level. Many have attained various of the many levels of righteousness and have not been able to abhor unjust gain. Tsopher the Namasite referred to this when he said to Job, "If there is iniquity in your hand, put it far away: do not allow wickedness to dwell in your tents. Then you shall surely remove yourself from blemish, you will be steadfast, and you will not fear anything" (Job 11:14).

Up to now I have spoken about the particulars of just one of the mitzvot. I could certainly analyze the rest of the mitzvot the same way, but I will only do so for those which people are most likely to have their failings in. Let us speak now about promiscuity, which is second only to thievery in the degree to which people transgress against it, as our sages indicated when they said, "Most people commit sins of theft, and some commit sins of promiscuity..." (Baba Batra 165a). No small amount of effort is required if you want to be thoroughly innocent of this transgression, because not only is the act itself forbidden, but actions related to it are forbidden as well. The Torah clearly says, "Do not come close to uncovering nakedness" (Leviticus 18:6). Our sages said, "The Holy One (blessed be He) warned, 'Do not say that since it is forbidden to have illicit relations with this woman you will just hold onto her and you will not be committing a sin; or you will just hug her or kiss her, and you will not have committed a sin.' The Holy One (blessed be He) said, 'Just as if you had vowed to be a Nazir, disallowing wine for yourself, and it then became forbidden for you by the Torah to eat grapes and raisins and to drink grape juice, as well as all other products of the grapevine-- so too may you not even touch a woman who is not your wife. And whoever does brings an early death upon himself..." (Shemot Rabbah 16b). How profound this statement is when it compares the prohibition of illicit sexual relationships to the Nazir. For even though the main thing forbidden to the Nazir is the drinking of wine, the Torah itself explicitly forbids him all things connected with it. This principle was handed down to the sages to teach them how to build "protective hedges" that insure the keeping of the Torah. They learned from the Nazir to forbid all things equivalent to the main prohibition. The Torah taught this principle through the mitzvah of the Nazir to have the sages apply it to the other mitzvot and to show that this is the will of G-d. And it did this by stating the prohibition to us outright along with its off-shoots so that they would know how to infer further prohibitions from stated ones. In this case, the tradition forbids illicit intimacy and all other such things however they may be found-- tactily, through sight, speech and hearing, or in thought. I will now bring you words of proof for all of these with statements of the sages.

Tacitly involves light physical contact, or hugging, and so forth. We have already explained this above, and we do not have to say anything further. In terms of seeing-- our sages said, "It is written, 'Those who join hands for wicked ends shall not go unpunished' (Proverbs 11:21)-- that is to say, all shopkeepers who go out of their way to dispense change to women customers to stare at them shall not go unpunished in the judgments of Gehenom" (Brachot 61a). They asked why the Jews of a particular generation especially needed forgiveness, and answered that it was because their eyes strayed licentiously (Shabbat 64a). Rav Sheshet asked why the Torah discusses underclothing along with outerwear when it says, "We have therefore brought an offering for G-d-- what every man has gotten of jewels of gold, chains and bracelets, rings, earrings as well as girdles ..." (Numbers 31:50), and answered that it was to teach you that whoever stares at even the little finger of a woman is likened to one who stares at her private parts (Brachot 24a). The sages said further, "It is written, 'And you shall guard yourself from any evil' (Deuteronomy 23:10)-- this means to say that a man should not stare at an attractive woman, even if she is unmarried; nor at a married woman even if she is ugly" (Avodah Zara 20a). In terms of speech with a woman-- we find it explicitly stated, "Whoever over-involves himself in small talk with his wife brings bad upon himself" (Pirke Avot 1:5).


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Monday, August 27, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Mon., Aug. 27th)

Happy to say that Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta is due to be married today and seems to be out of the woods. Thanks for your tephillos!


CHAPTER TEN (Continued):

Our sages tell us that King David would be careful to thoroughly cleanse himself of all this-- so much so that he would go off to war securely, asking of G-d, "May I chase my enemies and overtake them, and not return until I will have destroyed them?" (Psalms 18:38) (Introduction to Eicha Rabbah 30). This is exactly what Yehosophat, Assa, and Chizkiyah could not do, because they were not cleansed from this trait, as David himself pointed out when he said, "G-d will reward me according to my righteousness; He will repay me according to the innocence of my hands" (Psalms 18:21); as well as, "G-d will repay me according to my righteousness; according to the innocence of my hands in His eyesight" (Psalms 18:25), referring to the aforementioned innocence. Then he goes on to say, "For with You I will run upon a troop.... I will chase my enemies and overtake them" (Psalms 18:38). And he proclaimed, "Who will go up to G-d's mountain? And who will arise in His holy place? -- one of clean hand and pure heart" (Psalms 24:3–4).

In truth it is very difficult to foster this trait. Our natures are weak, our hearts are easily swayed, and we allow ourselves things which bring us to error. But one who does obtain this trait will have reached a very high level, as he will have proven himself to have withstood temptation and been victorious in a mighty war. We will now go on to enunciate the particulars of this trait.



There are many aspects of innocence-- as many as there are negative mitzvot (365 in number). But in essence, to be innocent is to be cleansed of even the off-shoots of sin, as I have already stated. Even though it is always the yetzer hara that has you sin, there are some sins that your personality may be drawn to and would tend to rationalize reasons to allow. It is in those instances that you will especially need help in subduing the yetzer hara and in cleansing yourself of sin.

