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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )

CHAPTER XXV

THE MANNER OF ACQUIRING FEAR OF SIN

THE MANNER of acquiring this fear is to reflect upon two truths. The first is that the Divine Presence is found everywhere and the Blessed One looks to all things, great and small, nothing being hidden from His eyes, whether by its magnitude or by its smallness. Great and small, imposing and humble alike, He sees and understands without distinction. As stated by Scripture (Isaiah 6:3), "The whole earth is filled with His glory" and (Jeremiah 23:24), "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" and (Psalms 113:5), "Who is like the Lord, our God, who sits on high, who stoops to look upon heaven and earth" and (Ibid. 138:6), "For God is high; He sees the lowly and knows the proud from afar." Once it has become clear to one that wherever he may be, he is standing before the Presence of the Blessed One, there will come to him of itself, the fear and trepidation of going astray in his actions so that they do not accord with the majesty of the Blessed One. As it is stated (Avoth 2.1), "Know what is above you: a seeing eye, a listening ear and a book in which all of your deeds are inscribed." Since the Holy One Blessed be He looks to everything, sees everything and knows everything, it follows that all actions leave an impression. And they are all inscribed in a book, whether they be in one's favor or against him. This understanding, however, imprints itself in a person's mind only through constant reflection and deep analysis, for since it is removed from our senses, our intelligence will formulate it only after much thought and consideration. And even after the idea has been assimilated, it may be easily lost if it is not constantly reflected upon. It is seen, then, that just as protracted thought is the means of acquiring ever-present fear, so is inattentiveness and desistence from thought its greatest deterrent, whether it results from preoccupation or is intentional. All inattentiveness nullifies constancy of fear. As the Holy One Blessed be He commanded in relation to a king (Deuteronomy 17:19), "And it shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to fear, the Lord, his God." This teaches us that fear is learned only by uninterrupted study. It is to be noted that we have "so that he may learn to fear," rather than "so that he may fear," the underlying idea being that this fear is not naturally attainable, but that, to the contrary, it is far removed from one because of the physical nature of his senses and can be acquired only through learning. And the only manner in which one may learn to fear is through constant, uninterrupted study of the Torah and its ways, through constantly (when sitting, walking, retiring and arising) reflecting upon and analyzing, until it implants itself in his mind, the truth of the existence of God's Presence in all places, and of our literally standing before Him at all periods and times. He will then fear God in truth. This was the intent of David's prayer (Psalms 86:11), "Teach me, O God, Your ways 1 will walk in Your truth. Unite my heart to fear Your Name."

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