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he best way to attain the trait of abstinence is to consider the intrinsic uselessness and worthlessness of the pleasures of this world, and the great evils that they give birth to. What renders these pleasures so tempting that only by the greatest strength of will and only by moral stratagem can a man abstain from them, is the fact that the eyes are captivated by things outwardly beautiful and charming. Such was the allurement that led to man’s original sin, as Scripture testifies, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes … she took the fruit thereof and did eat” (Gen. 3.6). But if a man were to realize that the good in these pleasures is illusory and transient, while the evil in them is real and inevitable, he would surely repudiate these pleasures and would not even entertain the desire for them. The main lesson , therefore, that should be inculcated into a man’s mind is the recognition of the frail and deceptive character of pleasures. Then would he reject them of his own accord, and would experience no difficulty in liberating himself from their power. Deception is the root of what Ramchal calls pleasure and what we call selfabsorption . The source of this deception is the yetzer ha-ra, which convinces us, in its overcompensating role of protecting the integrity of the self, that we are endlessly needy. Thus we convert whatever appears to us as other into an extension of ourselves, ripe for our picking, so to speak. But in fact what we see is not ours, not us, and therefore something that has its own integrity and requires the application of reason and spiritual discipline. The pleasure of the gourmand is the most direct and intense. Yet could any experience be more transient and perishable? It lasts only while the food passes through the oesophagus. The food is swallowed, and the pleasure derived from it is entirely forgotten, as though it never were. Whether a man eats fatted capons or bran bread, so long as he eats enough, he is satisfied. Chapter 15 h Concerning the Means of Acquiring Separation 177 T 178 Mesillat Yesharim h Thus all sensations of neediness are insatiable. The feeling of satisfaction disappears in a moment, while the yetzer ha-ra, feeling itself bereft, simply screams for more. If a man were to consider that immoderate eating brings on numerous diseases , produces stupefying heaviness, and generates gases that dull the mind, he would not look upon it as enjoyment; for he would know that the enjoyment is deceptive, but that the evil to which it leads is real. The same is true of all other worldly pleasures. If we were to consider them carefully, we would observe that even the fancied good which they offer lasts only a passing moment. But the evil which they produce is grave and lasting. The man of good sense will not endanger himself for the sake of a pleasure which is so ephemeral. Whoever makes these truths the habit of his mind will in time free himself from the bonds of ignorance with which his gross physical nature holds him shackled. Delusive pleasures will not allure him. These he will disdain, for he will know that he may enjoy in this world only those things without which he cannot live. In the same way as keeping these facts in mind will enable a man to acquire the trait of abstinence, so ignoring these facts corrupts that trait. When a man frequents the society of princes and others of high station who seek glory and are engaged in a multitude of vanities, and beholds their pomp and dazzling splendor , he cannot help conceiving a passionate desire for those things. He may not allow his evil Yezer to master him, yet, surely, he can not escape inner conflict and he is, therefore, in danger. This is why Solomon said, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting” (Eccl. 7.2). The consequences of self-absorption are not hidden. Ramchal uses the metaphor of eating to exemplify the characteristics that the bloated self manifests in the world. These are usually obvious to all but the person who “overeats,” but sometimes are obvious to him also. The power (“things outwardly beautiful and charming") that self-aggrandizement tempts us with cannot help but trigger the...


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