Our sages pointed out that "in terms of forbidden acts, people are especially drawn to thievery and promiscuity" (Makkot 23b). Yet we know that most people are not blatantly dishonest. They would not actually reach out and take someone else's money and place it in their pockets. Nevertheless, most people are involved in acts of petty thievery in their business practices by unfairly profiting from others' losses, and they reason that "business is different!" Many theft-related negative mitzvot are stated in the Torah: "Do not steal", "Do not rob", "Do not extort", "Do not lie", "Do not be untruthful with your comrade", "One should not deceive his fellow", and "Do not falsify your neighbor's borders". These sorts of possible thievery cover many daily practices in the business world. And in each and every one there are many prohibitions, for not just the obvious, flagrant violations of extortion or thievery, for example, are forbidden. Things that lead to them are included in the prohibition as well. Our sages pointed out that it is written, "He did not make his neighbor's wife impure" (Ezekiel 18:6). That infers, they tell us, that "he did not enter into his friend's line of work" (Sanhedrin 81a). We find that Rabbi Yehudah forbade shopkeepers from handing out roasted treats and nuts to children which they used to accustom them to come to their store (Baba Metzia 60a). The only reason the sages finally allowed it was because the competition could do the same if they wanted to. They also said that "thievery against people is worse than thievery against the One above" (Baba Batra 88b). We find that they excused those working alongside their employers from taking the time to recite the blessings after meals, and only required them to interrupt their work to say the first paragraph of the Sh'ma Yisrael (Brachot 16a). How much more so, then, so does this notion of not taking what is not yours hold true for mundane things! Workers have to occupy themselves with their assigned tasks exclusively, and if they do not they are considered thieves. Abba Chilkiah would not even return a greeting tended by certain scholars so as not to waste time at his job (Ta'anit 23b). Our father Jacob expressed it best when he explained to Laban, "...I never took a ram from your flocks as food. I never brought you an animal that had been severed, but rather, I took the blame myself.... By day I was consumed by heat, and in the night by frost, when sleep was stolen from my eyes" (Genesis 31:38-40). What can someone who serves his own needs and busies himself with his own affairs when he is on the job say, therefore, other than the truth: that he has done what he wanted to, to his own benefit.

The principal of the matter is that one who is hired to do something sells his part of the day, as our sages pointed out when they said, "Being hired is selling yourself for the day" (Baba Metziah 56b). And whatever you take for yourself is taken in thievery, and you are not forgiven by G-d unless the employer himself forgives you, as "Yom Kippur does not forgive for sins one commits against another unless that person himself forgives" as our sages said (Yoma 85b). Even if you were to do a mitzvah when you were supposed to be doing your job it would not be accredited to you as a righteous act, but rather a sin-- because a sin is not a mitzvah. As the Torah says, "(G-d) hates thievery in a burnt offering" (Isaiah 61:8). In a similar vein our sages said, "One who steals a measure of wheat, then grinds it, bakes it and pronounces a blessing over it is not blessing G-d but blaspheming against G-d, as it is written, 'The thief who blesses blasphemes' (Psalms 10:3)" (Baba Kama 94a). It is said in such a case, "Woe to the one who makes his defender a prosecutor." In the Jerusalem Talmud (Succah 3:3) our sages speak about a stolen lulav. It is decided there as well that stealing time is as much an act of thievery as is stealing objects. Just as when one steals an object and performs a mitzvah with it he turns his best defense into a case against him, when he steals time he does the same.

The Holy One (blessed be He) cares only for honesty. As it is said, "G-d protects the honest" (Psalms 31:24); "Open up, gates, so that a righteous, an honest nation may enter" (Isaiah 26:2); "My eyes are towards the honest of the land, to those who will sit with Me" (Psalms 101:6); and "Are not Your eyes directed towards honesty?" (Jeremiah 5:3). Job said, "If my steps have turned out of the way, or my heart has gone after my eyes, or if anything has cleaved to my hands, then let me sow and another eat" (Job 31:7). Notice how perfect this image is. It equates unintentional thievery with things sticking to the hand: that is, though the person may not willfully set out to take some particular thing, it nonetheless "sticks" to him, and comes to be in his possession. In our case as well, though someone may truly not want to steal, he can nevertheless find it very difficult to be completely free of it. In truth, all this comes about because the eyes have the heart arrive at rationalizations for what it finds attractive and wants instead of the heart being in control of the eyes, so that you are not attracted to others' possessions. Job said that he had not acted so, that his heart was not drawn after his eyes-- that was why nothing "stuck to his palms".


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Sun., Aug. 26th)

For a refuah shleimi for Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta, young man who is due to be married tomorrow who suddenly and inexplicably became terribly ill.

He's out of intensive care now, boruch Hashem, but he still needs our tephillos.


CHAPTER NINE (Continued):


The factor to use in differentiating between the two types of concern is the one used by our sages when they said, "Things are different where there is a possibility of danger" (Pesachim 8b). In other words, you must be cautious in a situation where threat is known of or obvious, but where that is not the case you do not need to be cautious. Our sages said about such instances, "We do not assume a cause for suspicion when we do not see one" (Chullin 56b); as well as, "A sage should assume nothing but what he sees with his own eyes" (Baba Batra 131a). This is also the essence of the quote from the Torah we mentioned earlier, that "a clever man sees evil and he hides." It is referring to hiding from the evil he sees-- not from what might possibly happen.

This truly refers as well to what we quoted earlier on, that "the lazy man says, 'There's a lion on the road'" Our sages bluntly interpreted this to be pointing out how unnecessary concern even holds a person back from doing righteous deeds. They said, "Solomon said seven things about a lazy person: Were people to tell him, 'Your Rabbi is in town and you should go learn Torah from him', he would say, 'I'm afraid there may be a lion on the road.' Were they to say, 'Your Rabbi is in the vicinity', he would say, 'I'm afraid that there might be a lion in the streets.' And were they to say, 'He's in your house', he would say, 'If I would go to him I would find the door locked, and so on'" (Devarim Rabbah 8:7). This comes to teach you that your worry does not cause laziness, but rather laziness causes you to worry. Everyday experience attests to all this, and it is clear and widely known to the vast majority of people that this is the way of the ignorant. The thinking person should arrive at the truth and a clear understanding easily.

