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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )



THERE ARE TWO DIVISIONS OF ZEAL, one relating to the period before, and the other to the period after the beginning of the deed. The concern of the former is that a man not permit a mitzvah to grow stale, that when the time for its performance arrives, or when it happens to present itself to him, or when the thought of performing it enters his mind, he make haste to take hold of the mitzvah and perform it, and not allow much time to elapse in the interim, there being no greater danger; for each new minute can bring with it some new hindrance to a good deed. Our Sages of blessed memory awakened us to this truth through reference to the coronation of Solomon (Bereshith Rabbah 76:2), in relation to which David told Benaiah (I Kings 1:33,36), "...and take him down to Gichon," and Benaiah answered, "Amen, may God say so ." "R. Pinchas asked in the name of R. Chanan of Sepphoris, "Was it not said (I Chronicles 22:9), "A son will be born to you and he will be a man of tranquility" ? The answer is: Many adverse occurrences can take place from here to Gichon.' " We were therefore warned by our Sages of blessed memory (Mechilta Shemoth 12:17), " "Watch over the matzoth' - if a mitzvah presents itself to you, do not permit it to go stale;" and (Nazir 23b), "A man should always advance himself towards a mitzvah, for because the elder daughter preceded the younger she was worthy of putting forward four generations of royalty in Israel;" and (Pesachim 4a), "The zealous advance themselves towards mitzvoth;" and (Berachoth 66), "A man should always run to perform a mitzvah,even on the Sabbath." And in the Midrash it is stated, (Vayikra Rabbah 11:8), " "He will guide us eternally '(Psalms 48:15), - with Zeal, as young maids ["eternally" and "young maids" are similarly constructed in the Hebrew], as it is said (Psalms 68:26), ' the midst of young maids playing upon timbrels."' The possession of Zeal constitutes an extremely high level of spiritual development, which a person's nature prevents him from attaining at once. He who strengthens himself, however, and acquires as much of Zeal as he is able to, will, in time to come, truly attain to it. The Creator, may His Name be blessed, will present it to him as a reward for having striven for it during the time of his service.

The concern of "Zeal after the beginning of the deed" is that a man, after taking hold of a mitzvah, make haste to complete it; not for the sake of ease, as with one who wishes to relieve himself of a burden, but for fear that he might not otherwise be able to complete it. Our Sages of blessed memory have voiced many exhortations concerning this: (Bereshith Rabbah 85:4), "One who begins a mitzvah and does not complete it buries his wife and sons;" and (Ibid.), "A mitzvah is attributed only to the one who completes it." And King Solomon, may Peace be upon him, said (Proverbs 22:29), "Have you seen a man quick in his work? He will stand before kings. He will not stand before low-life." Our Sages of blessed memory paid this tribute to Solomon himself (Sanhedrin 104b) for having made haste in the building of the Temple, and not having idled and delayed it. They commented in a similar manner upon Moses' zeal in the work of the Tabernacle (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:2).

It is to be observed that all of the deeds of the righteous are performed with alacrity. In relation to Abraham it is written (Genesis 18:6), "And Abraham hastened to the tent, to Sarah, and he said, 'Hasten...' and he gave it to the youth and he hastened." And in relation to Rivkah (Ibid. 24:20), "And she hastened and emptied her pitcher..." And in the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10.17), " "And the woman made haste' (Judges 13:10) - this teaches us that all of the deeds of the righteous are done quickly," that they do not permit time to elapse before beginning them or in completing them.

The man whose soul burns in the service of his Creator will surely not idle in the performance of His mitzvoth, but his movements will be like the quick movements of a fire; he will not rest or be still until the deed has been completed. Furthermore, just as zeal can result from an inner burning so can it create one. That is, one who perceives a quickening of his outer movements in the performance of a mitzvah conditions himself to experience a flaming inner movement, through which longing and desire will continually grow. If, however, he is sluggish in the movement of his limbs, the movement of his spirit will die down and be extinguished. Experience testifies to this.

It is known that what is most preferred in Divine service is desire of the heart and longing of the soul. And it is in relation to his goodly portion in this respect that David exulted (Psalms 42:2), "As a hart yearns for the waterbrooks, so does my soul yearn for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God..." "My soul longs and goes out for the courts of God (Psalms 84:3); "My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You" (Psalms 63:2). The man in whom this longing does not burn as it should would do well to bestir himself by force of will so that, as a result, this longing will spring up in his nature; for outer movements awaken inner ones. Unquestionably a person has more control of his outer than of his inner self, but if he makes use of what he can control, he will acquire, in consequence, even that which is not within the province of his control. For as a result of the willed quickening of his movements, there will arise in him an inner joy and a desire and a longing. As the Prophet says (Hosea 6:3), "And let us know - let us run to know God;" and (Hosea 11:10), "After God will they go, who will roar like a lion."

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