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enerally stated, it is the study of the Torah that will instill in a man the habit of watchfulness. This is what R. Phinehas means by the opening words of his baraita, “The study of the Torah leads to watchfulness.” More concretely, it is the realization of the exacting character of the religious duties which a man has to perform, and of the severe punishment which the neglect of them brings, that renders him watchful of his conduct. One may acquire the trait of watchfulness through the careful reading of the stories in the Holy Scriptures, and through the study of the sayings of the Sages which deal with this subject. The assumption with which we begin this chapter is that we have arrived at this point in the book after having returned to the beginning and worked our way here via at least a second reading. In the course of this reading, we have become slightly more aware of how critical Torah study is to developing a Mussar consciousness . Although Ramchal has chosen to begin his consideration of Rav Phinehas’ baraita with the trait of watchfulness, he is well aware and wants to make sure that we fully realize that one achieves the trait of watchfulness via Torah. We also keep in mind that Torah is more than just texts and reflection on those texts, and that acquiring Torah demands more than simply study; it requires the prior acceptance of responsibility for the other. The “severity of the judgment” (omek hadin; Kaplan translation: “severe punishment”) that it involves is precisely the judgment of the other, both in the sense that the other puts into question our own sense of self and that the self bears responsibility for the other. When we do not combine the acceptance of this responsibility with our Torah study, we are likely to experience one of the great frustrations of Torah study—its inefficacy in transforming us and in lifting us to the heights of spiritual satisfaction that we may seek. And when it does take us into the spiritual heights, we must be concerned lest the study itself become a source of intoxication by which we blot out this responsibility. These Chapter 4 Concerning the Manner of Acquiring Watchfulness h 49 G 50 Mesillat Yesharim h are both ways in which the yetzer ha-ra uses Torah study to confound our true spiritual growth. Thus, the recommencement of our reflection that occurs with chapter 4 presses us to contemplate the somewhat understated prerequisite that Rabbi Phinehas required: we cannot begin the ascent toward hasidut without the acquisition of Torah, and the acquisition of Torah requires bearing the burden of another. On the other hand, once we have engaged in such responsible action, even if we are unable to maintain that level of commitment, then the study of Torah, the words of the tradition, provides significant aid in our journey. Our motivation for rereading Mesillat Yesharim from the beginning was to truly reflect on and internalize this book rather than merely read it. If we have succeeded , then we have indeed begun to learn to bear the burden of the other and in that case are ready to make good spiritual use of the words of the sages and of Scripture. Those words will appear to us to have a new meaning, a new urgency, in light of the responsibilities we have undertaken. Not all people, however, are actuated by the same motives. Thus, those who possess unusual intelligence feel impelled to be watchful of their conduct by motives other than those which impel the average person. To those of greater intelligence the fact that perfection is the only thing worth striving for, and that failure to attain perfection is a calamity, is a sufficient incentive. And knowing that good works and the virtues are the only means of becoming perfect, they are careful never to yield to anything that might reduce the number, or lessen the effectiveness of those means. They might not only fail to attain perfection through those means, but even grow more imperfect because of the inadequate effort expended upon them. Rather than to fail in the attainment of perfection—a failure which they would consider tragic—they prefer to hold up before themselves the highest standards and to be most self-exacting. They give themselves no rest for fear lest they miss something which might bring them nearer to the perfection they desire. The following words of Solomon may be...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780827611221
Related ISBN
9780827608566
MARC Record
OCLC
794925430
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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