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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )

CHAPTER XV

CONCERNING THE MEANS OF ACQUIRING SEPARATION

THE BEST WAY for a man to acquire Separation is to regard the inferior quality of the pleasures of this world, both in point of their ova n insignificance and in point of the great evils to which they are prone to give rise. For what inclines one's nature to these pleasures to the extent that he requires so much strength and scheming to separate himself from them is the gullibility of the eyes, their tendency to be deceived by good and pleasing superficial appearances. It was this deception which led to the commission of the first sin. As Scripture testifies (Genesis 3:6), "And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat from and that it was desirable to the eyes ... and she took of its fruit and ate." But when it becomes clear to a person that this "good" is deceptive and illusive, that it has no healthy permanence, and that it contains real evil oi is prone to give rise to it, he will certainly come to despise and decline it. All that a man need teach his intelligence, then, is to recognize the weakness and falseness of these pleasures so that he will naturally come to despise them and find it not at all difficult to spurn them.

There is no pleasure more basic and more pronounced than that of eating. Yet is there anything more evanescent? The food that is enjoyed is the size of a person's throat, and once it leaves the throat to descend into the intestines, its memory is lost and the food is forgotten, as if it had never existed.

Enough black bread will satiate one to the same extent as fattened swans.

One will be made especially aware of the truth of what is being said if he considers the many sicknesses connected with eating or at least the heaviness that one experiences after meals and the vapors that becloud [variant: confound] his brain. These considerations would unquestionably cause one to spurn the pleasure of eating, showing its good to be not truly good and its evil to be truly evil. Similarly, an analysis of all of the other worldly pleasures would reveal that even their illusory good endures only a short time and that the evil which can grow out of them is so severe and prolonged, that no reasoning individual would consent to expose himself to the evil dangers that they present for the sake of the small amount of good which they offer. This is self-evident. If one accustoms himself to constant reflection upon this truth, he will extricate himself little by little from the bonds of ignorance with which the darkness of earthiness binds him, and he will no longer be deceived by illusory pleasures. He will then come to despise them and to realize that he should take from the world only that which is essential to him, as I have written above. But just as thinking upon this truth leads to the acquisition of the trait of Separation, so does ignoring it hinder such acquisition, as does courting the company of those who pursue honor and multiply vanity. For when one regards their elegance and dignity, it is impossible that his lust will not be awakened to desire these things. And even if he will not permit his evil inclination to conquer him, he will, in any event, not escape the battle and its dangers. This is the intent of Solomon's statement (Ecclesiastes 7:2), "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting."

More desirable than anything else, however, in respect to the attainment of Separation, is solitude; for when one removes worldly goods from before his eyes, he removes desire for them from his heart. As David said in praise of solitude (Psalms 55:7), "Who will give me the wings of a dove ... I would wander far off; I would lie down in the desert." We find that the Prophets Elijah and Elisha situated themselves in the mountains in keeping with their practice of seclusion; and the Sages, the first saints, of blessed memory followed in their footsteps, for they found this practice the most effective means of acquiring perfection in Separation and protecting themselves from being led into vanities by those of their neighbors.

What one must be heedful of in the process of acquiring Separation is not to desire to leap to its farthest reaches in one moment, for he will certainly not be able to make such great strides. He should rather proceed in Separation, little by little, acquiring a little today and adding a little more tomorrow, until he is so habituated to it that it is second nature with him.

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