Messilat Yesharim https://www.sefaria.org/Messilat_Yesharim
R. Moshe Chayim Luzzato
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto was born in 1707 in the Jewish Ghetto of Padua, Italy. The son of Jacob Vita and Diamente Luzzatto, he received classical Jewish and Italian education, showing a predilection for literature at a very early age. He may have attended the University of Padua and certainly associated with a group of students there, known to dabble in mysticism and alchemy. With his vast knowledge in religious lore, the arts, and science, he quickly became the dominant figure in that group. His writings demonstrate mastery of the Tanakh, the Talmud, and the rabbinical commentaries and codes of Jewish law.He declared he had revelations from divine visitors-the Rabbis of Italy almost excommunicated him. Most of his books were burned! Wandered from land to land, till he settled in Amsterdam. Wrote Mesillat Yesharim, The Path of the Righteous, a Kabbalistic work, focused on personal development. By the end, he became acclaimed as the great teacher of wisdom by the Gaon of Vilna. Came to be seen as the father of Jewish Musar and of modern Hebrew language. It is a very serious and difficult path to human perfection, only for a select few.
His outline is based on this discussion in the Talmud:
(Avodah Zara 20b): ["you shall guard yourself from everything evil" - Deut 23:10...]
"From here Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair derived:
Torah brings to watchfulness; Watchfulness brings to Zeal; Zeal brings to Cleanliness;
Cleanliness brings to Separation; Separation brings to Purity; Purity brings to Piety;
Piety brings to Humility; Humility brings to Fear of Sin; Fear of Sin brings to Holiness;
Holiness brings to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit brings to the Revival of the Dead."
מכאן א"ר פנחס בן יאיר תורה מביאה לידי זהירות זהירות מביאה לידי זריזות זריזות מביאה לידי נקיות נקיות מביאה לידי פרישות פרישות מביאה לידי טהרה טהרה מביאה לידי חסידות חסידות מביאה לידי ענוה ענוה מביאה לידי יראת חטא יראת חטא מביאה לידי קדושה קדושה מביאה לידי רוח הקודש רוח הקודש מביאה לידי תחיית המתים וחסידות גדולה מכולן שנאמר
(תהלים פט, כ) אז דברת בחזון לחסידיך
The idea of Watchfulness is for one to be cautious of his deeds and matters, namely, contemplating and watching over his deeds and ways whether they are good or evil; not abandoning his soul to the danger of destruction, G-d forbid, and not walking through the course of habit like a blind man in darkness.
Reason certainly obligates this. For after a person has knowledge and reason to save himself and escape from the destruction of his soul, how is it conceivable that he would willingly blind his eyes from saving himself?!
There is certainly no debasement and foolishness worse than this. One who does this is lower than beasts and wild animals whose nature it is to protect themselves, escaping and fleeing from whatever seems harmful to them.
One who walks along in his world without contemplating whether his ways are good or evil is similar to a blind man walking on the bank of a river. His danger is certainly very great and his calamity is more likely than his escape. For negligence in guarding oneself from danger due to natural blindness and negligence due to willful blindness, namely shutting one's eyes by choice and desire is one and the same.
. . . And it is obvious that even if one is watchful over himself, it is not within his power to save himself without the help of the holy One blessed be He. For the evil inclination is enormously powerful as scripture says: "the wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him, G-d will not forsake him to his power" (Ps. 37:32).
If a man is watchful over himself, then the holy One blessed be He helps him and he will be saved from the evil inclination.
But if he is not watchful over himself, the Holy One, blessed be He, will certainly not watch over him. For if he gives no heed to himself, who should give heed to him? This is as our Sages of blessed memory have said: "it is forbidden to pity anyone who has no knowledge" (Berachot 33a), and this is the meaning of what they said: "if I am not for myself, who will be for me?" (Avot 1:14).
After "watchfulness" comes "zeal". For "watchfulness" revolves around the negative mitzvot while "zeal" around the positive mitzvot. This is as written "turn from evil and do good" (Ps. 34:15).