I have already explained the subject of enthusiasm in a manner I would consider to be sufficient to encourage you. The wise will be further wisened and will take in what they can. It is only right that enthusiasm should follow caution, for all in all a person cannot be enthusiastic if he was not first cautious. Someone who has not set it in his heart to be cautious in his actions, and to reflect upon service to G-d and its principles-- which constitutes the trait of caution, as we have already said-- will find it hard to be both enveloped by love and longing for Divine service and enthused with a yearning for his Creator. Such a person is still stuck in the attractions of the physical world and goes about doing the very things that just naturally keep him away from all this. But in truth, after you will have opened your eyes to take a look at your actions and to be cautious in them, and to reckon the worth of mitzvot versus sins, as was mentioned, you will find it easy to keep from doing bad and you will yearn for and be enthusiastic about the good instead. This is clear.




The trait of innocence is obtained when you are utterly free from all bad traits and sins-- not only obvious, well-known sins, but also those the heart is often seduced into believing are not sins but which prove to be so upon reflection. (This seduction comes about as a result of the heart still being affected by physical desires. Because it has not been completely purified it is drawn into seeing certain things as being permitted which are not). The vision of the person who is thoroughly purified from this affliction-- cleansed from any tinge of bad that physical desires might have left behind-- is utterly clear, and his sense of discrimination is sharpened. His longings are not directed toward anything material. Should he at all sin he would recognize it as being bad and separate from it. Our sages referred to these spiritually- whole people who would so purify their actions that there could not be found even a nagging remnant of bad as "Jerusalem's innocent of understanding" (Sanhedrin 23A).

You can see now the difference between caution and innocence. For even though they are similar, they are different. The person who is cautious is cautious in his actions and sees to it that he does not sin where sin is clear and obvious to all. But he still has not mastered himself. His heart would naturally be drawn to or tempted by things whose bad qualities are not quite so obvious. Though he may try to conquer his yetzer hara and subdue his desires, he will not have succeeded in changing his nature or removing physical desires from his heart. He will have managed to over-power them and to go in the ways of wisdom instead, but they would continue to do all they could to dissuade and undermine him.

First you must earnestly accustom yourself to be enthusiastic until you are cleansed from obvious sins, then further accustom yourself in Divine service and strengthen your love and desire for G-d. Force of habit in that will separate you from all mundane things, and see to it that your mind will take hold of true wholeness of spirit. In the end you will be able to obtain complete innocence, and what would have been the fire of physical desires would be extinguished by the strengthening of G-dly desire. Only then will your sight be clear and refined, as referred to above, and you will not to be undermined or even approached by the darkness of physicality. Your actions will be cleansed of it all. King David was pleased to find this trait in himself. He said, "I will wash my hands in innocence and go round the Tabernacle of G-d" (Psalms 26:6). In truth, only someone who has been thoroughly cleansed of all the nagging remnants of sin and transgression is fitting to see the face of the King, G-d. One not so prepared can only be abashed and embarrassed before Him. As Ezra said, "O G-d, I am abashed and ashamed to lift my face, G-d, to You" (Ezra 9:6). Great effort is required to reach the ultimate in this trait. Obvious and well-known sins are easy to avoid, as it is clear to all that they are bad; but the kind of meticulous scrutiny required for innocence is difficult. People often rationalize that certain things are permissible when they are not, and that tends to cover-over sins, as we said. This is what our sages were referring to when they said, "The very sins that people dash under their heels are the ones that surround them at the time of judgment" (Avodah Zara 18a); as well as, "Most people commit sins of theft, some commit acts of promiscuity, but all succumb to some small measure of slander" (Baba Batra 165a)-- and this is so as a result of the subtle nature of small acts of slander, which causes people to trip over them without recognizing them.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Friday, August 24, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Shabbos Aug. 25th)

For a refuah shleimi for Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta, young man who is due to be married in a couple of weeks who suddenly and inexplicably became terribly ill.

He's out of intensive care now, boruch Hashem, but he still needs our tephillos.



The means to acquire enthusiasm are the very ones, step by step, used to acquire caution. Their concerns are very similar. The only difference between them is that enthusiasm relates to positive mitzvot, and caution to negative ones. When the great value of the mitzvot, as well as your great responsibility to them becomes clear to you, your heart will certainly be aroused to Divine service, and you will not slacken in it.

What will strengthen this motivation will be your taking note of the very many good things that the Holy One (blessed be He) does for you moment by moment, and the great wonders He performs for you from your birth until your last day. The more aware you will be of these matters and the more you will reflect upon them, the more easily will you recognize your great debt to G-d who has been so good to you. And this will be the means by which you will avoid being lazy and weak in your Divine service. For while in truth you cannot repay Him for His goodness, you can at least acknowledge Him and do His mitzvot. There can be no person, whatever his circumstances-- be he poor or rich, healthy or ill-- who will never have experienced some wonders or great good in his life. The rich and the healthy are already indebted to G-d for their wealth and good health. But even the poor person is indebted to Him. For, despite his poverty, sustenance has been provided for him by G-d in a miraculous, wondrous way, and he has not died of starvation. The ill person is indebted to G-d because he is actually strengthened by the burden of his illness and his wounds, and He has not allowed him to sink into the pit. And this is the case with all other such things. There is no person who cannot recognize his debt to the Creator. He will certainly be aroused and enthused in his service to G-d by contemplating the good that he has received from Him, as I have already indicated; but he will be enthused even more so if he reflects upon the matter of how all of the good he enjoys, and all that he needs and finds to be essential is in the hands of G-d, and no other. Then he will certainly not be lazy in his service to G-d, and will lack nothing that is essential for it.

