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hoever wishes to keep watch over himself must comply with the following two requirements. In the first place, he must know what constitutes the true good, and is therefore to be striven after, and what is unquestionably bad, and therefore to be avoided. Secondly, he must be able to classify each of his actions as either good or evil. He should do this at all times, while he is active no less than when he is quiescent. He should not enter upon any course of action without first determining its character. Moreover, when he is not active, he should review in his mind his habitual activities and appraise them with the purpose of eliminating the evil, and of making strong and perdurable whatever good they contain. If he discover in them the least trace of evil, he should not give himself rest until he think of some plan whereby he may depart from it and be rid of it. “It were better,” said our Sages, “for man not to have been created; but now that he has been created, let him scrutinize his works” (Er. 13b). Another version has it, “Let him constantly attend to his works” [literally, “Let him ‘feel’ his deeds” (ed.)] (ibid.). But either version is necessary and useful admonition. To “scrutinize” means to investigate one’s conduct as a whole, and to note whether it contains anything which may be considered a transgression of the divine commandments [mitzvot]. Whatsoever is of that nature must be utterly eradicated. On the other hand, “to attend to one’s works” means to investigate even the good actions themselves, in order to find out whether they contain any questionable admixture, or any element of evil that ought to be utterly stamped out. Just as one examines cloth to determine its quality and strength, so he who wishes to be spiritually pure must needs examine his actions with the utmost scrutiny to find out their true nature. In an extraordinarily comprehensive analysis of the act of watchfulness, Ramchal injects the time we have set aside for reflection with value by giving us “content” by which to measure the behavior we are reflecting upon. This Chapter 3 h Concerning the Divisions of Watchfulness 40 W 41 content, which is drawn from Torah, represents the essential connection between Talmud Torah and Mussar. But Torah is not static; as Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm taught, it is a mystical garment acquired by souls who prepare themselves by accepting responsibility for another. The text itself plays a vital role, serving both as a witness to this responsibility and as the discourse that identifies and refines the specific details of the responsibility. Thus, after we learn to pause and reflect, Torah provides us with the discourse by which to evaluate ourselves and also with the tool by which we can expand the trait of watchfulness toward the horizon of infinity. Learning to profit spiritually from the trait of watchfulness requires that we also learn to bring to bear our now value-laden self-reflection on our actions. As we have suggested earlier, this requires an ability to reflect on our deeds, and that reflection, through Torah, is now an evaluative reflection. Typically, such reflection is most easily performed after the fact; however, the goal is eventually, through more and more diligent reflection, to be able to reflect on our deeds as we perform them and ultimately to reach a stage where we are able to reflect on our deeds before we act. The final stage of watchfulness that Ramchal describes in this paragraph goes beyond what might so far be construed as a merely intellectual process. Basing himself on a talmudic wordplay that equates examining one’s deeds with “feeling,” Ramchal enters into the world of emotion and intuition. His example of the impact of these nonintellectual factors is particularly instructive. While it is natural to assume that our spiritual assessment focuses on those deeds patently in need of improvement, and certainly such an analysis satisfies our intellect, true growth occurs when we can examine the deeds that our intellect assures us are good and proper. It is in regard to these apparently good deeds that we begin to discern how deceptive our intellect can be and how much it can be a tool of the yetzer ha-ra. For in most of our best moments our actions are a mixture of emotional drives, the need for recognition, false self-satisfaction, and greed—not to mention...


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MARC Record
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