Mesillat Yesharim
[ Path of the Just ]



THAT WHICH, in general, brings a person to Watchfulness is Torah study. As R. Pinchas stated in the beginning of the Baraitha, "Torah brings one to Watchfulness." That which leads to it in particular, however, is reflection upon the demanding nature of the Divine service that a man is responsible for and the severity of the judgment which it involves. This understanding may be gained by analyzing the incidents that are related in the sacred writings and by studying the statements of the Sages of blessed memory which awaken one to it.

In this process of understanding, there are various levels of ideas, applying respectively to those with wholeness of understanding, those of lesser understanding and the general populace.

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 [the means'] 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. There is no misfortune nor any evil that those with wholeness of understanding deem greater than this lack of perfection. They will, therefore, choose to increase the number of these means and to be rigid in relation to all of their aspects. They will find no rest or peace from the worry that they possibly lack something which might lead them to the perfection that they desire. As was said by King Solomon, may Peace be upon him (Proverbs 28:14), "Happy is the man who always fears." Our Sages (Berachoth 60a) interpreted this statement as applying to the realm of Torah. The trait to which this degree of attainment leads is the one which is termed "Fear of Sin," a trait which constitutes one of the highest levels of achievement. Its intent is that a man constantly fear and worry lest he be harboring a trace of sin which might keep him from the perfection that he is dutybound to strive for. Concerning this our Sages of blessed memory said by way of analogy (Bava Bathra 75a), "This teaches us that everyone is burned by his neighbor's canopy." It is not jealousy which is the operative factor here (for jealousy as I will explain further with the help of Heaven, is encountered only among those who lack understanding), but rather the fact that he sees himself as lacking a level of achievement towards perfection, a level that he could have attained just as his neighbor had. If he who possesses wholeness of understanding engages in this thought process, he certainly will not fall short of being watchful in his deeds.

Those of lesser understanding, however, will be motivated towards Watchfulness according to their particular level of discrimination, so that their quest will be for the honor that they desire. It is evident to every man of faith that the different stations in the World of Truth, the World to Come, vary only in relation to one's deeds; that only he who is greater in deeds than his neighbor will be elevated above him, whereas he who is lesser in deeds will occupy a lower level. How, then, can a man blind his eyes to his actions or slacken his efforts, if afterwards, when he can no longer straighten out what he has made crooked, he will unquestionably suffer?

There are some fools who seek only to lighten their burden. They say, "Why weary ourselves with so much Saintliness and Separation? Is it not enough for us that we will not be numbered among the wicked who are judged in Gehinnom? We will not force ourselves to enter all the way into Paradise. If we do not have a large portion, we will have a small one. It will be enough for us. We will not add to our burdens for the sake of greater acquisitions." There is one question that we will ask these people -could they so easily, in this transitory world, tolerate the sight of one of their friends being honored, and elevated above them, and coming to rule over them-or, more so, one of their servants or one of the paupers who are shameful and lowly in their eyes? Could they tolerate this without suffering and without their blood boiling in them? Is there any question that they could not? We witness with our own eyes all of the labors of a man to elevate himself above everyone he can and to establish his place among the exalted. This is a man's jealousy of his neighbor. If he sees his neighbor elevated while he remains low, what he tolerates will be what he is forced to tolerate because of his inability to alter the situation: but his heart will brood within him. If it is so difficult, then, for them to abide being on a lower level than others in respect to qualities whose desirability is illusive and deceitful, qualities in relation to which a man's being designated as lowly is but a surface judgment, and his being elevated, vanity and falsity, then how could they tolerate seeing themselves lower than those same persons who are now lower than they? And this in the place of true quality and everlasting worth, which, though they might not give heart to it now because of their failure to recognize it and its value, they will certainly recognize in its time for what it is, to their grief and shame. There is no question that their suffering will be terrible and interminable. This tolerance, then, that they adopt in order to lighten their burden is nothing but a deceitful persuasion of their evil inclination, with no basis whatsoever in truth. If they saw the truth, there would be no room for such deception, but because they do not seek it, but walk and stray according to their desires, these persuasions will not leave them until such a time when it will no longer avail them, when it will no longer be in their hands to rebuild what they have destroyed. As was said by King Solomon, may Peace be upon him (Ecclesiastes 9:10), "Whatever your hand finds to do with your strength, do it, for there is no deed, nor account, nor knowledge..." That is, what a man does not do while he still has the power that His Creator has given him (the power of choice that is given to him to employ during his lifetime, when he can exercise free will and is commanded to do so) he will not again have the opportunity of doing in the grave and in the pit, for at that time he will no longer possess this power. For one who has not multiplied good deeds in his lifetime will not have the opportunity of performing them afterwards. And one who has not taken an accounting of his deeds will not have time to do so later. And one who has not become wise in this world will not become wise in the grave. This is the intent of (Ibid.) ". .. for there is no deed nor account nor knowledge nor wisdom in the pit to which you are going."

