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he quality of cleanness finds expression in manifold ways. It assumes, indeed , as many forms as there are negative commandments, since to be clean means to be clean of transgression in all its forms. Although the evil Yezer endeavors to lead man into sin by all sorts of temptations , there are certain temptations which are stronger than others. Those are the ones to which the evil Yezer always helps us find a reason for yielding. Hence, it is against them especially that we must fortify ourselves, if we would overcome the Yezer and be free from sin. Thus have the Sages said, “The human being has a natural inclination for theft and licentiousness” (Hag. 11b). We see that although most people are not outright thieves, that is, do not actually seize their neighbor’s property and transfer it to their own premises, yet in their dealings with one another they have a taste of the sin of theft, insofar as they permit themselves to profit at their neighbor’s expense, claiming that profit has nothing to do with theft. Chapter 11 of Mesillat Yesharim is the heart of the book. It is the longest chapter and in many ways the most complex, and it also represents the first major transition in spiritual attainment. One who has mastered the work of the book to this point will, after mastering the elements of this chapter, achieve the level of tzadik, the first of the three levels of spiritual attainment on Ramchal’s path of uprightness . As we said in the last chapter, when one is able to combine watchfulness with zeal, the negative and positive obligations, one has completed the preparatory phase of spiritual development. However, when one masters the particulars of nikiut outlined in this chapter and in its very brief appendix in chapter 12, one is firmly ensconced as a tzadik and is prepared to begin the more arduous work of becoming a hasid—a saintly person. The core issue of chapter 11 is truth and the impediments to it. Whereas chapter 10 dealt with rationalization, the tendency of individuals to deceive themselves , chapter 11 focuses on the tendency to deceive others and its impact on Chapter 11 h Concerning the Particulars of the Trait of Cleanliness 110 T 111 our deeds and our character traits. In both cases, Ramchal locates the major impediment to truth in our appetites, which he will explore in their most prevalent expressions, that is, vis-à-vis acquisitiveness, sex, and food. He will then show how appetite is also manifest in all our social relationships through the complexities of speech. Following this close scrutiny of our deeds, Ramchal will explore the relationship between truth and character. He will show how deceit is the consequence of succumbing to pride, anger, envy, and the desire for honor. It is both remarkable and provocative to realize that only at this high level of spiritual achievement can we begin to truly do the work of ethical cleansing. We are, after all, tzadikim! This is an essential insight that addresses the common misperception a reader might have. Since he or she is already a person of ordinary ethical integrity, a reader may assume that Mesillat Yesharim does not address him or her, but is rather for people who are inveterate sinners. On the contrary, teaches Ramchal. It is ordinary good citizens, not true outlaws, who commonly achieve a level of watchfulness and zeal. Although truly achieving this level requires work, as Ramchal has shown, it is work that most of us are willing to do or at least to recognize needs doing. When we master that work, we can indeed be called tzadikim because in relation to those who eschew even this much moral discipline, we are. However, reaching the level of tzadik only prepares us to begin the harder work of achieving saintliness, itself not the final goal, but nevertheless a major step into a different dimension. At the same time, Ramchal’s approach makes it clear that these goals are attainable . They require effort and dedication to a practice, but old habits can be broken and new habits (including the habit of being wary of habits) created. The potential for controlling our spiritual destiny is prodigious; however, as we will see below, we will eventually reach a point beyond which only the action of the Divine can take us. There are, indeed, many laws against theft. “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20.15). “Thou shalt not rob” (Lev...


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