If even the loveliest of things can seem coarse in poor light, and the
sweetest of dishes can sour a day later, it stands to reason that even a
seemingly pious act can go off-kilter out of context. Now, that’s a hard
lesson for any one of us to learn, to say nothing of the pious. For when
someone sets out to do good, he or she never expects it to go wrong. But
even the best of intentions can go off course.
As such, Ramchal calls for upon the pious to always engage in what he terms
“evaluating piety” -- determining beforehand whether what they’re about to
do will do good, as they’d like it to, or the very opposite.
But being “the most difficult and subtle element of piety” as Ramchal terms
it, and the one that “the yetzer harah has a lot of input in” to boot, it’s
not easy to carry this evaluating process off. As “the yetzer harah can
convince you to avoid doing many good things…, and can draw you into
committing many transgressions” if your judgment’s off on this.
“In truth,” he says, “the only way one can do this evaluating process well
is to fulfill these three conditions”. First, “your heart must be the most
forthright of hearts”; second, “your only motivation should be to bring
satisfaction to G-d”; and third, “you should reflect deeply upon your
actions” and their outcomes from the first.
But even then it might not work, though; because people are often
capricious, and situations are invariably un-readable beforehand. So, what
are we to do then? “Cast your lot upon G-d” and pray for the best.
Disregard this warning and do whatever you assume will be for the best,
Ramchal warns, “and you’ll be dangerously close to stumbling and falling”
instead of doing good. And your piety would have lead to dire impiety.