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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )

CHAPTER XXVI

CONCERNING THE TRAIT OF HOLINESS

HOLINESS IS TWO-FOLD. Its beginning is labor and its end reward; its beginning, exertion and its end, a gift. That is, it begins with one's sanctifying himself and ends with his being sanctified. As our Sages of blessed memory have said (Yoma 39a), "If one sanctifies himself a little, he is sanctified a great deal; if he sanctifies himself below, he is sanctified from above." Exertion in this respect consists in one's completely separating and removing himself from earthiness and clinging always, at all periods and times, to his God. It was because of the possession of this trait that the Prophets were called "angels," as stated in relation to Aaron (Malachi 2:7), "For the lips of the Priest will guard knowledge, and Torah will be sought from his mouth for he is an angel of the Lord of Hosts." And (II Chronicles 36:16), "And they disparaged the angels of God.. . " Even when one is engaged in the physical activities required by his body, his soul must not deviate from its elevated intimacy, as it is stated (Psalms 63:9), "My soul clings to You; Your right arm sustains me ."However, because it is beyond a person's ability to place himself in this situation, since, in the last analysis, he is a creature of flesh and blood, I have stated that the end of Holiness is a gift. What one can do is to persevere in the pursuit of true understanding and constantly give thought to the sanctification of deeds.

In the end, the Holy One Blessed be He leads him upon the path that he desires to follow, causes His Holiness to rest upon him, and sanctifies him, thus enabling him to maintain a constant intimacy with Him, the Blessed One. Where his nature hinders him, the Blessed One will aid and assist him, as it is stated (Psalms 84:12), "He does not withhold good from those who walk in purity."

This is the intent of the above statement. "If one sanctifies himself a little," by what he can acquire through his own exertions, "he is sanctified a great deal," by the help he receives from the Blessed One.

If one sanctifies himself with the Holiness of his Creator, even his physical actions come to partake of Holiness. This is illustrated by the eating of sacrificial offerings (itself a mitzvah) in relation to which our Sages of blessed memory have said (Pesachim 596), "The Priests eat and the owners are atoned for."

Note the distinction between one who is Pure and one who is Holy. The earthy actions of the first are necessary ones, and he is motivated by necessity alone, so that his actions escape the evil in earthiness and remain pure. But they do not approach Holiness, for it were better if one could get along without them. One who is Holy, however, and clings constantly to his God, his soul traveling in channels of truth, amidst the love and fear of his Creator -such a person is as one walking before God in the Land of the Living, here in this world. Such a person is himself considered a tabernacle, a sanctuary, an altar. As our Sages of blessed memory have said (Bereshith Rabbah 47.8), " "And God went up from him' (Genesis 35:13) -the patriarchs are the Divine chariot" and, "The righteous are the Divine chariot." The Divine Presence dwells with the Holy as it dwelt in the Temple. It follows, then, that the food which they eat is as a sacrifice offered upon the fire. There is no question that what was brought up upon the altar was greatly elevated because of its being sacrificed before the Divine Presence, elevated to such an extent that its entire species throughout the world was blessed, as our Sages of blessed memory indicate in the Midrash (Tanchumah Tetzaveh). In the same way, the food and drink of the Holy man is elevated and is considered as if it had actually been sacrificed upon the altar. As our Sages 'of blessed memory have said (Kethuvoth 105b), "If one brings a gift to a Scholar, it is as if he offers up first fruit" and (Yoma 71a), "In the place of libation, let him fill the throat of the Scholars with wine." The meaning here is not that Scholars should lust, glutton-like, to fill their throats with food and drink (God forbid), but rather, as we have indicated, that Scholars, who are Holy in their ways and in all of their deeds, are literally comparable to the sanctuary and the altar, for the Divine Presence dwells with them just as it dwelled in the sanctuary. Their consuming of food is similar to the offering up of a sacrifice upon the altar, and the filling of their throats is analogous to the filling of the basins. In accordance with this view, anything at all which is made use of by them in some way is elevated and enhanced through having been employed by a righteous individual, by one who communes with the Holiness of the Blessed One. Our Sages of blessed memory have already referred to "the stones of the place" that Jacob took and set around his head (Chullin 91b), "R. Yitzchak said, "This teaches us that they all gathered together, each one saying, "Let the righteous one lay his head upon me.'"