You will notice that I have divided this section into the same three subdivisions I divided the trait of caution into, because their concerns are the same and one may be understood from the other. The advice for those who fully understand will be of the nature of cognizance of their duty, and the value and worth of righteous deeds; for those of lesser understanding, the advice will involve cognizance of the World to Come and their place of honor therein-- that they should not be shamed on the day of reward by seeing the level of good they might have attained but did not; and for most people the advice will focus upon this world and its needs, in the manner I have explained in Chapter Four.


The things that cause the loss of enthusiasm are the same ones that enhance laziness. The greatest of them are the yearning for relaxation, the dislike of inconvenience, and the utter love of pleasure. The sort of person who lives this way is surely very burdened by the idea of Divine service. Someone who wants to enjoy his meals in comfort, to sleep through the night without interruption, or who would not walk if he could not do so slowly, and so forth, would find it difficult to wake up early to go to synagogue, or to interrupt his evening meal for Mincha services or for a particular mitzvah if the timing is not just so. He certainly would not hurry to perform mitzvot in general, or to study Torah. Someone who regularly acts this way is not his own master and is not free enough to undo his actions whenever he might want to. His will is already bound by habits which have become second nature to him. Know that you were not placed in this world for relaxation, but for effort and toil. You should consider yourself to be a worker doing your work for your wages (as is mentioned in the Talmud, where our sages said of themselves, "We are day laborers" [Eruvin 65a]) or you should consider yourself to be a soldier in rank who eats hurriedly, sleeps fitfully, and is prepared for movement at any time. It is said regarding this, "Man was born for labor" (Job 5:7). When you accustom yourself to this path you will find that the workload is lightened for you, because you will not lack for readiness and preparation. Our sages noted such a path when they said, "This is the path of Torah: you must eat bread with salt, drink small amounts of water, and sleep on the ground" (Pirke Avot 6:4). This is the ultimate separation from relaxation and pleasures.

Other things that cause the loss of enthusiasm are fear and anxiety about transient things and their consequences. At one point you might be nervous about cold or heat, another time you might worry about accidents, then another time about illness, and yet another time about the wind, and so forth. This is what Solomon was referring to when he said, "The lazy person says, 'There's a lion on the road' or 'There's a lion in the street (as an excuse)'" (Proverbs 26:13). Our sages ridiculed this trait because of its clear connection to sinning, using the following verse as proof: "The sinners are frightened in Zion; trembling has taken hold of the hypocrites" (Isaiah 33:14). A great man said to one of his students who was frightened, "You're (obviously) a sinner!" (Brachot 60a). As it is pointed out, you should "trust in G-d and do good; live in the land and be nourished by your faith" (Psalms 37:36). The point is you should consider yourself as "passing through" the world, but settled-in in your Divine service. You should willingly and contentedly face whatever greets you in this world, and take hold of whatever circumstances come your way. You should avoid relaxation and be drawn to work and effort, set your heart to trust in G-d, and not worry about consequences or happenstances.

You might argue that the sages warned that you must watch out for your well- being very carefully and not place yourself in danger-- even if you are already a righteous person or someone who does a lot of righteous deeds. They said, "Everything is in the hands of Heaven but cold drafts" (Ketubot 30a). And the verse says, "Be very careful to watch yourselves" (Deuteronomy 4:15). You should not consign yourself to trust in G-d's protection in everything, "even if it concerns a mitzvah", the rabbis added. You must know that there is fear, and there is fear. There is warranted fear and there is senseless fear; there is trust and there is naivete. G-d created man to be sensible and straight-forwardly logical so that he could accustom himself to go the right way and guard himself from the things that might cause him harm (which were created to punish the evil). One who does not want to go along the ways of wisdom and is willing to expose himself to danger is not practicing trust in G-d-- he is naive, and he is sinning and going against the will of G-d Who wants him to protect himself. In fact, beside the dangers inherent in the thing he has done by not protecting himself, he could be culpable for his own fate by having actively committed a sin. And that will cause him to suffer punishment. This sort of self-protection is a form of concern that is warranted, sensible and wise, and is referred to in the Torah where it says, "A clever man sees evil and he hides, but the fool passes right by it and is punished" (Proverbs 22:3).

Senseless concern is when you compound one form of self-protection onto another, one fear or worry onto another to such a degree that you do away with Torah-study and Divine service altogether.

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Messilas Yesharim (Fri. Aug. 24th)

For a refuah shleimi for Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta, young man who is due to be married in a couple of weeks who suddenly and inexplicably became terribly ill.

He's out of intensive care now, boruch Hashem, but he still needs our tephillos.


CHAPTER SIX (Continued):

It is important that you know at this point that a major principle for fostering the trait of abstention is that every leniency in Divine service should be carefully and most thoroughly considered beforehand. For even though the leniency may seem to be just and right, nonetheless it is very possible that it comes out of the advice of the yetzer hara and its deceiving ways. If, after all of that, your reasons for taking advantage of the leniency will be found to be just, then it is certainly correct. The point is that you need great prodding to strengthen and enthusiastically encourage yourself to do mitsvot, and to throw off the heavy laziness which holds you back. The angels were praised for this good trait. As it is said regarding them, "(They are) mighty in energy, doing as He says, listening to the voice of His word" (Psalms 103:20). And, as it is written, "The chayot dashed back and forth like lightning" (Ezekiel 1:14). But in truth human beings are just that-- humans, and not angels. It is therefore impossible for us to have the might of the angels. Nonetheless we should strive to get as close to this level as we possibly can. King David used to praise his own share of this trait by saying, "I hurried-- did not delay-- to keep Your mitzvot" (Psalms 119:60).



