Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
Italian orthodox rabbi (1707-1746)
Mesillat Yesharim (1738) edit
- I have written this work not to teach men what they do not know, but to remind them of what they already know and is very evident to them, for you will find in most of my words only things which most people know, and concerning which they entertain no doubts. But to the extent that they are well known and their truths revealed to all, so is forgetfulness in relation to them extremely prevalent. ... It is possible that the reader will find that he has learned little after having read it that he did not know before. Its benefit is to be derived, rather, through review and persistent study, by which one is reminded of those things which, by nature, he is prone to forget and through which he is caused to take to heart the duty that he tends to overlook.
- There are few, however, who devote thought and study to perfection of Divine service—to love, fear, communion and all of the other aspects of saintliness. It is not that they consider this knowledge unessential; if questioned each one will maintain that it is of paramount importance and that one who is not clearly versed in it cannot be deemed truly wise. Their failure to devote more attention to it stems rather from its being so manifest and so obvious to them that they see no need for spending much time upon it. Consequently, this study and the reading of works of this kind have been left to those of a not too sensitive, almost dull intelligence. These you will see immersed in the study of saintliness, not stirring from it. It has reached the stage that when one sees another engaging in saintly conduct, he cannot help but suspect him of dullwittedness.
- Though the beginnings and foundations of saintliness are implanted in every person's heart, if he does not occupy himself with them, he will witness details of saintliness without recognizing them and he will trespass upon them without feeling or perceiving that he is doing so. For sentiments of saintliness, fear and love of God, and purity of heart are not so deeply rooted within a person as to obviate the necessity of his employing certain devices in order to acquire them.
- There is also no lack of deterrents which keep saintliness at a distance from a person, but then again there is no lack of devices by which these deterrents may be held afar.
- Is it fitting that our intelligence exert itself and labor in speculations which are not binding upon us, in fruitless argumentation, in laws which have no application to us, while we leave to habit and abandon to mechanical observance our great debt to our Creator?
- If we do not look into and analyze the question of what constitutes true fear of God and what its ramifications are, how will we acquire it and how will we escape wordly vanity which renders our hearts forgetful of it? Will it not be forgotten and go lost even though we recognize its necessity? Love of God, too—if we do not make an effort to implant it in our hearts, utilizing all of the means which direct us towards it, how will it exist within us?
- All of the character traits, which are in such great need of correction and cultivation—who will cultivate and correct them if we do not give heart to them and subject them to exacting scrutiny?
- Saintliness does not hinge upon those things which are put at a premium by the foolishly "saintly," but upon true perfection and great wisdom.
Chapter 1 edit
- Man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in God and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence; for this is true joy and the greatest pleasure that can be found.
- If man had been created solely for the sake of this world, he would have had no need of being inspired with a soul so precious and exalted as to be greater than the angels themselves, especially so in that it derives no satisfaction whatsoever from all of the pleasures of this world. ... "What is this analogous to? To the case of a city dweller who married a princess. If he brought her all that the world possessed, it would mean nothing to her, by virtue of her being a king's daughter. So is it with the soul. If it were to be brought all the delights of the world, they would be as nothing to it."
- quote is from Koheleth Rabbah
- We thus derive that the essence of a man's existence in this world is solely the fulfilling of mitzvoth, the serving of God and the withstanding of trials, and that the world's pleasures should serve only the purpose of aiding and assisting him, by way of providing him with the contentment and peace of mind requisite for the freeing of his heart for the service which devolves upon him. It is indeed fitting that his every inclination be towards the Creator, may His Name be blessed, and that his every action, great or small, be motivated by no purpose other than that of drawing near to the Blessed One and breaking all the barriers (all the earthy elements and their concomitants) that stand between him and his Possessor, until he is pulled towards the Blessed One just as iron to a magnet. Anything that might possibly be a means to acquiring this closeness, he should pursue and clutch, and not let go of; and anything which might be considered a deterrent to it, he should flee as from a fire.
Chapter 4 edit
- Those with wholeness of understanding will be primarily motivated towards Watchfulness by their coming to see clearly that only perfection and nothing else is worthy of their desire and that there is no worse evil than the lack of and removal from perfection. For after this has become clear to them, as well as the fact that the means to this end are virtuous deeds and traits, they will certainly never permit themselves to diminish these means; nor will they ever fail to make use of their full potential. For it would already have become clear to them that if these means were reduced in number or not employed with complete effectiveness, with all of the energy that they called for, true perfection would not be attained through them, but would be lacked to the extent that sufficient exertion was lacking in relation to them.
Chapter 6 edit
- Whatever tends to lighten one's burden must be examined carefully. For although such alleviation is sometimes justified and reasonable, it is most often a deceitful prescription of the evil inclination, and must, therefore, be subjected to much analysis and investigation.