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he true way to acquire the trait of spiritual cleanness is to read assiduously the words of our Sages, both their legal enactments and their ethical exhortations . It is necessary to be familiar with the details implied in each of the Mizvot and to possess an accurate knowledge of the legal enactments, with all their ramifications. Details are liable to be overlooked; hence the need for refreshing one’s memory by continually reading books dealing with them. Thus only may one be alert against failure to observe the minutiae of the Mizvot. Because Torah study is central to Rabbinic Judaism, it is not surprising that it is also a central tenet of Ramchal’s Mussar. However, each time Ramchal reiterates this centrality, we are invited to understand it more deeply. As with each of the middot we have explored, Torah study recurs at deeper and deeper levels of our spiritual journey. While the baraita of Rabbi Phinehas ben Yair presupposed Torah study as the beginning of this journey, Ramchal has emphasized it not only at the beginning but also at every major transition point in this work. As we move decisively from tzadik to hasid, we encounter Torah study again, this time specifically as the study of halakhah and of Mussar. We already understand that by Torah study Ramchal means the acquisition of Torah, that is, preparing the soul to attach itself to Torah by means of bearing the other’s burden. In light of chapter 11, we understand further that Torah provides us with both interruptive mitzvot that interrupt us and turn our attention to serving the other and instantiative mitzvot that embody the commandment to love another; both of these prepare us to begin working on the middot of Mussar. That being said, is Ramchal here merely summarizing, or adding something new? What he conveys here is that Torah study serves both as an interruptive modality , by directing our attention away from those frivolities of mind that encourage somnambulism of the soul, and as an instantiative modality, by actively directing our hearts toward bearing the other’s burden. In sum, Ramchal understands study Chapter 12 h Concerning the Means of Acquiring Cleanliness 159 T 160 Mesillat Yesharim h as an ethical act, perhaps the beginning of ethics. The contemporary attitude that dismisses Torah study as being naïve, unduly passive, or unduly intellectual is precisely the work of the yetzer ha-ra. True, Torah study engages both the intellect and the heart. Ramchal reminds us that wisdom, which has been defined as bearing the burden of another, is facilitated by contemplating halakhic material, for both its interruptive and instantiative properties, and Mussar teaching. Together they break into our usual concentration on ourselves, thereby supplying us with content for ethical action. We are reminded: “The beginning of wisdom is yirah.” So also, whoever would acquire the proper traits of character must read the various ethical writings, both ancient and modern. Even when a man has determined to be most scrupulously clean, he is liable to be remiss in certain details, if he lacks the requisite knowledge. We are further reminded that halakhic literature is the literature in which the experience of Sinai, experiencing the obligation to serve the other as the very meaning of our humanity, is translated into the specific, historically conditioned situation of our lives. If we do not take this literature seriously, we are either bereft of a methodology for reaching back to this origin-experience, or frozen in the ways in which this experience has been expressed by prior generations. Both possibilities distance us from our goal. No one is born wise, and it is impossible for a man to know everything. But if he will read on those subjects, his attention will be directed to matters which otherwise he would never notice. For when the mind is aroused about any subject, it gradually begins to note every phase of it, and to discover in it new truths. Most important is the idea that study engenders not only an understanding of the old but also of how to generate new understandings of old texts. Truth does not stand still in the field of ethical endeavor any more than it does in any other field. The things that hinder spiritual cleanness are the same as those which hinder watchfulness. An additional hindrance is the lack of a thorough knowledge of the 161 ritual laws and ethical maxims. “An ignorant person,” said our Sages, “cannot be pious...

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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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