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here are three factors that lessen and impede the exercise of watchfulness. The first is preoccupation with worldly affairs; the second is frivolity and levity; the third is the society of evil companions. We shall treat of each in turn. The centrality of Torah that has hovered over all of chapter 4 is made even more explicit at the beginning of chapter 5. What impedes Torah and therefore true watchfulness is being overly involved in the busyness of living in the material world. But we must immediately remind ourselves of our definitions: Torah means first and foremost, according to our understanding of Ramchal, the acquisition of Torah that is dependent upon bearing the burden of the other. Bearing this burden is the opposite of materiality; it is spirituality as signified by its connection to olam ha-ba. To be overly involved in material existence, however, is to be overly directed by the yetzer ha-ra, the material urge. But whatever our involvement in making a living, it cannot preclude or occlude our responsibility to the other, our “Torah,” an obligation that is significantly abetted by studying Torah texts. The more time and energy we can devote to the actual study of Torah, the more we will be aware of our obligations to bear the other’s burden and the more watchful we will become of opportunities to do so. Ramchal’s indictment of levity and laughter may cause us discomfort, knowing as we do that maintaining good humor, relating to people in a way that appropriately increases laughter and reasonable joking around, can often establish a sense of comfort between people. Although this is certainly salutary, we must be careful because too often humor may be harmful. For example, it may be aimed at embarrassing another person, even demeaning them. Often, it is directed at a third party, present or not, and in that sense participates in lashon ha-ra, idle gossip. The lines between appropriate good humor and forbidden laughter and levity are always difficult to discern and therefore require the utmost in watchfulness, which is precisely the middah under discussion. Chapter 5 h Concerning the Factors Which Detract from Watchfulness and the Withdrawing of Oneself from Them 68 T 69 On the other hand, beyond the simple level of socially acceptable good humor lies a category of laughter and levity that would be better described in contemporary language as dissipation—when a person spends the majority of his or her time seeking entertainment and distraction. In this case, laughter and levity represent the antithesis of watchfulness and need to be warned against. It is this type of dissipation that Ramchal is referring to and that leads most directly to the next category of concern, evil companionship. The category of evil companionship colors our understanding of the two previous categories. Both what Ramchal is calling “worldly occupation” and “laughter and levity” are strongly influenced by whether they lead to or are caused by keeping evil companionship. There are so many things we would never think of doing on our own that we end up doing because we are with others. Whether to gain their favor or because we are simply unable to disengage ourselves from their company, we end up participating in activities that we know to be counterproductive . It is in this environment that watchfulness becomes both very difficult and very much necessary. We have already spoken of worldly preoccupation. When a man is engrossed in his own worldly affairs, his thoughts are weighed down by the burden of care. It is impossible for him to apply his mind to spiritual works. Considering this, our Sages said, “Lessen thy toil for worldly goods and busy thyself with the Torah” (Ab. 4.10). A man must, indeed, toil for worldly goods to obtain his livelihood, but not so strenuously as to have no energy left for the cultivation of piety. This is why we have been commanded to set apart fixed and regular times for the study of the Torah. It has already been pointed out that the study of the Torah is the first essential for the acquisition of the habit of watchfulness. As R. Phinehas said, “The study of the Torah leads to watchfulness.” To the same effect is the saying, “An ignorant man cannot be pious” (Ab. 2.5). “God who created the evil Yezer in man,” say the Sages, “created the Torah as an antidote to it” (Kid. 30b). As we have already explained, studying...


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MARC Record
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