There are two subdivisions of enthusiasm. The first is in force before you begin to act on something, and the second is in force after you act on something. The subdivision that is relevant to before acting on something is comprised of not letting mitzvot "spoil". When the time comes to do one, or when one presents itself to you, or when it first occurs to you to do it, you should hasten to take hold of it and do it, and not allow a lot of time to pass by. There is nothing more dangerous than delay. A deterrent to a righteous deed can come up with each moment of delay. Our sages warned us about how true this is in relation to the kingship of Solomon. David said to Benayahu, "Bring (Solomon) down to Gichon (to be appointed king in David's stead)" (I Kings 1:33–36), and Benayahu replied, "Amen. May G-d say so ..." (Ibid. 37). Our sages commented thusly: "Rabbi Pinchas said in the name of Rabbi Channin of Tzippori, Is it not written, 'Behold, a son will be born to you who will be a man of tranquility' (I Chronicles 22:9)? But many adversaries may rise up against him between here and Gichon" (Breshit Rabbah 76:2).That is why we were warned by our sages that when it is written, "And you will guard the matzot" (Exodus 12:17) it means to say that you should not allow any mitzvah that comes within your grasp to spoil (Mechilta). That is why they said, "A man should always be eager to do a mitzvah, for because a first-born daughter proceeded her younger sister in marriage by one night she merited to bring forth four generations of Kings in Israel" (Nazir 23b); "The enthusiastic are eager in mitzvot" (Pesachim 4a); "You should always run to a mitzvah, even on the Shabbat" (Brachot 6b); "It is written, 'He will guide us al moot' (Psalms 48:15). That means to say "as enthusiastically as young girls". As it is said, 'Among them are young girls beating tambourines (enthusiastically)' (Psalms 68:26)" (Vayikrah Rabbah 11:8). Enthusiasm is the one great trait of perfection that is presently lacking in human nature. One who strengthens himself and assumes as much of it as he possibly can will merit it in truth in the World to Come. The Holy One (blessed be He) will eventually give him his reward in exchange for the effort he put into at the time of his service.

The subdivision of enthusiasm that is relevant to after an act has begun refers to taking hold of a mitzvah and being in a hurry to complete it. The mitzvah should not be done that way because you are anxious to unburden yourself of it, but because you are afraid that you might not merit to complete it. Our sages continuously warned us about this. They said, "Whoever starts a mitzvah and does not complete it will bury his wife and children" (Breshit Rabbah 85:3); "A mitzvah is only attributed to the one who completes it" (Ibid.). Solomon said "Do you see a man diligent in his work? He will stand before kings, and will not stand before commoners" (Proverbs 22:29). Our sages said, "this praise is attributed to Solomon himself because he hurried in the construction of the Temple and was not lazy about it, and did not delay in it" (Sanhedrin 104b). The sages commented likewise about Moses for his having hurried in the construction of the Tabernacle (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:2).

You will find that all of the actions of the righteous are done eagerly. It is said about Abraham, "And Abraham hurried to Sara's tent and said to her, 'Hurry!'"; and "he gave it to the young man hurriedly" (Genesis 18:6–7). It is said about Rebecca that, "She hurried and emptied her flask" (Ibid. 24:20). In a similar vein we find in the Midrash, "It is written, 'And the woman hurried...' (Judges 13:10) -- this comes to teach us that all of the actions of the righteous are done hurriedly. That is, they would not allow a moment's delay either in the starting or completion of a mitzvah" (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5).The man whose spirit is aflame in the service of his Creator will certainly not be lackadaisical in the doing of mitzvot. His movements would be as quick as fire, for he could not be at rest or still until he would have utterly completed the task.

Further reflecting upon the matter you will find that enthusiasm is an outcome of some inner incandescence. But enthusiasm itself can produce this incandescence. If you will examine your actions at the time of the performance of a mitzvah you will note that just as you yourself instigate external movements, so too can they instigate inner movements, to the point where they can consciously arouse your very yearnings and desires. But if you continue to accustom yourself to stilted body-movement your spirit will also be trapped and extinguished. Experience attests to this.

As is known, the most desirable traits in service to the Creator are willingness of heart and longing of soul. King David praised his own good portion of those matters by saying, "Like the hart pants after the water-brooks, my soul pants for you, G-d. My soul thirsts for G-d" (Psalms 42:2–3); "My soul longs and faints for the courts of G-d" (Ibid. 84: 3); "My soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You" (Ibid. 63:2). The best advice for the person in whom this desire does not burn is that he consciously enthuse himself so that enthusiasm might eventually become second nature to him. External movement arouses the internal, and you certainly have more of a command over the external than the internal. So if you make use of what you have command over, you will eventually take control over what you do not. Great inner joy, desire and longing will come about as a result of your consciously igniting of your movements. The prophet was referring to this when he said, "Let us know-- let us run to know G-d" (Hosea 6:3), as well as, "They who will roar like a lion will go after G-d" (Ibid. 11:10).

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Messsilas Yesharim (Thurs. Aug. 23rd)

For a refuah shleimi for Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta, young man who is due to be married in a couple of weeks who suddenly and inexplicably became terribly ill.

He's out of intensive care now, boruch Hashem, but he still needs our tephillos.

CHAPTER FIVE (Continued):

Should you find yourself in the company of someone who ridicules you, do not take his remarks to heart. Do just the opposite-- ridicule and embarrass him. Just consider this: if you had an opportunity to acquire great wealth would you hold yourself back because of somebody's ridiculing? You should avoid destroying your soul because of a ridiculer all the more so. Our sages said, "Be as ferocious as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift-footed as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven" (Pirke Avot 5:20). And David said, "I will speak of Your testimonies before kings and not shame" (Psalms 119:46). He meant that even though for the most part the concerns and conversations of kings involved grandeur and hedonism, David (who was also a king), did not at all worry about being embarrassed, and would discuss morals and Torah in their company instead of taking part in their usual stories of the grandeur and hedonism of people like themselves. After he had realized the truth, his heart was not seduced by such emptiness. As he explained it, he would "speak of Your testimonies before kings and not shame" (Ibid.). In a similar manner, Isaiah said "Therefore I have made my face like flint and knew I would never shame" (Isaiah 50:7).


