Friday, August 17, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Fri. Aug. 17th)

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 and is now in intensive care.

Please keep him in your tephillos.

CHAPTER ONE (Continued):

Reflecting upon the matter you will see that the world was created for our usage. But we stand in the midst of a great balance: should we be attracted to the world and distanced from our Creator, both we and the world with us would be damaged; but if we would master ourselves and clutch onto our Creator, and make use of the world's things to help us in our Divine service, both we and the world with us will be elevated.

All created things enjoy a great elevation when they are used by the "completed" person-- the one who is made holy by G-d's holiness. Our sages were referring to this when they spoke of the great light that the Holy One, blessed be He, has hidden away for the pious: "When the Holy One, blessed be He, saw the light that He had stored away for the pious He rejoiced, as it is said 'There is a light for the pious, and He shall rejoice (Proverbs 13:9)'" (Chagiggah 12A). Regarding the stones in the area where Jacob spent the night and which he placed under his head, our sages of blessed memory said: "Rabbi Yitzchak has said that this comes to teach us that all the stones gathered in one spot saying, 'Let the pious one lay his head on me!'" (Chullin 91b).

Our sages were stressing this point when they said about the verse "Behold the work of G-d..." (Ecclesiastes 7:13): "When the Holy One, blessed be He, created Adam He placed him in the Garden of Eden and had him roam from tree to tree and said to him, 'See how lovely and praiseworthy all My works are! And all I have created I have created for you. See to it that you do not ruin or destroy my world!'" (Kohelet Rabbah 7).

The point is this: We were not created for our situation here in this world-- but rather, for that in the World to Come. But our situation here is the means to attain the one due us in the World to Come, which is our goal.

Many teachings of our sages can be found in this same vein, likening this world to a place and time of preparation, and the next world to one of rest and the ingesting of the already-prepared. This is what they meant by "This world is like a vestibule..." (Pirke Avot 4:16); "Today (was created) to do them (the mitzvot); tomorrow to receive the reward for them" (Eruvin 22a); "One who struggles on the Eve of the Shabbat will eat on Shabbat" (Avodah Zara 3a); and, "This world is like the shoreline, and the World to Come is like the sea"(Kohelet Rabbah 1), as well as by many other expressions like them.

In truth you could not believe that we were created for our situation here in this world. After all, what is our life here in this world? Who is truly happy or tranquil in this world?-- "The days of our lives are seventy years; with strength, eighty years. And the best of them are filled with toil and foolishness" (Psalms 90:10). We suffer from all sorts of woes, illnesses, pains and inconveniences-- and after all that, death. Not one in a thousand finds that the world fills him with true contentment or peace-of-mind. And even if that rare individual were to live to one-hundred, he would nonetheless eventually be taken away from the world.

Not only is that so, but if in fact the purpose of our life was to meet the needs of this world it would not have been necessary for G-d to have breathed into us a soul so exalted and distinguished-- a soul greater than the angels themselves. Nor would He have placed within us a soul which finds no gratification in the things of this world.

This is what our sages were referring to when they said: "It is written, 'And the soul too will not be fulfilled' (Ecclestiastes 6:7). To what is this to be compared?-- to a city-dweller who married a princess and who, though he may bring her the best in the world, can never impress her for, after all, she is a princess. Such is the situation of the soul. Even if you were to supply it with all of the pleasures of the world it would not be affected by them. And why?-- because it is one of the celestials" (Kohelet Rabbah 6:7).

Our sages have likewise taught, "You were conceived against your will, and born against your will" (Pirke Avot 4:22). For the soul does not love this world at all-- it in fact abhors it. Certainly the Creator would not have created something whose purpose went against its nature and which it abhorred.

But rather, the sole purpose of our creation was to be our situation in the World to Come. That is why we were given such a soul. For it is fitting for Divine service; by means of it can we accrue our reward, in the proper place and time. For it is obvious that the soul should not abhor this world, but rather love and desire it.

Now that we understand this, the need for stringency in keeping mitzvot and the preciousness of the Divine service presented to us should be obvious. For they are the means to bring us to true wholeness. Without them we would attain nothing.

However, as is known, a goal is attained only by the combined power of the means used to attain it. That goal will be affected both by the strength of that power and by the way the means themselves have been used. So when the inevitable time comes for the joining of all of these means it will be found that any small deviation in them will alter the affect in a clear and certain manner.

At this point it becomes clear that we must do the mitzvot and our service to G-d in a most precise manner-- in as precise a manner as we would weigh gold or pearls if we were jewelers, because of their great value. Because the results of them are true wholeness, and an eternal, incomparable preciousness.

It has thus become clear to us that the main purpose of our having been placed in this world was to keep the mitzvot, to serve G-d, and to withstand spiritual trials, and that the only appropriate pleasures to be gotten from this world are those which aid and assist in these tasks-- that give you enough ease and peace of mind to set your heart to the service that has been placed upon you.

It is only fitting that all of your inclinations be directed exclusively to the Creator-- that there be no goal in any of your actions, large or small, other than that of getting closer to Him and eradicating the barriers that separate you from Him, which are the matters of this world and what is dependent upon them. This should be done to the point where you are drawn after Him as iron is to a magnet; that you run after, take hold and not let go of all you can determine will be a means to drawing close to Him. And that you run away from whatever you determine will deter you from this as you would from fire.

This is being referred to when it is stated, "My soul clings to You; I am supported by Your right hand" (Psalms 63:9). That is, our whole coming into the world was for this purpose alone-- to attain to this closeness by rescuing our souls from all that distracts and waylays them.

We have to investigate the particulars of this principle in the correct order, from beginning to end, now that its truth has become clear and self-evident to us. We will do this in the order Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yaer has set for them in his statement we have already quoted in our introduction: caution, enthusiasm, innocence, abstinence, purity, piety, modesty, fear of sin, and holiness. With heaven's help, we will now explain each and every one.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman