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eep reflection and much meditation make effectively for the attainment of saintliness. As a man meditates upon the exalted nature and perfection of God, and upon the infinite distance that separates His greatness from our insignificance , he will be filled with awe and trembling in His presence. Whoever realizes how abundant are the mercies that God confers upon us, how great God’s love is for Israel, how near to Him are the upright, how glorious are the Torah and the Mizvot, and similar truths, is certain to be impassioned with an ardent love for God and will fervently cling to Him. For when a man sees that God, in all literalness, acts toward us as a father toward his children, and has as much compassion upon us as a father upon his children, the desire and the yearning to act toward God as a son toward his father are bound to awake in him in course of time. This is why a man should withdraw into solitude and concentrate his thoughts upon these truths. He will find great help in reading and meditating upon the Psalms of David. He who studies the Psalms, which are filled with the love of God, reverence and the various aspects of saintliness, cannot but be greatly aroused to follow the example of their author. Of equal help is the reading of the stories of the saints, which are to be found in the various Aggadot . All this should be a stimulus to the mind to devise ways of imitating the worthy actions of the saints. The key middot for hasidut are yirah and ahavah. To contemplate the awesome nature of our obligations to serve the other that are the grandeur of being human and to be filled with the love that emanates out of our experience of fulfilling those obligations to the best of our ability, we must keep building until we achieve this level of spiritual attainment. By implication, as already explained, this also requires heshbon. Ramchal adds to the requirement of heshbon two new exercises: “reading and meditating upon the Psalms of David” and “reading of the stories of the saints.” Chapter 21 h Concerning the Means of Acquiring Hasidut 236 D 237 Within the context of our understanding of Mesillat Yesharim, we can denote these as “worship” and “narrative.” As we have already seen, especially in the sections on hasidut, Ramchal introduces narrative whenever possible as a way of subverting the tendency to limit spiritual practice to the intellectual and the rational. Through his stress on the need to read about the lives of the hasidim, he is attempting to break through any dependence we might have or any satisfaction we might take in merely studying how to be good. His concern is with helping people to manage the intricacies of their lives, for example, by offering the strategy of reading about the lives of the hasidim as a prod to move beyond book learning and study and into action. Meditating upon the Psalms—what we call here “worship”—plays a similar role to reading about the lives of the hasidim. Worship through reading the Psalms, or even reading the Psalms alone, connects us with the community and with the myriad faces of the others that surround us, and also points us in the direction of the Infinite Other upon whose graciousness we depend. The power of rendering God in the image of father lies neither in the gender nor even in the parental role per se; rather it reminds us of the truth that we are not responsible for our own being but are beholden and indebted before birth to another’s love— Ramchal’s concept of Creation that powerfully stands behind the very possibility of goodness. This concept also directs our attention toward the intuitive or nonintellectual level of hasidut. Our opportunity to experience this parental love that precipitates our debt to another, and simultaneously to hear the needs of the other in the form of the community, happens in the course of worship. Yet for all of this, Ramchal’s work remains in the realm of the intellectual. Although Mesillat Yesharim values learning and became a central text of the later Mussar movement, its ideas were concretized into action only through the movement’s work in developing specific strategies for actively affecting the behaviors deriving from the yetzer ha-ra’s hold on us. Through not only heshbon, but also hitpa’alut (active encounter with one’s...


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