Friday, September 21, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Fri., Sept. 21st)


Holiness is a two-fold matter: it begins in effort, and ends in recompense; and it begins in striving, and ends in being given as a gift. That is to say, its beginnings are your sanctifying yourself, and its conclusions are your being sanctified. Our sages referred to this when they said, "A person only has to sanctify himself a little and he is sanctified a lot-- he need only sanctify himself down here and he is sanctified up above" (Yomah 39a).

What all of your efforts should be directed towards is the utter separation and removal of yourself from all physicality, and the constant attachment to G-d. Because of their practice of this, the prophets were referred to as angels. As it was said of Aaron, "For the lips of the priest should guard knowledge, and Torah should be sought from his mouth, for he is an angel of the L-rd of Hosts" (Malachi 2:7); and as it is written, "And they would mock the angels of G-d ..." (II Chronicles 36:16). Even when you are embroiled in matters of the world for the sake of the well-being of your body, let your soul not be moved from its state of great attachment. As it is said, "My soul attaches itself to You, for Your right arm supports me" (Psalms 63:9).

I said that holiness ends up being a gift to you. That is necessarily so, because it is impossible for a human to place himself in this state which-- because he is in truth physical, and flesh and blood-- is so difficult for him. All you can do is make the effort of seeking the true knowledge, and try to constantly give thought to the sanctification of your actions. Ultimately, G-d alone can direct you in this, the path you would like to follow, and can have His holiness dwell upon you and sanctify you. Only then can you succeed, and only then will you be able to constantly attach yourself to G-d. G-d will help you and see to it that you get what your native being would detain from you. As it is said, "No good will be held back from those who walk uprightly" (Psalms 84:12). As was said in the above-quoted statement of our sages, "A person only has to sanctify himself a little...."-- because that is all he can do by his own efforts-- "and he is sanctified a lot", which is G-d's help to him, as I have explained. Even the mundane actions of the person sanctified in the holiness of His Creator are turned around to actual holiness. This can best be illustrated by the eating of sacrificial-offerings (which is a positive commandment), about which our sages said, "Those who offered them would be atoned for as the priests would eat of the sacrifices" (Pesachim 59b).

You can see now the difference between purity and holiness. The pure only do those physical things that are absolutely necessary, meaning to derive no benefit from them other than what they must. They are thus by freed from any sort of harm from the physical world, and remain pure. But they have not reached the level of holiness, because it would have been better for them to have been altogether without those things. But the holy-- those who constantly attach themselves to G-d, and whose souls move about in the true notions of love and reverence for the Creator-- are considered to be walking before G-d in the land of the living while they are in this world. The very person of this sort of human being is considered to be a tabernacle, sanctuary, and altar. As our sages said about the verse, "And G-d alighted from him" (Genesis 35:13) -- "this indicates that the patriarchs were a vehicle of G-d" (Breishit Rabbah 62:6). They also said, "The righteous are a vehicle of G-d." What they meant was that the Divine Presence dwells upon them as it did in the Holy Temple. The food that such a person would eat would be like a burnt-offering brought upon the fires of the altar. And what was offered upon the altar was considered to have enjoyed a great spiritual elevation, because it was brought before the Divine Presence, and would also enjoy the advantage of having all of its kind blessed throughout the world, as our sages explained in the Midrash (Tanchuma, T'tzava). So too, the food and drink the holy person would ingest would enjoy a spiritual elevation as if it were actually being offered upon the altar. This is what our sages were referring to when they said, "Whoever brings a gift to a Torah scholar is likened to one who brings a first-fruit offering" (Ketubot 105b); and, "Let them fill the gullets of the Torah scholars with wine (in the place of libations)" (Yomah 71a). This does not mean to say that the Torah scholars should be encouraged to chase after food and drink, G-d forbid, and that they should fill themselves like gluttons. But the matter is as we have indicated: Torah scholars who are holy in all of their ways and deeds are considered to truly be like a Temple and an altar, because the Divine Presence dwells upon them as it actually did in the Holy Temple. Something that is offered to them is likened to something offered upon the altar; and filling their gullets is comparable to filling the Temple basins. Therefore, the things of this world they make use of after having attained the level of attachment to G-d's holiness are elevated because they enjoyed the advantage of having been used by a righteous person. Our sages made reference to this in the case of the rocks that were found in the area which Jacob took to put around his head. They said, "Rabbi Yitzchak said... they joined together and said, 'Let the righteous man lay his head on me!'" (Chullin 91b).

The general principle behind holiness is that you remain so attached to G-d that you never separate nor even move from Him no matter what you are doing. Then the physical things you make use of will have had a greater spiritual elevation for your having used them than whatever spiritual descent you would have suffered for having used physical things. But such a state can only come about when your mind is set constantly on G-d's greatness, exaltedness and holiness. Then you will be as one who joined the ranks of the angels while yet in the world.

We have already pointed out, however, that you cannot manage to do this on your own. You can only be expected to be attracted to it and to attempt it. And even that can only come about after you will have attained all of the traits we have mentioned thus far, from the initial promptings of caution to the fear of sin. Only then can you approach holiness and be successful at it. If you lack the other traits, you will be a foreigner and a cripple. And as it is said, "a foreigner shall not draw near" (Numbers 18:4). But after you will have readied yourself in all the ways mentioned, and after you will have further attached yourself to G-d with a strong love and a powerful reverence by recognizing His vast exaltedness, then disattach yourself from material matters, step by step, and direct all of your movements and actions to the truly hidden aspects of attachment to G-d. A spirit from on high will descend upon you, and the Creator will dwell upon you as He does for all of His holy ones. Then you will actually be like one of the angels, and all of your actions-- even the most common and corporeal-- will be part of your offering and your service.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman