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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )

CHAPTER IX

CONCERNING THE FACTORS WHICH DETRACT FROM ZEAL AND THE WITHDRAWING OF ONESELF FROM THEM

THE FACTORS which detract from Zeal are those which promote laziness. The greatest of these is the desire for bodily repose - aversion to exertion - and the love of pleasures to their very limits. There is no question that a person laboring under the above deterrent will find Divine service a great burden. For one who wishes to take his meal with complete relaxation and repose, and to sleep without being disturbed and to walk only at a leisurely pace, and so forth - such a person will find it extremely difficult to arise for morning services or to curtail his dinner so as to pray the afternoon service before nightfall or to go out to perform a mitzvah if the time does not suit him. How much more reluctant will he be to rush himself for a mitzvah or for Torah study! One who habituates himself to these practices is not his own master to do the opposite of these things when he so desires, for his will is bound with the bonds of habit, which becomes second nature to him. A person must realize that he is not in this world for repose, but for labor and exertion. He should conduct himself according to the manner of laborers who work for hire (as it is said [Eruvin 65a], "We are day-laborers") and according to the manner of soldiers in the battle-line, who eat in haste, sleep only at irregular intervals and are always poised for attack. In relation to this it is said (Job 5:7), "A man is born to labor." If one accustoms himself to this approach, he will certainly find Divine service easy, for then he will not be lacking the proper attitude or preparation for it. Our Sages of blessed memory said along the same lines (Avoth 6.4), "This is the way of Torah - eat bread with salt, drink water by measure and sleep upon the ground." This regimen constitutes the epitome of removal from comforts and pleasures.

Another deterrent to Zeal is trepidation and fear in relation to what time may bring, so that at one time one will be afraid of cold or heat, at another of accidents, at another of illnesses, at another of the wind, and so on and so forth. As was said by Solomon, may Peace be upon him (Proverbs 26:13), "The lazy man says, "There is a lion on the road, a lion between the ways.' " Our Sages of blessed memory pointed up the degrading nature of this trait, attributing it to sinners. Scripture bears this out (Isaiah 33:14): "The sinners in Zion fear; a trembling has taken hold of the unGodly." One of our great men, when he noticed one of his disciples in the grips of fear, said to him (Berachoth 60a), "You are a sinner." The proper rule of conduct is (Psalms 37:3), "Trust in God and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faith."

In summary, a person should render himself rootless in the world and rooted in Divine service. In relation to all of the things of the world, he should be content with and able to get along with whatever comes his way; he should be far from repose and close to work and labor; his heart should trust securely in God, and he should not fear the future and what it may bring.

If you will point to the fact that the Sages in all places have ordered that a man be especially attentive to his well-being and not put himself in danger even if he is righteous and a doer of good deeds, that they have said (Kethuvoth 30a), "All is in the hands of Heaven except chills and fever," and that the Torah states (Deuteronomy 4:15), "Be very watchful of your selves" - all of which indicates that a person is not to extend trust in God to this area, even (as our Sages state further) when a mitzvah is to be performed - know that there is fear and there is fear. There is appropriate fear and there is foolish fear. There is confidence and there is recklessness. The Lord blessed be He, has invested man with sound intelligence and judgment so that he may follow the right path and protect himself from the instruments of injury that have been created to punish evildoers. One who allows himself not to be guided by wisdom and exposes himself to dangers is displaying not trust, but recklessness; and he is a sinner in that he flouts the will of the Creator, blessed be His Name, who desires that a man protect himself. Aside from the fact that because of his carelessness he lays himself open to the danger inherent in the threatening object, he openly calls punishment down upon himself because of the sin that he commits thereby, so that his hurt results from the sin itself.

The type of fear and self-protection which is appropriate is that which grows out of the workings of wisdom and intelligence. It is the type about which it is said (Proverbs 22:3), "The wise man sees evil and hides, but the fools pass on and are punished." "Foolish fear" is a person's desiring to multiply protection upon protection and fear upon fear, so that he makes a protection for his protection and neglects Torah and Divine service. The criterion by which to distinguish between the two fears is that implied in the statement of our Sages of blessed memory (Pesachim 8b), "Where there is a likelihood of danger, it is different." That is, where there is a recognized possibility of injury, one must be heedful, but where there is no apparent danger, one should not be afraid. Along the same lines it is said (Chullin 56b), "We do not assume an imperfection where we do not see one," and "A sage need be guided only by what his eyes see." (Bava Bathra 131 a). This is the very intent of the verse which we mentioned above: "The wise man sees the evil and hides..." What is spoken of is hiding from the evil which one sees, not from that which might, perhaps, possibly, materialize. And this is precisely the intent of the verse previously referred to: "The lazy man says, "There is a lion on the road...,"' which our Sages of blessed memory interpreted (Devarim Rabbah 8:7) as an illustration of the extent to which vain fear can go to separate a man from a good deed: "Solomon said seven things in relation to the lazy man: If people say to the lazy man, "Your teacher is in the city; go and learn Torah from him,' he answers, "I am afraid of the lion on the road.' If they say, "Your teacher is within the province,' he answers, "I am afraid of the lion between the ways.' If they say, "He is in your house,' he answers, "If I go to him I will find the door locked..."' We see, then, that it is not fear which leads to laziness, but laziness which leads to fear.

All of what we have said is attested to by daily experience, in that to the vast majority of people it is obvious and well known that the type of attitude we have spoken of is that which fools are governed by. The perceptive person will recognize the truth of what has been said, and the man of understanding will readily acknowledge it.

The foregoing discussion of Zeal, I trust, will suffice to awaken the heart. He who is wise will wax wiser and add to his wisdom. Zeal, it should be noted, is appropriately placed a level above Watchfulness; for generally a person will not be Zealous unless he is first Watchful. One who does not concentrate upon being Watchful in his deeds and upon considering Divine service and its principles (such concentration constituting the trait of Watchfulness, as I have already written) will find it very difficult to cloak himself with love and yearning for it and to be Zealous with longing before His Creator; for such a person is still immersed in bodily desires and subject to the inclination of his habits, which draws him away from all this. However, after his eyes will have opened to see his deeds and to be Watchful of them, and he will have made the accounting of good deeds against bad that we mentioned, it will be easy for him to depart from evil and to long and be Zealous for good. This is self-evident.

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