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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )



THERE ARE THREE principal divisions of Separation, involving pleasures, laws, and conduct respectively.

Separation in relation to pleasures, which we spoke of in the previous chapter, consists in one's taking from the world only what is essential to him. This type of Separation encompasses anything which provides pleasure to any one of the senses, whether the pleasure be gained through food, cohabitation, clothing, strolls, conversation or similar means, exceptions obtaining only at such times when deriving pleasure through these means is a mitzvah.

Separation in relation to laws consists in one's being stringent with himself to the extent of taking cognizance of even a sole dissenting view in a controversy if there is justice to it, even if the law is not decided in accordance with it (if the more stringent view is not actually more lenient relative to his situation), and in one's not taking the easier alternative in cases of doubt, though permitted to do so. Our Sages of blessed memory explained (Chullin 376) the statement of Ezekiel (4:14), "My soul was not polluted" - "I did not eat of an animal about which a sage had to make a decision," and, "I did not eat the flesh of an animal that had to be slaughtered quickly." Though permitted by law to eat of these animals, he was stringent with himself and did not.

It has already been indicated that those who practice Separation may not guide themselves by what is permitted to all of Israel, but must withdraw themselves from what is repulsive, from what is similar to it, and from what is similar to what is similar to it. As Mar Ukvah said (Chullin 105a), "I am to my father as vinegar derived from wine; for my father, if he would eat meat today, would not eat cheese until tomorrow at the same time, whereas I, though I would not eat cheese at the next meal, would do so the meal following that." Now there is no question that the practice of Mar Ukvah's father does not constitute the law in the matter, for if it did, Mar Ukvah would certainly never have gone against it. It is just that his father was stringent in his Separation. And it is because Mar Ukvah was not on a par with his father in this trait that he compared himself to vinegar and his father to wine.

Separation in relation to conduct consists in one's secluding and separating himself from society in order to turn his heart to Divine service and to proper reflection upon it. In this, though, one must be careful to avoid the other extreme; for our Sages of blessed memory have stated (Kethuroth 17a), "A man's mind should always be associated with his fellow men," and (Ta'anith 7a), " "A sword upon those who scheme and are undone' (Jeremiah 50:36) - a sword upon the enemies of Scholars who isolate themselves and occupy themselves with Torah." The proper course to follow is to associate with reputable persons for as long as may be necessary in the interest of Torah study or of earning a livelihood and then to seclude oneself for the purpose of communing with God and attaining to ways of righteousness and to true Divine service. Included in this type of Separation is limiting one's conversation, being careful not to engage in idle talk, not gazing outside of one's four ells, and all other restrictions governing similar activities which might become second nature if they were not so restricted.

It may be seen that though these three divisions have been treated in the form of short principles, they take in many of man's activities. And I have already indicated that it is impossible to set forth all of the particulars, but that they must be derived by individual judgment through reference to the principles and to the truths underlying them.

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