But the general populace will be motivated towards Watchfulness through a recognition of the depth of judgment in relation to reward and punishment. In truth, one should continuously tremble and shiver, for who will abide the Day of Judgment, and who will be deemed righteous before his Creator, whose scrutiny dissects all things, small and great. As our Sages of blessed memory have said (Chagigah 5b), " `And He relates to a man his conversation' (Amos 4:13). Even a casual conversation between a man and his wife is related to him at the time of judgment." And, similarly, (Yevamoth 121b), " `And around Him it storms violently' (Psalms 50: 3). This teaches us that the Holy One Blessed be He judges His saints to the degree of a hair's-breadth" [an inference derived from the structural relationship between "storms" and "hair" in the Hebrew].

Abraham - the same Abraham who was so beloved by his Possessor that Scripture (Isaiah 41:8) refers to him as "Abraham, my beloved" - Abraham did not escape judgment for a slight indiscretion in his use of words. Because he said, (Genesis 15:8), "With what shall I know," the Holy One Blessed be He said to him, "Upon your life, you shall surely know, for your children will be strangers..." (Vayikra Rabbah 11:5). And because he entered into a covenant with Avimelech without having been commanded by God to do so, the Holy One Blessed be He, said to him, "Upon your life, I shall delay the rejoicing of your sons for seven generations" (Bereshith Rabbah 54:5).

Jacob, because he became angry with Rachel upon her saying to him (Genesis 30:1), "Give me sons," was told by God (as related in the Midrash), "Is this the way to answer those who are oppressed? Upon your life, your sons will stand before her son" (Bereshith Rabbah 71: 10). And because he placed Dinah in a chest so that Esau would not seize her, even though his intentions in doing so were unquestionably worthy ones, we are told in the Midrash (Ibid. 80:3) that the Holy One Blessed be He said to him, because he withheld kindliness from his brother, " `Who keeps kindliness from his neighbor' (Job 6:14) - Because you did not wish to wed her lawfully, she will be wed unlawfully."

Joseph, because he said to the one appointed over the drink (Genesis 40:14), "But remember me in relation to yourself," had two years added to his imprisonment, as we are told by our Sages of blessed memory (Bereshith Rabbah 89:2). Also, because he embalmed his father without God's permission, or, according to a second opinion, because he heard, "Your servant, our father" and kept still, he died before his brothers (Bereshith Rabbah 100:3).

David, because he referred to words of Torah as "songs," was punished by having his joy dampened through Uzzah's indiscretion (Sotah 35a).

Michal, because she admonished David for dancing in public before the ark, was punished by dying in childbirth, having had no other children in her lifetime (II Samuel 6:20 f ).

Hezekiah - because he revealed the treasure house to the officers of the Babylonian king, it was decreed that his sons serve as eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylonia. (II Kings 20:12 ff ).

There are many more instances of this nature.