Enthusiasm follows caution. But while caution has to do with not doing, enthusiasm has to do with doing. As it is written, "Depart from evil and do good" (Psalms 34:15). The meaning of enthusiasm is self-evident: it is the eagerness to do and complete mitzvot. Our sages put it this way, "The enthusiastic do mitzvot eagerly" (Pesachim 4a). It takes as much conscientiousness and determination to take hold of the mitzvot, so that you can gain rather than lose merit, as it does to save yourself from the snares of the yetzer hara, so that it does not control you and become entangled in your affairs. For just as the yetzer hara tries by any means to have you fall into the nets of sin, it also tries to have you lose the chance to do mitzvot. If you slack off and become lazy instead of encouraging yourself to pursue them and take hold of them, you will surely be left empty handed.

Man is by nature very "weighed down" by an earthiness and coarse materiality. That is why he does not want to exert or burden himself. But if you want to merit to Divine service you have to fight this nature and be self-motivated and enthusiastic. For if you abandon yourself to this "heaviness" you will not succeed in your quest. Our sages counseled us to be as "ferocious as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift-footed as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of our Father in heaven" (Pirke Avot 5:20). And they included Torah-study and the performance of righteous deeds as the things that need prodding (Brachot 32b). The Torah itself clearly warns us to "be strong and very courageous in keeping and observing the whole Torah that Moses, My servant, has commanded you" (Joshua 1:7). So, one who wants to turn-around his nature needs a lot of prodding.

Solomon warned us repeatedly about the detrimental nature of laziness, and the great loss that comes from it. He said, "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little crossing of your arms to nap, and all of a sudden poverty and want come along like an armed soldier" (Proverbs 6:10–11). He meant that even though the lazy person does not set out to do harm, he does it inadvertently by being inactive. He also said, "One who slackens in his duties is the brother of the destroyer" (Proverbs 18:9), meaning that even though that person is not himself the destroyer doing the harm, you should not think that he is innocent: he is the destroyer's brother, one of his kind. Solomon evoked a common-enough scene to illustrate and explain the detrimental nature of laziness. He said, "I went by the field of a lazy man and the vineyard of a foolish man, and behold they were grown over with thorns, and their surfaces were covered over with thistles.... I noticed it, considered it, looked closely and learned this lesson from it: a little sleep, a little slumber,... and all of a sudden poverty and want ..." (Proverbs 24:30–34). Aside from the literal meaning of the story which is true enough and is what happens to lazy people, our sages arrived at an interesting interpretation of it: "'... and behold they were grown over with thorns' means that someone wanted to know the meaning of some concept in Torah and could not arrive at it; 'and their surfaces were covered over with thistles', means that because he did not trouble himself to arrive at the correct meaning, he adjudged something forbidden to be permitted or vice versa, and came to break down the fences (safeguards) established by our sages. What would be this man's punishment? As Solomon told us, 'Whoever breaks down fences will be bitten by a snake' (Ecclesiastes 10:8)" (Yalkut, Proverbs 961).

The bad that comes from laziness does not come about in one fell swoop, but slowly and without notice. It comes in a sequence of one bad deed after another, until you find yourself sunk in evil. First it is only a case of not making the necessary effort, which results in not learning Torah as required for full understanding. This inadequacy in study would be followed by study lacking in understanding. As if that were not bad enough, misunderstanding of that section of Torah would continue, and things would become "clear" to the person that would in fact be against halacha. He would wind-up turning around the truth and destroying it, and going against the dictates of our sages and "breaking down the fences". His end would be destruction, which is the judgment against all who break down the fences. Solomon said, "I noticed it, (and) considered it" (Ecclesiastes 10:8)-- I thought it over and saw the great evil in it that was like a poison that spreads very, very slowly and is only noticed at death. And this is what I meant when I said, '... a little sleep... and all of a sudden poverty and want come along like an armed soldier' (Ibid)".

We see over and over again how, though people know of their obligations and what their duty is to their Creator, and it has become self-evident to them that they must rescue their souls, that they will nonetheless disregard this all. Again, this would not be as a result of any lack of realization of their obligations, or for any reason other than the "heaviness" of laziness that overpowers. So they say, "Let me eat a little", or "let me sleep a little", or "it's a hardship for me to go out of my house", or "I've already taken off my coat, so how can I put it on again?" (Song of Songs 5:3), or "it's very, very hot outside", or "it's too cold", or "it's raining"-- or any other excuse or rationalization the lazy person may be full of. And for one reason or another, Torah is left aside, Divine service is left undone, and you come to abandon your Creator. This is what Solomon was referring to when he said, "Because of lazy people the beams will collapse, and for idleness of the hands the house will leak" (Ecclesiastes 10:18). But were you to ask the lazy person about his ways, he would retort with all sorts of sayings of the sages, scriptural passages and logical explanations to prove (to his misguided mind) that he should have it easy and be left in his lazy ways. He cannot see that these rationalizations and ideas are not an outcome of his thinking the problem out, but that they spring forth out of his laziness. As it controls him, it inclines his thinking toward the direction of these rationalizations, so that he does not listen to the words of the sages or the people who truly understand. This is what Solomon bewailed when he said, "A lazy man is more sagacious in his own eyes than seven people who can give sensible answers" (Proverbs 26:16). It does not sit well with a lazy person to think that words of reproof could conceivably be directed to him; he thinks that everyone is mistaken or foolish, and that he alone is wise.

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Wed. Aug. 22nd)

For a refuah shleimi for Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta, young man who is due to be married in a couple of weeks who suddenly and inexplicably became terribly ill.

He's out of intensive care now, boruch Hashem, but he still needs our tephillos.


