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

fter giving thought to the development of the trait of watchfulness, one should seek to develop the trait of zeal. Watchfulness pertains to the negative commandments, zeal to the positive commandments. Both traits are implied in the precept, “Depart from evil and do good” (Ps. 34.15). To be zealous means to attend promptly to the performance of the Mizvot, and to fulfill all their particulars. Thus say our Sages, “Those who are zealous perform a Mizvah at the earliest possible opportunity” (Pes. 4a). In the same way that we must be ingenious and circumspect in order to escape the wiles of the Yezer, and to prevent the power of evil from having dominion over us or from meddling with our affairs, so must we be both ingenious and circumspect in order to avail ourselves of every possible opportunity to fulfill the Mizvot and to prevent such opportunities from being lost. For the Yezer not only employs various devices to ensnare man in the net of sin, but he also attempts to hinder the fulfillment of the Mizvot . If, therefore, we are indolent and listless, and make no effort to pursue, as it were, the Mizvot and to lay hold of them, we are sure to miss them. The second step enumerated in the baraita of Rabbi Phinehas ben Yair that Ramchal is using as the scaffold for his exposition is zeal. We must certainly keep in mind that zeal presupposes the mastery of watchfulness, and we will make explicit how the one leads to the other as we proceed. Ramchal begins by clarifying the distinct domains of behavior to which each belongs: watchfulness to the negative commandments and zeal to the positive commandments. This in turn is given profound scriptural support through the verse: “Depart from evil and do good.” Let us begin by delving deeper into this opening. We have already seen that, for Ramchal, the commandments are instrumental , acting as the mysterious channel through which we effect wakefulness of our obligation to choose the good. Ramchal follows long-standing Rabbinic tradition and divides this channel into passivity and activity. This division is clearly artificial, since passivity, or negative actions, still has the connotation of action. Yet, there Chapter 6 h Concerning the Trait of Zeal 81 A 82 Mesillat Yesharim h is a deep psychological difference between acts of restraining from acting and positive actions. And it is on this psychological level—the level of our ordinary consciousness that the yetzer ha-ra operates. Therefore, even though we experience passivity and activity as psychologically separate, we have no choice but to attend to these two sides of the same coin. Our first concern is the watchfulness that enables negative acts, or restraint; in the later Mussar terminology of Rav Salanter this will be called kibbush—repression. Only when we learn through watchfulness to inhibit ourselves from choosing the yetzer ha-ra can we begin to contemplate how to choose the yetzer ha-tov. It is at this point that zeal can enter the equation. When the opportunity to act positively presents itself, only zeal will answer the call. When such action is postponed, the yetzer ha-ra will fill the gap. Ramchal begins chapter 6 by deepening our understanding of the profound consequences of laziness. In doing so, he teaches us much about the nature of the yetzer ha-ra and human nature more generally. As we have previously taught, the yetzer ha-ra is not, strictly speaking, evil itself. How could it be since without it human survival is impossible? But as we have also seen, the yetzer ha-ra possesses much innate strength and grows in strength as it overcomes or works to overcome each of the challenges to physical survival in its path. One way we might describe its action is that it “overflows its own banks” and inundates the yetzer ha-tov; our material force inundates our spiritual force. Thus, in order to grasp the mitzvot that are intended to interrupt the yetzer ha-ra, and of course to implement the good that is their goal, we must exercise our yetzer ha-tov. This requires that we rouse and discipline ourselves against what appear to be our natural proclivities. To do so, we must assiduously apply our intellectual powers in order to understand this dilemma, or better, this double dilemma: we must take great care not to let the blandishments of the material urge draw us into doing evil and at the same...


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.