In the chapter "All are Liable" (Chagiga 5a), our Sages of blessed memory told us, "Rabbi Yochanan cried when he came to the following verse (Malachi 3:5): `And I will draw near to you in judgment, and I will be a quick witness...' Is there any remedy for a servant against whom lesser offenses are weighed, as grave ones are?" It is certainly not the point of this statement that the punishment is identical for both, for the Holy One Blessed be He pays measure for measure. It is rather to be understood that in relation to the weighing of deeds, those which are less weighty are placed upon the balance just as the weightier ones are; for the latter will not cause the former to be forgotten, nor will the Judge overlook them, just as He will not overlook the weighty ones. But He will consider and attend to all of these equally, judging each one of them and meting out punishment for each one according to its nature. As was said by King Solomon, may Peace be upon him (Ecclesiastes 12:14), "For God will bring every deed into judgment." Just as the Holy One Blessed be He does not allow any good deed, small as it may be, to go unrewarded, so does He not permit any bad deed, however small, to go unjudged and unpassed upon, contrary to the thinking of those who wish to talk it into themselves that the Lord Blessed be He, will not review the lighter things in His judgment and will not call them into account. It is an acknowledged principle (Bava Kamma 50a): "Whoever says that the Holy One Blessed be He overlooks things will have his life `overlooked.' " And our Sages of blessed memory have also said (Chagiga lba), "If the evil inclination says to you, `Sin and the Holy One Blessed be He will forgive you,' do not heed it." All this is obvious and clear, for God is a God of truth. It is this idea which is embodied in the statement of Moses our Teacher, may Peace be upon him (Deuteronomy 32:4), "The Rock-His work is whole; for all of His ways are just. He is a God of faithfulness, without wrong. . ." Since the Holy One Blessed be He desires justice, ignoring the bad would be as much of an injustice as ignoring the good. If He desires justice, then, He must deal with each man according to his ways and according to the fruits of his acts, with the most minute discrimination, for good or for bad. This is what underlies the statement of our Sages of blessed memory (Yalkut Ibid.) that the verse "He is a God of faithfulness, without wrong; He is righteous and just" has application to the righteous and to the wicked. For this is His attribute. He judges everything. He punishes every sin. There is no escaping.

To those who might ask at this point, "Seeing that whatever the case may be, everything must be subjected to judgment, what function does the attribute of mercy perform?" the answer is that the attribute of mercy is certainly the mainstay of the world; for the world could not exist at all without it. Nevertheless the attribute of justice is not affected. For on the basis of justice alone it would be dictated that the sinner be punished immediately upon sinning, without the least delay; that the punishment itself be a wrathful one, as befits one who rebels against the word of the Creator, blessed be His Name; and that there be no correction whatsoever for the sin. For in truth, how can a man straighten what has been made crooked after the commission of the sin? If a man killed his neighbor; if he committed adultery-how can he correct this? Can he remove the accomplished fact from actuality?

It is the attribute of mercy which causes the reverse of the three things we have mentioned. That is, it provides that the sinner be given time, and not be wiped out as soon as he sins; that the punishment itself not involve utter destruction; and that the gift of repentance be given to sinners with absolute lovingkindness, so that the rooting out of the will which prompted the deed be considered a rooting out of the deed itself. That is, when he who is repenting recognizes his sin, and admits it, and reflects upon his evil, and repents, and wishes that the sin had never been committed, as he would wish that a certain vow had never been made, in which case there is complete regret, and he desires and yearns that the deed had never been done, and suffers great anguish in his heart because of its already having been done, and departs from it for the future, and flees from itthen the uprooting of the act from his will is accredited to him as the uprooting of a vow, and he gains atonement. As Scripture states (Isaiah 6:7), "Your wrong will depart, and your sin will be forgiven." The wrong actually departs from existence and is uprooted because of his suffering for and regretting now what had taken place in the past. This is certainly a function of lovingkindness and not of justice. In any event, however, it is a type of lovingkindness which does not entirely negate the attribute of justice. It can be seen as according with justice in that in place of the act of will from which the sin arose and the pleasure that it afforded, there is now regret and suffering. So, too, the time extension constitutes not a pardoning of the sin, but rather God's bearing with the sinner for a while to open the door of repentance to him. Similarly, all of the other operations of lovingkindness, such as "The son benefits his father," (Sunhedrin 104x) and "Part of a life is like the whole life" (Kcheleth Rabbah 7:48), mentioned by our Sages, are aspects of lovingkindness wherein small amounts are accounted large. But these considerations do not militate against nor actually negate the attribute of justice, for there is good reason to attach importance to them.

But for sins to be pardoned or ignored would be entirely contrary to the concept of justice, for then there would be no judgment and no true law in relation to things. It is, therefore, impossible for such a situation to obtain. And if the sinner does not find open to him one of the avenues of escape that we have mentioned, it is certain that the attribute of justice will not emerge empty-handed. As our Sages of blessed memory have said (Yerushalmi Ta'anith 2:1), "He withholds His wrath, but He collects what is His."

We see, then, that the man who wants to open his eyes to the truth can offer himself no possible argument for not exercising the maximum of Watchfulness in his deeds and subjecting them to the most thorough analysis.

All of these are observations which, if one approaches them with sensitivity, will certainly lead him to the acquisition of Watchfulness.

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