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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )



WHAT MUST Now be explained is the weighing of one's deeds in relation to the aforementioned standards of Saintliness. This is an extremely fundamental process and one which constitutes the most difficult operation in Saintliness because of the great subtlety it demands and because of its susceptibility to great inroads by the evil inclination. The weighing of Saintliness entails great danger because it is within the power of the evil inclination to draw many good things far from one, as if they were evil and to draw many sins near to him, as if they were great mitzvoth. The truth is that a man must fulfill three requirements in order to succeed in this "weighing." He must possess the most just of hearts, whose only inclination is to give pleasure to the Blessed One; he must submit his actions to the closest scrutiny and exert himself to perfect them in accordance with this end; and after all this, he must cast his lot with God, after which it may be said of him (Psalms 84:6,12), "Happy is the man whose strength is in You ... Goodness will not be lacking for those who walk in purity." if one of these conditions is not observed, he will not attain to Wholeness and he will be very apt to stumble and fall. That is, if his intention is not select and pure, or if he weakens in the analysis of his deeds so that his full potential is not brought to bear upon them, or, if after all .this, he does not put his trust in his Master, it will be very difficult for him not to fall. But if he correctly observes all three - purity of thought, analysis, and trust, he will walk securely in truth and no evil will befall him, as Channah said in her prophecy (I Samuel 2:9), "He will protect the feet of his Saints." And David also said (Psalms 37:28), "And He will not forsake his Saints; they will forever be protected."

What must be understood is that actions should not be judged for saintliness at first glance, but should be carefully observed and reflected upon so that it may be determined how far their results extend. For at times an action in itself may seem worthy of performance, but because its results are evil, one will be obliged to leave it; and if he does not, he will be adjudged a sinner rather than a Saint. The episode of Gedaliah ben Achikam (Jeremiah 40:13ff) provides a clear illustration of this fact. Because of his abundant Saintliness, which would not permit him to judge Yishmael adversely, or which would not permit him to receive slander, he said to Yochanan ben Kareach, "You are speaking falsely of Yishmael." What was the result? He died, the Jews were scattered, and their last hope was extinguished. And Scripture attributes to him the death of those men who were killed, as if he were the murderer, as indicated by the comment of our Sages of blessed memory upon the verse, (Jeremiah 41:9), "All of the corpses of the men who were killed through Gedaliah."

It was also such incorrectly weighed Saintliness in the incident of Bar Kamtza (Gittin 56a) that was responsible for the destruction of the Temple: "The Rabbis thought to sacrifice the animal. R. Zechariah ben Avkulos said to them, "They will say that animals with imperfections may be sacrificed upon the altar.' The Rabbis thought to kill him [Bar Kamtza]. R. Zachariah ben Avkulos said to them, "They will say that one who causes an imperfection in sacrificial animals should be killed.' While all this was going on, the evildoer slandered the Jews to the emperor, who came and destroyed Jerusalem." It was to this that R. Yochanan was referring when he said, "The humility of R. Zechariah destroyed our Temple, consumed our Sanctuary and exiled us among the nations."

We see, then, that one should not decide upon the saintliness of a deed on the basis of surface appearances, but should view it from every angle that human intelligence can be brought to bear upon it, until he can truthfully determine the better course - performance or abandonment.

For example, the Torah commanded us (Leviticus 19:16), "Rebuke your friend firmly." Very often a man will undertake to rebuke sinners in such a place or at such a time that he will cause them to go even further in their wickedness and to add to their sins by desecrating the Name of God. In such cases, silence alone constitutes Saintliness. As our Sages of blessed memory have said (Yevamoth 656), "Just as it :s a mitzvah to say what will be listened to, so is it a mitzvah not to say what will not be listened to." It goes without saying that one should attempt to be in the forefront in the pursuit of mitzvoth and to be among those who occupy themselves with them. But sometimes this may lead to quarrels, which might result more in shame to the mitzvah and desecration of the Name of Heaven than in honor. In situations of this kind the Saint is certainly required to leave the mitzvah and not pursue it. As our Sages of blessed memory have stated in relation to the Levites (Bamidbar Rabbah 5.1), "Because they knew that the reward of those who carried the ark was greater, they abandoned the table, the candlestick and the altars, and they all ran to the ark to receive reward. This resulted in quarrels - one saying, "I will carry here' and the other saying, "1 will carry here.' This, in turn, led to frivolity, and the Divine Presence assailed them..."

Again, a man must observe all of the mitzvoth with all of their fine points without fear or shame, no matter in whose presence he finds himself, as it is stated (Psalms 119:46), "And I will speak of Your testimonies before kings and I will not be ashamed" and (Avoth 5.23), "Be strong as a leopard ..." But this, too, requires distinction and discrimination, for all this was said in relation to the mitzvah in itself, for whose sake one must set his face like flint. But there are some additions to Saintliness which, if a man will perform them in public, will cause men to laugh at and ridicule him, rendering them sinners and liable to punishment because of him. Because he can forego these actions, their not being absolutely required, the Saint would certainly do better to leave them than to do them. And the Prophet said (Micha 6:8), "And walk modestly with your God." Many great Saints left off some of their accustomed ways of Saintliness when in public so as not to appear proud. In fine, what is essential in respect to mitzvoth must be performed in the face of all mockery, and what is not essential and provokes laughter and ridicule should not be performed.

We see, then, that one who would be a true Saint must weigh all of his deeds in relation to their results and in relation to all of the circumstances surrounding their performance - time, social environment, situation and place. And if he finds that not doing will go farther towards sanctifying the Name of Heaven and giving pleasure to God than doing, he must refrain from doing. Or, if one action appears good, but is bad in its results or in its complements, and another appears bad, but is good in its results, he must decide on the basis of the conclusion and the result, the true fruit of the action. This decision is left to an understanding heart and an honest intelligence, for, in view of their innumerability, it is impossible to consider particular instances. "God gives wisdom; from His mouth stems knowledge and understanding" (Proverbs 2:6).

The episode of R. Tarfon (Berachoth 10b) substantiates what has been said. Although he took upon himself the more stringent decision of Beth Shammai, he was told, "You would rightly have been accounted the cause of your own death, for you violated the words of Beth Hillel." All this because the controversy between Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel had become an area of difficulty to Israel in view of the great contention that had grown up between them; and after it had finally been ruled that the law should constantly be decided in accordance with Beth Hillel it was essential for the very endurance of Torah that this ruling forever retain its force and not be weakened in any way lest the Torah come to take on the semblance of two Torahs (God forbid). Hence, the view of this Mishnah that it is Saintlier to hold with Beth Hillel even when more lenient, than to be more stringent in accordance with Beth Shammai. This should serve us as a guide to perceive the path where light resides with truth and faith for the doing of what is just in the eyes of God.

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