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