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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )

CHAPTER XXI

CONCERNING THE MEANS OF ACQUIRING SAINTLINESS

WHAT IS VERY INSTRUMENTAL in the acquisition of Saintliness is much observation and thought. For when a person expends much thought upon the greatness of the Blessed One's majesty, upon His absolute perfection, and upon the infinitely great gap between His sublimity and our lowliness, he will be filled with fear and tremble before Him. And in thinking upon His great lovingkindness to us, upon the strength of the Blessed One's love for man, upon the nearness of the just to Him, and upon the nobility of Torah and mitzvoth - in thinking upon these and upon similar ideas, he will certainly be fired with a strong love for God and will choose and lust to be united with Him. For when he sees that the Blessed One is actually a Father to us and pities us as a father pities his sons, he will naturally be awakened with a desire and a longing to reciprocate to Him, as a son to his father. But to acquire this attitude, he must closet himself and gather all of his knowledge and thought for consideration and study of the truths that we have mentioned. He will certainly be aided in this by much preoccupation with and close application to the Psalms of David, may Peace be upon him, and by reflection upon their statements and ideas. For since the Psalms are all filled with the love and fear of God and with all types of Saintliness, in thinking upon them he cannot but be greatly inspired to follow in the Psalmist's footsteps and to walk in his ways. Also helpful is the reading of those works which deal with incidents in the lives of the Saints, for these incidents stimulate the intelligence to take counsel and to imitate the Saint's worthy deeds. This is evident.

The deterrents to Saintliness are preoccupation and worries. When one's intelligence is preoccupied and pressed with his worries and his affairs, it cannot turn to the thoughts we have spoken of; and without reflection Saintliness cannot be attained. And even if one has already attained it, preoccupations exert pressure upon his intelligence and confuse it and do not permit him to strengthen himself in fear and love and in the other aforementioned aspects of Saintliness. This is the intent behind the statement of our Sages of blessed memory (Shabbath 30b), "The Divine Presence does not reside in the midst of sadness ..."

What we have said holds especially true of enjoyments and pleasures, which are diametrically opposed to Saintliness, for they induce the heart to be pulled along after them and to depart from all aspects of Separation and true knowledge. However, a man can be protected against these deterrents and rescued from them by trusting to God, by casting his lot with Him in the realization that a person can never be deprived of what has been set aside for him, as our Sages of blessed memory have said (Beitzah 16a), "A man's entire sustenance is determined for him on Rosh Hashana ..." and (Yoma 38b), "A man cannot touch even a hairsbreadth of what has been set aside for his neighbor." A man could sit idle and what was ordained for him would materialize, were it not for the penalty imposed upon all men: "With the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread" (Genesis 3:19), because of which, by Divine decree, a man is required to exert himself somewhat for his sustenance. This is a tax, as it were, which must be paid by every member of the human race and which cannot be evaded. In the words of our Sages of blessed memory (Sifrei), "I would think that a man would be permitted to sit idle, had we not been told (Deuteronomy 28:20), "With all the putting forth of your hand which you undertake.' " This is not to say that the exertion produces the results, but that it is necessary. Once one has exerted himself, however, he has fulfilled his responsibilities and made room for the blessing of Heaven to rest upon him, and he need not consume his days in striving and exertion. As King David, may Peace be upon him, said (Psalms 75:7,8), "For not from east or west and not from the wilderness comes uplifting. This one He puts down and this one He lifts up. For God rules." And King Solomon, may Peace be upon him, said (Proverbs 23:4), "Do not weary yourself to become rich; cease from your understanding." The correct approach in this area is that of the early Saints, who made their Torah primary and their labor secondary, and were successful in both; for once a man does a little work, from then on he need only trust in his Master and not be troubled by any wordly matters. His mind will then be free and his heart ready for true Saintliness and pure Divine service.

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