In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

t is fundamentally necessary both for saintliness and for the perfect worship of God to realize clearly what constitutes man’s duty in this world, and what goal is worthy of his endeavors throughout all the days of his life. Our Sages have taught us that man was created only to find delight in the Lord, and to bask in the radiance of His Presence. But the real place for such happiness is the world to come, which has been created for that very purpose. The present world is only a path to that goal. “This world,” said our Sages, “is like a vestibule before the world to come” (Ab. 4.16). Despite having announced his plan to follow the baraita of Rabbi Phinehas ben Yair, Ramchal seems to diverge by providing what he calls a general review of man’s duty in the world. If we remember, however, that Rabbi Phinehas opens by telling us that Torah leads to watchfulness and Ramchal begins his formal consideration of the baraita with a chapter on watchfulness, we can deduce that here Ramchal is reviewing what we know on the basis of Torah. This chapter is in fact an extended essay on the wisdom accruing through Torah study, which is by itself insufficient for fully realizing spiritual growth—because it lacks a focus on the middot, or character traits, to be discussed in the next chapter. One of Ramchal’s chief insights from the Jewish religious tradition is the recognition that joy is one of the goals of human life, that pleasure and our pursuit of pleasure constitute the primary impulses of human behavior. This commitment to the central idea that human perfection and human joy are synonymous is undiminished by the possibility that the pursuit of pleasure may go awry. Not only can it go off course, but it requires some standards by which to evaluate it, standards that are inevitably subject to human biases. Yet, it is essential and remarkable to note that recognizing joy as the goal of human life is both asserted by Ramchal and bound up in our understanding of the notion of saintliness, or hasidut. This challenging idea will be explored and unfolded over the course of the entire book. Chapter 1 h A General Review of the Duty of Human Beings in the World 16 I 17 Finding this joy and defining its nature is the essence of the religious quest. This quest reaches beyond the structures of the world we know, “this world”; instead, the perfection or joy is placed in the “world to come.” This messianic gesture is both crucial and somewhat confusing. It is confusing because we in the contemporary community have not developed a spiritual vocabulary in which this phrase has meaning. Instead, we have understood this phrase and others like it within the context of a mythic structure that we reject, rather than as a philosophy or a meaningful theology. As we proceed through Mesillat Yesharim, the essential nature of this messianic gesture will become clearer, but at this point we can offer the beginning of an explanation: since the possibility of pleasure and the experience of joy are never fully satisfied but always stretch tantalizingly before us into the infinite future, the very idea of pleasure and joy would be rendered meaningless without a term for this endlessness; this is the function of the term “world to come.” What other implications this term engenders will occupy us below. Therefore has God, blessed be His Name, given us the Mizvot. For this world is the only place where the Mizvot can be observed. Man is put here in order to earn with the means at his command the place that has been prepared for him in the world to come. In the words of our Sages, “This day is intended for the observance of the Mizvot; the morrow, for the enjoyment of the reward earned by means of them” (Er. 22a). This paragraph establishes two crucially important principles that set the preliminary structure of Mesillat Yesharim. The first is that the goal of achieving joy expresses itself through the commandments. The second is that achieving the joy we have already spoken about, the infinite joy that can only be expressed by the term “the world to come,” is the functional equivalent of achieving goodness, or the Good. The idea that joy comes to us in the form of commandments is counterintuitive , especially for us in the post-Enlightenment world of...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.