In fine, Holiness consists in one's clinging so closely to his God that in any deed he might perform he does not depart or move from the Blessed One, until the physical objects of which he makes use become more elevated because of his having used them, than he descends from his communion and from his high plane because of his having occupied himself with them. This obtains, however, only in relation to one whose mind and intelligence cling so closely to the greatness, majesty and Holiness of the Blessed One that it is as if he is united with the celestial angels while yet in this world. I have already indicated that one cannot accomplish this by himself, but must awaken himself to it and strive for it. But first, he must have attained all of the noble traits previously mentioned - from the beginning of Watchfulness until the Fear of Sin. Only in this way will he arrive at Holiness and succeed in it; for if he lacks the preceding traits, he is akin to an outsider, the bearer of an imperfection, about whom it is said (Numbers 18:4), "An outsider shall not come near." But if, after having undergone all these preparations, he steadfastly pursues with strong love and great fear, the contemplation of the greatness of the Blessed One and the might of His majesty, he will separate himself little by little from earthy considerations and in all his actions and movements will direct his heart to the intimacies of true communion until there is conferred upon him a spirit from on high and the Blessed One causes His Name to dwell with him as He does with all of His Holy ones. He will then be in actuality like an angel of God, and all of his actions, even the lowly, physical ones, will be accounted as sacrifices and Divine service.

It is to be seen that the means of acquiring this trait arc much separation, intense contemplation of the secrets of Divine governance and the mysteries of creation, and understanding of the majesty of the Blessed One and His excellence, to the point where one cleaves closely to Him and is capable of performing physical activities with the same motivation with which it befits the Priest to slaughter the sacrificial animal, receive its blood, and sprinkle it in order to receive from the Blessed One the blessing of life and peace. Without the above orientation one will find it impossible to attain Holiness, and regardless of what level he may have reached, he will nonetheless remain earthy and physical, like all other men.

What assists one towards the acquisition of this trait is much solitude and separation, which, by eliminating the claims upon a person, allows his soul to grow in strength and to unite itself with the Creator.

The deterrents to Holiness are a lack of true understanding and much association with people; for earthiness finds its counterpart and takes on new strength, and the soul remains trapped within it, unable to escape. However, when one dissociates himself from them and remains alone, preparing himself for the reception of His Holiness, he is conducted along the path which he wishes to travel; and, with the help that God gives him, his soul grows strong within him, overcomes his physical element, unites itself with the Holiness of the Blessed One and perfects itself in it. From this level one proceeds to an even higher one, that of The Holy Spirit, his understanding coming to transcend the bounds of human nature. It is possible for one to reach such a high degree of communion with God as to be given the key to the revival of the dead, as it was given to Elijah and Elisha. It is this gift which reveals the strength of one's union with the Blessed One, for since He is the source of life, the giver of life to all living creatures, as our Sages of blessed memory have said (Ta'anith 2a), "Three keys were not entrusted to intermediaries: the key of the revival of the dead . . ." - since this is so, then one who is perfectly united with the Blessed One will be able to draw even life from Him; for it is that which more than anything else is particularly attributed to Him, as I have written. Hence the conclusion of the Baraitha: " Holiness leads to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit leads to the Revival of the Dead."


And now, dear reader, I realize that you know just as well as I that I have not exhausted in this work all of the provisions of Saintliness and that I have not said all there is to say about it, for it has no end, and there is no conclusion to thought. However, I have said a little about each of the particulars of the Baraitha upon which this work is based. This may serve as a beginning towards a broader study of these views, in that their nature has been revealed and their paths exposed so that one may walk steadily upon them. In relation to all such things it has been said (Proverbs 1:5), "The sage will listen and add to his wisdom and the man of understanding will acquire devices" and, "One who seeks purification is assisted therein" (Shabbath 104a). "For God gives wisdom; from His mouth stem knowledge and understanding" (Proverbs 2:6) wherewith every man may set his path aright before the Blessed One.

It is understood that each individual must guide and direct himself according to his calling and according to the particular activities in which he is engaged. The path of Saintliness appropriate to one whose Torah is his calling is unsuited to one who must hire himself out to work for his neighbor, and the path of neither of these is suitable for one who is engaged in business. This holds true for all of the particulars in the affairs of men, each calling for a path of Saintliness corresponding to its nature. This is not to say that Saintliness varies in nature. It is unquestionably the same for everyone, in that its intent is the doing of that which brings pleasure to the Creator. But in view of the fact that circumstances vary, it follows, of necessity, that the means by which they are to be directed towards the desired goal vary in kind. One who, out of necessity, plies a humble trade, can be a true Saint, just as one from whose mouth learning never departs. It is written (Proverbs 16:4), "God created everything for His sake" and (Ibid. 3:6), "In all your ways know Him and He will straighten your paths."

May the Blessed One in His mercy open our eyes to His Torah,
teach us His ways, and lead us in His paths;
and may we be worthy of honoring His name and bringing pleasure to Him.

"The honor of God will endure forever;
God will be happy in His works"
(Psalms 104:31).

"Let Israel be happy in its Maker,
the sons of Zion rejoice in their King"
(Ibid. 149:2).

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