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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )

CHAPTER XVII

CONCERNING THE MEANS OF ACQUIRING PURITY

ONE WHO HAS ALREADY persevered and acquired the aforementioned traits will find it easy to acquire the trait of Purity, for when he will consider and contemplate the inferior quality of worldly pleasures and worldly goods, he will come to despise them and to regard them as evils and as defects of earthy, dark, gross nature. When the truth of this understanding impresses itself upon him, there is no question that he will find it easy to separate himself from them and remove them from his heart. The more time one devotes to thinking deeply into the matter in order to recognize the lowly nature of earthiness and of its pleasures, the easier he will find it to purify his thoughts and his heart so that they have no recourse to the evil inclination in any deed whatsoever; and his role in any earthy activities that he does perform will be one of compulsion only.

But just as we have divided purity of thought into two sections, one dealing with bodily actions and the other with Divine service, so are there two distinct operations required for their acquisition. To purify one's thoughts in relation to one's bodily actions, a person must engage in constant observation of the inferior nature of the world and of its pleasures, as stated above. And to purify his thoughts in relation to Divine service, he must give much thought to the falseness of pride and its deceits, and train himself to flee from pride. If he does so, he will be clean during the time of his Divine service of any strivings for the praises and encomiums of men, and his mind will be directed solely to our Lord, who is our praise, and all our good, and our perfection, and beside whom there is nothing, as it is said (Deuteronomy 10:21), "He is your praise and He is your God."

One of the means which lead a person to the acquisition of this trait is preparation for Divine service and mitzvoth, by virtue of which he does not enter into the performance of a mitzvah suddenly, lacking the presence of mind to think about what he is doing, but instead readies himself for it and slowly prepares his heart for thought. He will then consider what he is going to do and before Whom he is going to do it, and so considering, it will be easy for him to divest himself of any exterior motives and to implant in his heart motives which are true and desirable. The early saints would wait one hour before they prayed so that their hearts would be directed to the Presence (Berachoth 30b). It goes without saying that they did not allow their hearts to remain idle for an hour, but deliberated and readied them for the prayer that was to follow by casting foreign thoughts from themselves and filling their hearts with the requisite love and fear. In the words of Job (Job 11:13), "If you have prepared your heart, spread out your hands to Him."

The deterrents to this trait, those elements which constitute a lack of attention to the aforementioned factors, are ignorance of the inferior quality of worldly pleasures, pursuit of honor, and insufficient preparation for Divine service. The first two seduce the mind and pull it towards exterior motives, so that it becomes like an adulteress, who, while still living with her husband, takes in strangers. Foreign thoughts are referred to as the adultery of the heart, as it is written (Numbers 15:39), "And do not turn aside after your hearts and after your eyes, which you follow adulterously." In entertaining foreign thoughts, the heart turns from the honest outlook with which it should become identified to vanities and deceitful appearances. Insufficient preparation for Divine service fosters the natural ignorance which proceeds from the indivorceable element of earthiness in man and which befouls Divine service with its stench.

We shall now discuss the trait of Saintliness.

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