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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )

CHAPTER XVIII

CONCERNING THE TRAIT OF SAINTLINESS

THE TRAIT of Saintliness does indeed require much explanation, for many customs and practices pass-among many for Saintliness, which are nothing but the shells of Saintliness, wanting in form, feature, and perfection. This is attributable to a lack of close observation and honest reasoning on the part of the practitioners of this artificial form of saintliness. Instead of exerting and wearying themselves to know the way of God with clear, rational knowledge, they proceed in saintliness on the basis of what upon first thought happens to strike them as being saintly, without submitting their ideas to an examination in depth and weighing them upon the scales of wisdom. It is because of them that Saintliness has become repulsive to most people, the intelligentsia among them. For the pseudo-saints give the impression that Saintliness lies in foolishness and runs counter to intelligence and logic; and they lead people to believe that Saintliness consists entirely in the reciting of many supplications, in lengthy confessions, in exaggerated wailings and bowings, and in esoteric flagellations (such as immersion in ice and snow, and the like) by which a person mortifies himself. They do not realize that even though some of these things are required for those engaged in repentance and some are appropriate for those who practice Separation, Saintliness is not founded upon them at all (although the very best of these practices may serve as complements to Saintliness).

The fact of the matter is that it requires great depth to correctly grasp the essence of Saintliness, for it rests upon the foundations of higher wisdom and upon a perfection of one's deeds so complete as to serve as a goal for all who are wise at heart. And, indeed, it is only the wise who can truthfully acquire it. As our Sages of blessed memory have said (Avoth 2:5), "An ignoramus cannot be a Saint."

We shall now explain the concept of Saintliness in ordered sequence. The root of Saintliness is epitomized in the statement of our Sages of blessed memory (Berachoth 17a), "Fortunate is the man whose toil is in Torah and gives pleasure to his Creator." The underlying idea is this: It is known which mitzvoth are binding on all of Israel and to what extent one is bound by them. However, one who truly loves the Creator may His Name be blessed, will not endeavor and intend to fulfill his obligations by means of the duty which is acknowledged by all of Israel in general, but will react in very much the same manner as a son who loves his father, who, even if his father gives only a slight indication of desiring something, undertakes to fulfill this desire as completely as he can. And though the father may air his desire only once, and even then, incompletely, it is enough for such a son just to understand the inclination of his father's mind to do for him even what has not been expressly requested. If he can understand by himself what will bring pleasure to his father, he will not wait to be commanded more explicitly or to be told a second time.

We notice at all periods and at all times, between all lovers and friends - between a man and his wife, between a father and his son, in fine, between all those who are bound with a love which is truly strong -that the lover will not say, "I have not been commanded further. What I have been told to do explicitly is enough for me." He will rather attempt, by analyzing the commands, to arrive at the intention of the commander and to do what he judges will give him pleasure. The same holds true for one who strongly loves his Creator; for he, too, is one of the class of lovers. The mitzvoth, whose behests are clear and widely known, will serve as an indication to him of the will and desire of the Blessed One. He will not say, "What has been explicitly stated is enough for me," or "In any event I will discharge my obligations by doing what is incumbent upon me." To the contrary, he will say, "Since I have seen that God's desire inclines towards this, I will use it as a sign to do as much as I can in relation to it and to extend it into as many areas as I can envisage the Blessed One's desiring its being extended into." Such a man may be called "one who gives pleasure to his Creator."

Saintliness, then, is a comprehensive performance of all the mitzvoth, embracing all of the relevant areas and conditions within the realm of possibility. It is to be seen that Saintliness is of the same nature as Separation, differing from it only in the respect that it concerns the positive commandments whereas Separation deals with the negative ones, but corresponding to it in terms of general function, which is adding to what has been explicitly stated that which we may deduce from the explicit commandment as giving pleasure to the Blessed One. This is the delimitation of true Saintliness. I shall now explain its chief divisions.

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