CHAPTER FIVE (Continued):

It is apparent from the fact that the Creator created just this cure for this specific ailment that it would be impossible to thoroughly cure a person from the ailment any other way, and that anyone who thinks he can be saved otherwise is mistaken. He will realize his error at the time of his death, as he dies transgressing. In truth the yetzer harah is powerful in us. And without our knowing it, it gets stronger and stronger, and controls us. We can try everything in the world, but if we do not try the remedy particular to it, Torah, we will never know of or sense its overtaking us until we die in our sins and our souls are lost.This is like the case of the sick man who went to several doctors. Each doctor recognized his condition, and prescribed a particular medicine. But he, without ever having had any medical training, decided not to take that medicine, but rather another remedy that he thought might cure him. Needless to say, this man is doomed to die. The human situation is like that. No one other than G-d (Who has created it) is fully acquainted with the illness that is the yetzer harah or its inherent strength. And He has taught us that its cure is Torah. Who is it, then, that could disregard that and take what he wants to instead of it and survive? The thick darkness of materiality will surely continue to grow strong within him by degree, without his knowing. He will find himself so very far from truth -- so caught-up in evil-- that it would not even occur to him to search truth out.But if this person were to engage himself in Torah, and were to keep its ways, mitzvot and warnings, a renewed desire to stay on the good path would ultimately be kindled within him. Our sages were referring to this when they said, "(G-d says) If only they would abandon Me and keep my Torah-- the great light-giving within it would turn them around for the better" (Jerusalem Talmud, Chagiga 1:7).

In the category of means to facilitate caution as well is the setting aside of specific time for reflecting upon your actions and rectifying them, as has been mentioned. Also, if you are wise, any free time you might have from your everyday concerns will not be lost. You would grab hold of it and not let go, and engage yourself in spiritual concerns and in rectifying your Divine service. Although this-- over-involvement in worldly matters-- is the most common cause of the loss of caution, it is also the easiest to escape from. But the second one-- levity and mockery-- is very difficult. Anyone who is sunk in it is sunk in a great sea from which it is very difficult to be rescued.

Mockery is ruinous to the heart. All sense and reason is gone when it is around. The light-hearted is like a drunkard or an idiot: it is impossible to give counsel or direction to him because he will not take it. King Solomon said, "I have said of levity that it is silly and have asked of happiness what it does" (Ecclesiastes 2:2). Our sages said, "Levity and light-heartedness accustoms you to promiscuity" (Pirke Avot 3:13). Though any sensitive soul recognizes the seriousness of promiscuity and resists it because of the image already drawn in his mind of the profundity of the transgression and the degree of punishment incurred from it-- nonetheless, slowly but surely, levity and light- heartedness could draw and pull him closer and closer to it, to the point where fear of the transgression eventually leaves, and he reaches the point of nearly committing the sin, and then does. Why? Because just as the very condition required of the trait of caution is conscious taking-stock, the very essence of levity involves diverting your attention from all noble and profound thoughts, so the fear of Heaven does not enter into it at all. Notice as well the difficulty and destructiveness of mockery. The person who mocks contends with rebuke and remorse like an oil–covered shield that resists and repels arrows that they might fall to the ground and not touch its wearer's person. By seeing or hearing something that might have it reflect upon or examine its actions, the heart can encourage and arouse itself to do good. But with only one act of mockery or a bit of levity a great amount of self- encouragement and self-rousing to righteous action can fall to the ground. Then the original urge for good would make no impression at all. And all of this would not be because of any kind of weakness or misunderstanding, but rather because of the nature of mockery to undo morality and the fear of Heaven.The prophet Isaiah would screech like a crane about this. He saw that this trait in the people would not allow his moral rebukes to make an impression, and that all hope would be lost for the sinners he was addressing. He said "And now stop ridiculing, because your bonds might tighten" (Isaiah 28:22). Our sages have already proclaimed that one who mocks brings trials upon himself (Avodah Zara 18b). As the verse explicitly states, "It is only fitting that one who mocks be judged" (Proverbs 19:29).

This is in fact as logic would dictate. One who busies himself with self-analyses and study does not have to suffer corporeally for his sins: he would have already repented as a result of the thoughts of repentance borne in his heart after having read or heard moral-teachings or rebuke. But the mockers-- who do not occupy themselves with taking rebuke, as a natural result of their mockery-- have no other means of reparation than Divine judgement. There is nothing in their mocking nature equivalent in power to moral teaching toeliminate such judgement. And the true Judge is as serious in His judgement as the seriousness of the transgression, and its ramifications. Our sages were referring to this when they said, "Mockery is difficult because it starts in trials and ends in destruction, as it is said, 'Therefore do not be mockers, lest your binding-ropes be strengthened, for I have heard words of utter destruction...' (Isaiah 28:22)" (Avodah Zara 18b).

The third thing that causes you to lose caution is a circle of friends, that is, a circle of sinful, foolish friends. The verse refers to this when it says, "A friend of fools will suffer harm" (Proverbs 13:20). Often we find that even after the need for Divine service and caution become self-evident to a person, he might slacken-off or over-look certain things relevant to it so friends might not ridicule him, or so that he might fit in with them. Solomon warned about this when he said, "Do not mix with shonim" (Proverbs 24:21). By this he means that if someone quotes the section of the Talmud that says, "One should always join in with people" (Ketubot 17a), you should tell him that this refers to joining in with people who act like people, not like people who act like animals. Solomon further warned: "Walk away from a foolish man" (Proverbs 14:7). King David said, "The man who does not walk in the council of the wicked, or stand on the road of sinners, or sit in the settlement of mockers is fortunate" (Psalms 1:1). Our sages have understood this to mean, "If he startsout walking he will end up standing, and if he stands he will end up sitting" (Avodah Zara 18b). David said "I have not sat with false men..., I have hated a congregation of evildoers" (Psalms 26:4). A person should only purify and cleanse himself, and keep himself back from the ways of the great preponderance of people who are stuck in passing fancies. He should turn himself in the direction of the courtyard of G-d and His Tabernacle. This is what David concluded when he said, "I will wash my hands in cleanliness and I will circle Your altar, G-d" (Psalms 26:6).


