Sunday, August 19, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Sun. Aug. 19th)

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 THREE (Continued):

Our sages said, "'You laid down darkness and there was night' (Psalms 104:20) refers to this world, which is likened to night" (Baba Metziah 83b). How profound a statement of truth this comes out to be when you plumb the depths of it! Night's darkness can cause two major errors of sight: it can either cover your eyes so that you cannot see what is in front of you, or it can confound your sight so that you might, for example, believe a pillar is actually a human being, or vice versa.

Such is the case with the coarseness and materiality of this world. It is the darkness of night to the mind's eyes, and can cause you to err in two ways: first, in that it does not allow you to notice the stumbling blocks along the way. Gullible people trustingly walk along as a result of this, fall and are lost without even experiencing an initial fear. The verse says regarding this, "The way of the evil ones is like darkness; they do not know how they will stumble" (Proverbs 4:19); and "The clever man sees evil and hides, while the fools pass through it and are punished" (Ibid. 22:3); as well as "The idiot passes through trustingly" (Ibid. 14:16) -- for, in their opinion, their minds are as clear as can be, and they fall before they can at all catch sight of the stumbling-block.

The second type of error is more serious than the first. It has you misinterpret things so that what is in fact bad seems to be truly good, and vice versa. Your wrong actions are reinforced as well as a result of this. It is not enough that the truth is hidden from you and you cannot see the bad right in front of your face: you come to establish "great proofs" and "evidence" to substantiate your incorrect logic and false perceptions. This is the great wrong that can envelop you and bring you to the pit of doom. The verse refers to this when it says, "The heart of this nation has grown fat; its ears have become heavy, and its eyes have turned aside..." (Isaiah 6:10). And all this is so because they have been immersed in darkness and have come under the sway of the yetzer hara. But those who have come out from this state of imprisonment see the truth for what it is and can advise others about it.

We can liken this to a huge garden-maze that would be set-up for fun (as was done in the homes of the well-to-do in the past), made up of row after row of walls, with identical small paths between them to confuse and confound. The goal would be to reach the center rotunda. But some of the small paths would be straight and lead directly to the rotunda, while others would divert and lead far away from it. The game player could not see or know whether or not he was on one of the direct paths. They would all be similar and seem to be no different from each other to the eye of the beholder unacquainted and unfamiliar with them, never having entered into the maze before or reached the rotunda, its goal. But the person who would have already reached the rotunda could see all the paths before him and pick out the direct from the diverting ones. He could warn the others and say to them, "That's the one you should take", and anyone who would choose to trust his word would reach the goal, while whoever would not trust him, and would follow his own hunches, would certainly stray behind, get lost, and not reach it. This is the situation in our case. One who has not mastered his yetzer hara is in the middle of all of the maze's paths and cannot choose between them. But one who has mastered it-- who had already reached the rotunda; who has gotten past the paths and can clearly see all the choices-- is eligible to counsel whoever is willing to listen to him. That is the person we should trust.

What in fact is the advice they give us? "Come, let us account for things. Let us evaluate matters of the world." They have themselves already been tried and come to see and know that this alone is the true path that can direct you to the desired good.

The point of the matter is that you should constantly, consistently ponder, as well as set aside specific time to be alone so as to consider what is the true path according to the rules of the Torah you must take. Then you should contemplate your actions and decide if they are in agreement with this or not. In this manner you will find it easy to purify yourself from all bad and to set your ways straight. As the verse says, "Consider the path of your feet and all your paths will be set" (Proverbs 4:26). And "Let us seek out our ways and examine them, and then we can return to G-d" (Lamentations 3:40).


Generally speaking, what brings you to caution is Torah study, which is what Rabbi Pinchas said at the beginning of his beraita-- "Torah brings you to caution". But what brings it about in particular is the reflection upon the seriousness of the Divine service incumbent upon us, and the extent of Divine judgment. This realization can be acquired by concentrating on the tales told in the holy books, and studying the sayings of our sages which speak to this. But there are various people at various levels of understanding: those who fully understand, those of somewhat lesser understanding, and the great majority of people. So there is specific advice regarding such realizations for each of those people.

The advice for those who fully understand will be to foster an awareness of the fact that wholeness alone is the thing that should be longed for, nothing else; that nothing is worse than the lack of wholeness and what keeps it back from us. After this is explained, and it likewise becomes clear to them that the means to wholeness are good deeds and good personality traits, they would certainly never want to diminish or make light of them. It would have already been clear to them that if these means would be diminished or weakened or would be without their full, required strength, they (the people of full understanding) could not obtain true wholeness-- it would be lacking in them to the extent that their strivings would be lacking, and they would be unwhole. This would be a great sorrow and misfortune for them. They could not help but choose to increase in good deeds and traits, be stringent in all their conditions, and never rest or cease from worrying that perhaps something could be missing that might otherwise bring them to the wholeness that they so desire. King Solomon was referring to this when he said, "A man who is always afraid is fortunate" (Proverbs 28:14), which our sages explained as referring to fear of matters of a Torah-nature (Brachot 60A).

The ultimate degree of this level is referred to as "fear of sin", a most auspicious level of attainment. You should always be afraid and concerned that perhaps some trace of sin could be found within you that would draw you away from the wholeness it is incumbent upon us to strive for. Our sages commented upon this in the form of a parable: "We learn (from this) that everyone burns over the dwelling-place of his friend" (Baba Batra 75a) -- not because of envy, which comes about from ignorance (as I will explain later, with the help of Heaven); but rather because a person sees himself as missing some element of wholeness that he can obtain as easily as his friend. Realizing this, a person of full understanding will certainly not fall short in his understanding, and will be cautious in his actions.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman