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

man should be watchful of his conduct. He should scrutinize and pass in review all his actions and habits to determine whether they are right or not, so that he may save his soul from the peril of destruction, and not grope about like a blind man. It is to this conclusion that reason impels us. Since man has the knowledge and understanding to save his soul from destruction, how is it that he deliberately shuts his eyes to his salvation? Can there be any greater brutishness? He who acts thus is lower than the beasts, whose nature it is to obey the law of self-preservation and to avoid everything from which they apprehend danger. A man who goes through life without regard to whether or not he follows a virtuous way is like a blind man who walks along the edge of a river. He is in constant danger and more likely to suffer harm than to escape it. It matters not to what a man’s negligence be due, whether it be to natural blindness or to his deliberately shutting his eyes. The prophet Jeremiah denounced the men of his generation for their heedlessness. “No man repenteth of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turneth away in his course as the horse rusheth headlong in the battle” (Jer. 8.6). They were driven on by the force of habit, never stopping to realize what they were doing, until they came to grief. The second chapter of Mesillat Yesharim begins to explore the methods by which an individual may start to do the necessary work of self-transformation. The inspiration of the first chapter gives way to a program for investigating yirat ha-Shem and ahavat ha-Shem. Each step will be investigated under three rubrics. First, Ramchal will define the term. Second, he will explore “the divisions” of the term, that is, how the term applies to the multifaceted nature of our lives. Third, he will describe how the trait in question is acquired. In the case of the first two traits, watchfulness and zeal, he will also explore the pitfalls that make these traits difficult to acquire. Following Rabbi Phinehas’s teaching, the first step on the path to holiness is Chapter 2 h Concerning the Trait of Watchfulness 35 A 36 Mesillat Yesharim h watchfulness, so we will begin with a definition. Watchfulness is being mindful of oneself and one’s relation to others at every moment. This is a necessary prerequisite to the practice of Mussar, whose goal is to become aware of the feelings, actions, and thoughts that constitute a person’s psyche.1 A person begins by developing this awareness after an event, then learns to do so closer and closer to the event, and eventually during the event itself or even before. One who develops awareness during or before an event has conquered the skill of watchfulness that Ramchal describes here. To justify the imperative of watchfulness, Ramchal applies reason rather than Scripture to moral behavior. He assumes that the person who wants to be watchful of his or her feelings, actions, and thoughts has already developed a value system that can be used to judge them. Thus, the second chapter already presumes a high level of moral awareness, which Ramchal already affirmed in the first chapter by recourse to Scripture. The guidance Scripture offers to the individual on discovering how to act positively in matters pertaining to spiritual well-being is, on reflection , the self-evident and preferable way to proceed. However, because Scripture might not be considered strong enough “proof,” Ramchal addresses the skeptic in terms of rationally demonstrable arguments. Yet, despite this appeal to the intellect, Ramchal clearly assumes that the reader will be familiar with the people he describes who lack the trait of watchfulness. Despite thinking of ourselves as intelligent, we understand the power of moral blindness to affect our behavior. We are aware of just how difficult it is to keep our feelings, actions, and thoughts in mind and how much more difficult it is to change them. At this stage, we are not ready to change. We are only learning how to be mindful. We are learning that such mindfulness specifically differentiates us from the beasts of the field. This is, in fact, one of the cunning artifices of the evil Yezer, who always imposes upon men such strenuous tasks that they have no time left to note whither they are drifting...


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.