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Tues. Aug. 21st)

For a refuah shleimi for Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta, young man who is due to be married in a couple of weeks who suddenly and inexplicably became terribly ill.

He's out of intensive care now, boruch Hashem, but he still needs our tephillos.

CHAPTER FOUR (Continued):

Certainly the intent of his statement is not that the punishment should be equal for both. As is known, G-d repays actions in kind, measure for measure. But the point is that actions are weighed, and the trivial ones are weighed just as are the more serious. For the more serious actions themselves will not have the trivial become forgotten any more than the Judge will hide His eyes from all of them in general, or from the more serious in particular. He will oversee and observe them all equally and at once, judging and appropriately punishing each one. This is what King Solomon was referring to when he said "G-d will bring every action before Him in judgment..." (Ecclesiastes 12:14). For just as G-d does not leave unrewarded any righteous act, no matter how small, so does He not leave unjudged or unrebuked any sinful act, no matter how small. This disproves the statements of those fools who would say that G-d neither considers nor pays heed to the more trivial things in His judgments.

The principle is: "Whoever says the Holy One (blessed be He) overlooks things will be overlooked by Him" (Baba Kammah 50a). Our sages have also said, "If your yetzer hara tells you to sin and assures you that G-d will forgive you-- don't listen to it" (Chagiga 16a).

All this is clear and obvious, as G-d is the G-d of truth. This is what Moses our Master was referring to when he said, "The actions of the Rock are complete; all His ways are just. He is a trustworthy G-d, without wrong..." (Deuteronomy 32:4). G-d desires justice. Would He conceivably bypass justice by overlooking blame more than merit? Therefore, if He desires justice, He must reckon with each person according to his actions and as befitting his actions, in a most exacting way, whether good or bad. That is to say, when the verse says that "He is a trustworthy G-d, without wrong; He is righteous and just" that means (as our sages say) that this refers to His actions towards both the righteous and the evil. Such is His way: He judges all, and punishes for each sin, and that is that.

You might ask, "If this is so, where does His attribute of compassion come in if He must judge all things so exactingly?" The answer to that is His compassion is the very thing that keeps up the world. Without it, the world could not at all exist. Yet, His attribute of judgment is not to be denied. According to the strict letter of the law, the sinner should be punished immediately, without any delay at all, upon the performance of a sin, and the punishment itself should be meted out with great anger, as we would expect in the case of one who rebels against the word of the Creator. There would seem to be no way of undoing this sin as, in truth, how can one rectify what has been ruined by the committing of a sin? If one would for example murder someone or commit adultery against someone, how in fact could these deeds be rectified? Can one undo what has already been done?

But in truth the Divine attribute of compassion obviates these points. It is what gives time to the sinner and disallows for his being immediately done away with upon sinning, or for the punishment to lead to utter destruction. As a great kindness, it allows for repentance for the sinner so that the uprooting of the will to do is equivalent to uprooting the act itself. That is, by the very fact that the penitent recognizes his sin, acknowledges it, reflects upon his bad actions, repents, regrets of it as much as he would regret a vow made inadvertently, sincerely wishes he had never done that thing, is terribly pained in his heart that he had ever done such a thing, decides to abandon it, and runs away from it-- such an uprooting of the thing from his will is likened to the rescinding of a vow and he is forgiven. This is what the verse is referring to when it says, "Your transgression will be turned around and you will be forgiven of your sins" (Isaiah 6:7). That is, your transgressions will be retroactively turned around and uprooted from existence by your pain and regret for what has happened. This is certainly a great kindness, and not an aspect of strict judgment. But it is an aspect of kindness that does not utterly deny judgment. It leaves something over. That is, now there is regret and woe instead of the will to commit the sin, or the pleasure derived from it. And the extension of time is not a pardoning of the sin but rather an "endurance" on G-d's part so as to open doors of reparation.

Such is the way of all Divine kindnesses. As our sages said, "The son acquits the father" (Sanhedrin 104a), and "Part of a soul is equivalent to the entire soul" (Kohelet Rabbah 7:27), meaning that it is the way of Divine goodness to receive the smaller as it does the greater. But this does not in fact contradict or disprove the attribute of judgment. We have reason enough to recognize its importance. But an unconditional pardoning or overlooking of sins is contrary to the notion of Divine judgment, for if there were no honest sense of law and justice it could not be found at all. But if one of the means of "escape" mentioned is not used by the sinner, judgment will certainly not return empty-handed. As our sages have said, "He withholds His anger but takes what is His" (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 2:1).

We conclude that one who wants to open his eyes has no real excuse for not practicing self-mastery as much as possible, as exactingly as possible. The wise will certainly acquire the trait of caution if he tends to himself by these means.


There are three things that cause the loss of and the resistance to this character trait: attendance to and over involvement in the things of this world, levity and mockery, and bad companionship. Let us approach each one separately.

We have already spoken about the attendance to and over involvement in the things of this world: how your thoughts become bound by the fetters of the weight you place upon these things making it then impossible to reflect upon your actions. When our sages noted this they said, "Reduce your concern with this world-- concern yourself with Torah" (Pirke Avot 4:12). You must necessarily concern yourself with the matters of this world to earn your living, but over-concern-- to the point where it looms so large it leaves no room for Divine service-- is not necessary. That is why we were commanded to set aside specific time for learning Torah. This is especially crucial, we have already pointed out, to one trying to obtain the trait of caution. As Rabbi Pinchas has said, "Torah brings you to caution". For without it you could never at all obtain caution.

Our sages were referring to this when they said, "A person without Torah-knowledge cannot be a saint" (Pirke Avot 2:6). This is so because when G-d created the yetzer harah He created the Torah to temper it, as it is said: "I created the yetzer harah and I created Torah as a seasoning to it" (Kiddushin 30b).

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman