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bstinence [lit: Separation] is the beginning of saintliness. All that we have thus far set forth is what a man must do in order to be righteous; henceforth , we shall speak of what a man must do in order to be saintly. We shall find that abstinence bears the same relation to saintliness as watchfulness does to zeal. Abstinence and watchfulness constitute merely the shunning of evil; but saintliness and zeal constitute the doing of good (cf. Ps. 34.15a). Our Sages laid down the principle, “In order to be holy, it is necessary to abstain even from things that are permitted” (Yeb. 20a). The very term “abstinence” denotes keeping aloof from things. It therefore implies so restricting oneself in the enjoyment of things permitted as to avoid even coming in contact with things that are forbidden. To practice abstinence means to keep away from anything which, though not in itself evil, might in time, even if not immediately, give rise to evil consequences. The middah of prishut, “separation,” is the first middah upon which hasidut (love) is founded. Anyone who would attain the level of hasid must act with prishut under all circumstances. Achieving prishut does not come easily, and the difficulty of attaining it teaches that the hasid is not in a state of spiritual equilibrium that requires no effort to maintain. On the contrary; only a person who has mastered the entire curriculum of the soul up to this point merits the opportunity to wrestle with the demands of prishut: the ability to refrain from acts that are ordinarily permitted , without being trapped into the false piety of extreme asceticism. Hasidut, the internalization of love and joy, requires walking a fine line between discipline and fanaticism. The relationship between the two aspects of prishut are analogous to that which exists between watchfulness and zeal: one aspect is passive, that which we refrain from; and the other is active. There are three degrees of abstinence. We have, in the first place, the prohibitions which are mentioned in the Torah; secondly, the “fences” to those prohibiChapter 13 h Concerning the Trait of Separation 162 A 163 tions, such “fences” being the rabbinic decrees and ordinances laid down by our Sages for all Israel. Thirdly, there are the precautionary measures binding upon any one who would be abstemious, measures that extend the domain of the forbidden far into the field of things ordinarily permitted to every Israelite; such measures place one at the farthest possible remove from that which is evil. Ramchal tells us that Jewish spirituality is divided into three distinct categories : that which is explicitly forbidden; the “fences” that distance us from those things; and further “withdrawals,” characterized as prishut. “What authority have we,” you will say, “to keep on adding one prohibition after another? In the words of our Sages, ‘Are not the things which the Torah has forbidden enough for thee, that thou comest to add more to them?’ (Yer. Ned. 9.1). Is it not true that our Sages have already instituted all the necessary prohibitions and restrictions, and that if they have permitted anything they had good reason to do so? Why, then, should we ordain laws that they did not find it necessary to ordain? There would be no end to such laws. At this rate, a man might become a dull ascetic, and would get no enjoyment out of the world. ‘A man will be held accountable to God,’ said our Sages, ‘for refusing to enjoy the things that he is permitted to enjoy’ (Yer. Kid. 4.12, end). And their authority is the verse, ‘And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them’ (Eccl. 2.10).” Anticipating our objection to the schema he has just presented, Ramchal articulates it as follows: Is not the halakhic system sufficient in its stringency? And have we not been explicitly warned by the tradition neither to multiply prohibitions nor to deny ourselves the enjoyment of what is permitted? But know that, despite all these objections, it is highly important to be abstinent, and that in the career of saintliness one must be abstinent. Our Sages have exhorted us thereto when they interpreted the command, “Be ye holy” (Lev. 19.2), as meaning “Be ye abstinent” (Sifra to Lev. 29.2). “Whoever observes a fast not prescribed by law is considered holy. Since a Nazirite who makes it a practice to abstain even from one thing which is permitted is deemed holy, all the more...

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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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