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he duty of abstinence applies to the following three spheres of conduct: physical enjoyment, ritual observance, and social intercourse. We will explain how we understand each of these categories below. In the previous chapter, we have discussed abstinence from physical enjoyment and have shown that one should not take any more from the world than what is absolutely necessary. This principle refers to those things which afford pleasure to one of the senses, such as elaborately prepared food, cohabitation, rich apparel, strolling and engaging in conversation. These are things that we may indulge in only on those days when pleasure is a religious duty. We have understood the type of pleasure that Ramchal interprets the tradition as forbidding for one who would be a hasid as fear of the other, whose result is expanding the self at the other’s expense. We have already seen that this type of pleasure can manifest itself in any action, including food, clothing, walking, and talking. While Ramchal mentions the caveat that this does not apply to one who is fulfilling a mitzvah, in fact he has said that even mitzvot can provide an opportunity for the ego to erase the other. Hence, we must carefully monitor the intention we bring to our performance of mitzvot. We have treated these subjects before in describing both the journey toward becoming a tzadik and the transition from tzadik to hasid, and we will see them treated yet again in relation to being a hasid, and going beyond it. Abstinence in matters of ritual observance requires adopting the more rigorous view, wherever there is a difference of opinion, even though it is a minority view, assuming that it has the sanction of sufficient reason. That the more rigorous view is not the one generally accepted does not matter, provided there are no Chapter 14 h Concerning the Divisions of Separation 174 T 175 circumstances under which rigor might eventuate in leniency. Whenever there is a doubt, the duty of abstinence requires adopting the alternative of rigor, though there is good ground for adopting the alternative of leniency. Our Sages interpreted the words of Ezekiel, “Behold, my soul hath not been polluted” (Ezek. 4.14), as meaning that he did not eat the flesh of an animal which had to be subjected to ritual investigation, or of one which had to be slaughtered quickly to prevent it from becoming unfit for food (Hul. 37b). Legally, such flesh might be eaten. But Ezekiel went beyond the letter of the law. As stated above, what the average Jew is permitted to do is no criterion for those who want to cultivate abstinence, for it is their duty to keep away not only from anything which is definitely forbidden, but also from everything that is under the least suspicion of being forbidden. Thus said Mar Ukba, “In this matter, compared with my father, I am as vinegar is to wine. For whenever my father ate meat, he would wait twenty-four hours before he partook of milk food, whereas I only refrain from eating both meat and milk during the same meal” (Hul. 105a). It is true that the actual law differs from that implied in the conduct of Mar Ukba’s father, otherwise Mar Ukba would have followed his father’s example. But, because his father was given to abstinence, he went beyond the letter of the law. Hence, Mar Ukba, not being as abstinent as his father, described himself as “vinegar,” the offspring of wine. We have understood mitzvot to be the human response to the revelatory moment expressed by the narrative of Mount Sinai. The people who would be Israel responded to the overwhelming sense of infinite responsibility conveyed by that event by creating a system of obligations intended, on the one hand, to interrupt the tendency to evade this responsibility through a waking sleep and, on the other, to instantiate meeting this responsibility in everyday activities. We have further understood that this system of mitzvot is historically conditioned and that halakhah denotes the ongoing adjustment of mitzvot to changing historical conditions . Within this halakhic system there are and will always be disputes regarding the proper response in any historical moment. For the majority of people and even for those who are tzadikim the most lenient understanding of the halakhic response is permitted. But those who would be hasidim must take on the responsibility of the most stringent interpretation of the halakhah. Chapter Fourteen h 176 Mesillat Yesharim...


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