The Path of the Just
Ch. 3 (Part 1)
Not only would we have to be aware of a number of things to acquire the
trait of caution as we’d indicated, but we would also need to be conscious
of our own inner motivations. For if we’d hope to achieve spiritual
excellence we’d need to know the depths of our heart.
For the human heart is awash with contradiction: there are bright, clean
and pious corners there, but there are also some quite murky, smarmy and
unholy ones. But the truth of the matter is that as a whole the human
heart is an untidy brew of all of that, which should be unsettling.
In any event, Ramchal tells us here that if “you want to master yourself,
you will need to involve yourself in two kinds of self-analysis,” first “a
consideration of what is the true good you are to choose, and the true bad
from which you should flee,” and the second is “a consideration of your
own actions to determine whether they are good or bad” -- which is all
quite reasonable. Since it simply points out that we’d be expected to weed
out the bad from the good.
And he adds the following in its wake: “Do nothing without (first)
considering it in light of this notion” that is, without bearing in mind
whether what you’re about to do is a good and lofty thing, and should be
followed through on, or if it’s wrong and should be abandoned.
Now, that would obviously call for a lot of analysis and forethought, both
as to the nature of the thing we’re about to do along with reflection on
whether the Torah would deem it right or wrong (since we’re to only factor
in Torah-based moral values). But it’s here that Ramchal adds another
point that should stop us cold.
He warns us that we should not only be weeding out the obviously bad
things we do -- but that we should also be “inspecting and observing”
the “good ones”, to see “if there is any underlying motivation that is not
good, or if there is any part-bad that you might be forced to extricate
and remove”, given the multi-faceted makeup of the human heart we spoke of.
For even the grandest deeds can be tinged with self-interest; as
everything we do is riddled with hidden under-moorings. We might
contribute a great deal of money to good causes in the hope of being known
as a philanthropist, or we might pray with special fervor in the hope of
being seen as “really religious” by our neighbors.
At bottom it comes to this: be honest with yourself (as you must to become
pious) and you’ll come upon a lot you’ll like and a lot you won’t. Sigh
deeply, admit to your humanity, and isolate the best to offer to G-d.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org