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Ahavat Israel Am Israel Torat Israel Eretz Israel Jewish Texts Tanach Pirkei Avot Path Just

Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )

CHAPTER XVI

CONCERNING THE TRAIT OF PURITY

PURITY REFERS to the perfection of one's heart and thoughts, as indicated in David's statement (Psalms 51:12), "Create in me, God, a pure heart." The intent of this trait is that a man leave no room in his deeds for the evil inclination, but conduct himself in accordance with intelligence and fear of God, uninfluenced by sin and lust. This applies even to physical, earthy actions; for even after one has accustomed himself to Separation so that he takes from the world only what is essential, he must still purify his heart and thoughts so that, even in taking the little that he does, he is motivated not by desire for enjoyment and lust, but by thought for the good which proceeds from his actions in respect to wisdom and Divine service, as was said of R. Eliezer (Nedarim 20b), "He would expose one hand-breadth and conceal two handbreadths and imagine that he was being compelled by a demon." He derived no pleasure whatosever, but performed the act only with a thought to the mitzvah and Divine service. Along these lines Solomon said (Proverbs 3:6), "In all your ways know Him and He will straighten your paths."

It must be borne in mind, however, that just as the concept of purity of thought is applicable to bodily deeds - which by their nature border on the realm of the evil inclination - in the sense of one's withdrawing them from it so that they do not come to appertain to it, so is this concept applicable to worthy deeds, close to the realm of the Creator, may His Name be blessed, in the sense of one's not setting them far from Him and not permitting them to enter the province of the evil inclination. This is what underlies the idea of "not for the sake of the mitzvah itself" which is often mentioned by our Teachers of blessed memory. However, it is clear from their words that there are various kinds of "not for the sake of the mitzvah itself," the worst being the type in which one serves not for the purpose of Divine service at all, but in order to deceive people or to gain honor or wealth. About such a one it is said (Yerushalmi Berachoth 1.2), "It were better had he been smothered in his placenta." And the Prophet says about him (Isaiah 64:5), "We have all become as one unclean, and all our righteousness as a soiled garment." Ano,.,er type of "not for the sake of the mitzvah itself" is serving for the sake of reward, about which it is said (Pesachim 506), "A person should always occupy himself with Torah and mitzvoth, even if not for the sake of the mitzvah itself, for doing so will lead him to serve for the the sake of the mitzvah itself." There is no question, though, that one who has not yet attained to the latter mode of service is far from attaining his perfection.

That, however, in relation to which one requires greater insight and effort is the intrusion of a forbidden element into his motives. For sometimes one embarks upon a mitzvah entirely for its own sake, our Father in Heaven having decreed it, but does not prevent himself thereby from incorporating some other motive such as desire for praise or reward into his deed. And sometimes, though he may not desire to be praised, still, in rejoicing over the praise that he receives, he might come to take greater pains than he normally would, as in the case of R. Chanina ben Teradyon's daughter (Avodah Zarah 18a), who overhearing some men remark about her graceful stride, "How beautifully that girl walks," immediately sought, because of this praise, to display even more grace.

Though an undesirable motive may be outweighed by the major intention behind a deed, still, the deed which contains such a motive is not completely pure. And just as it is not permissible to offer up upon the earthly altar any but the cleanest flour, sifted through thirteen sieves (Menachoth 76b) and therefore entirely free of any impurity, so is it impossible to offer up upon the Heavenly altar so that they will be accepted as representing perfect, choice, Divine service, any but the choicest of actions, entirely free of imperfections. I am not suggesting that anything which does not come up to this standard will be completely rejected, for the Holy One Blessed be He does not withhold the reward of any creature, but rewards good deeds in accordance with their worth. What I am saying is that perfect Divine service, the type which should be characteristic of all those who love God in truth, is that which is entirely pure, that which is directed to the Blessed One only and to nothing else besides. Anything which falls short of this standard, to the extent that it falls short, is lacking in perfection. As King David, may Peace be upon him, said (Psalms 73:25), "Who is mine in Heaven and I want none beside You on earth" and, in the same vein (Ibid. 119:140), "Your word is very pure and Your servant loves it."

The fact of the matter is that true Divine service must be far purer than gold and silver, as David says about Torah (Ibid. 12:7), "The words of God are pure words, silver purified in a crucible upon the earth, refined seven times." One who serves God in truth will not content himself with little in this respect and will not consent to take silver mixed with dross and lead, that is, Divine service mixed with impure motives. He will insist upon that which is suitably clean and pure, and will then be called "the performer of a mitzvah as it is explicitly stated," about which our Sages of blessed memory say (Shabbath 63a), "One who performs a mitzvah as it is explicitly stated receives no evil tidings."

And, similarly (Nedarim 62a), "Do things for the sake of their Creator and speak about them for their own sake." It is this type of service that is chosen by those who serve God with a whole heart. For one who does not cleave to God with true love will find such purification extremely tedious and burdensome. He will say, "Who can endure it? We are earthy creatures, born of woman. We can never expect to attain to such great purity." Those, however, who love God and desire to serve Him will rejoice in showing the steadfastness of their love for the Blessed One and in strengthening themselves in refining and purifying it. This is the intent of David's conclusion, "And your servant loves it." And in truth, this is the criterion by which the lovers of God are judged and evaluated. For one who is more skillful in purifying his heart is closer to God and more beloved by Him. It was such purity that characterized "the first ones in the land" who strengthened themselves and were victorious, our forefathers and the other shepherds who purified their hearts before Him. As David forewarned Solomon his son (I Chronicles 28:9), "For God searches all hearts and understands the inclination of all thoughts," and as our Sages of blessed memory have said (Sanhedrin 1066), "The Merciful One desires the heart." For it is not enough to the Master, Blessed be He, if one's deeds are deeds of mitzvah. What is of paramount importance to Him is that one's heart be pure for dedication to true Divine service. The heart is the king and mover of all the parts of the body. If it does not bring itself to serve the Blessed One, then the service of the other organs is meaningless, for they function as the heart directs them. And as Scripture explicitly states (Proverbs 23:26), "Give your heart to me my son."

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