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Mesillat Yesharim

From Academic Kids

The work Mesillat Yesharim was composed by the influential Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746) in 1740 when living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and published in the same city. It is quite different from Luzzato's other writings, which are more philosophical.

Mesillat Yesharim is probably Luzzato's most influential work, forming part of the curriculum of virtually every yeshiva after being introduced there by the Mussar Movement of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter.

Aim of the work

The aim of the work is the perfection of character. Rather than innovating a new system, Luzzato builds his work on a Beraita in the name of the sage Pinchas ben-Yair as mentioned in the Talmud:

Torah (study) leads to watchfulness (zehirut)
Watchfulness leads to alacrity (zerizut)
Alacrity leads to cleanliness (of sin, nekiyut)
Cleanliness leads to abstention (of improper practices, perishut)
Abstention leads to purity (tahara)
Purity leads to holiness (kedusha)
Holiness leads to humility (anava)
Humility leads to fear of sin (yirat chet)
Fear of sin leads to righteousness (chassidut)
Righteousness leads to Divine inspiration (Ruach ha-Kodesh)
Divine inspiration leads to Resurrection of the Dead (techiyat ha-metim).
 
(Bablylonian Talmud, tractate Avodah Zarah 20b).

Luzzato clarifies what each term means, how it can be acquired and what might distract from its acquisition. For example: watchfulness can be acquired by setting aside time for introspection, and acquiring watchfulness can be impaired by excessive mundane responsibilites, wrong company or a cynical stance in life. The same pattern is used for every single one of the traits mentioned.

Influence

Mesillat Yesharim is perhaps the most important Jewish ethical text of the post-Middle Ages period. The Vilna Gaon commented that he couldn't find a superfluous word in the first seven chapters of the work, and stated that he would have traveled to meet the author and learn from his ways if he'd still been alive. These and similar pronouncements largely cleared Luzzato from misgivings by others as to his suspected Sabbatean leanings.

Resources

  • Complete Messillat Yesharim online
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