The matter of "Zeal" is clear. It is the early engaging in mitzvot and their completion as the sages of blessed memory said: "the zealous are early to perform the mitzvot" (Pesachim 4a).
For just like it requires great intelligence and much foresight to save oneself from the snares of the evil inclination, and to escape from the evil so that it does not rule over us and mix in our deeds, so too it requires great cleverness and foresight to grasp the mitzvot, to acquire them…
The trait of Cleanliness is that a man be completely clean of all bad traits and all sins. [This applies] not only for sins which are familiar and recognized but also for those to which one's heart is enticed to rationalize that it is permissible; but when we truthfully examine the matter, we find that it appeared to the person justified only because his heart was afflicted by some desire and not entirely purified of it. Therefore, it pulled him to be lenient.
But the man who was completely purified from this affliction and has been cleansed of all trace of evil which lust leaves behind it, behold his vision will be perfectly clear and his discernment will be pure. He will not be swayed by any desire. He will recognize anything which is a sin.
CLEANLINESS FROM THEFT: We can observe that even though most people are not blatant thieves, literally taking with their hands the possession of their fellow and putting it in their own possessions, nevertheless, most people experience a taste of theft in their business dealings by rationalizing permission to profit through their fellow's loss. They may tell themselves: "Business is different".
FORBIDDEN RELATIONS: Let us now discuss the topic of forbidden relations. They are also among the sins people crave and are ranked second to theft as our sages, of blessed memory, said "the majority of people are guilty of theft and a minority of illicit relations" (Bava Basra 165a).
He who wants to become completely clean of this sin will also require a laboring which is not small. For included in the prohibition is not only the act itself but even all that draws one close to it. This is explicitly stated in scripture: "do not draw near to uncover nakedness" (Vayikra 18:6).
FORBIDDEN FOODS: The sin which ranks third after theft and forbidden relations in respect to desire is that of forbidden foods, whether in unkosher meat itself, mixtures of it, meat and milk, blood, food cooked by gentiles, utensils used by gentiles, their wine libations and plain wine. For all these, cleanliness in them requires great meticulousness and strengthening oneself. For there is lust in the heart for good foods and there is financial loss incurred in the prohibitions of mixtures or the like
WORDS THAT HURT: Included in the sin of oppression of speech (Ona'as Devarim) is to say to someone, in private, something [implicit] which may cause him shame. All the more so, to say something explicit which causes him shame or to do to him an act which causes him shame.
GIVING MISLEADING ADVICE: Regarding giving [misleading] advice, we were taught in Torat Kohanim (2:14): " 'you shall not put a stumbling block before the blind' (Vayikra 19:14), i.e. before one who is blind in some matter. …do not give him an advice which is not suitable to him... Do not say to him 'sell your house and buy a donkey', while in truth you intend to circumvent him and buy it from him.
SLANDER AND EVIL SPEECH: Tale-bearing and slander - it's severity is already known, as are its great branches for they are exceedingly numerous. Their extent are such that our Sages of blessed memory said, as I quoted earlier, "all stumble in the dust of slander" (Bava Basra 165a).
HATRED AND VENGEANCE: Hatred and vengeance are likewise exceedingly difficult for the mocked heart of human beings to escape from. For a human being strongly feels insults and he experiences great pain therein. Revenge is then sweeter to him than honey for it alone is his peace.
OATHS: Regarding Oaths, even though normally anyone who is not of the boorish type, guards himself from uttering G-d's Name in vain, and surely more so for Oaths, nevertheless there are some small offshoots of this sin which although they are not among the most severe sins, nevertheless, it is proper for one who wants to be Clean to guard himself from them.
LYING: Lying is also an evil disease that has spread out far among people. There are various levels therein.
There are some people whose profession is lying. Namely, those people who go around and make up complete lies in order to increase social conversation or to be considered among the intelligent and knowledgeable
PROFANATION OF G-D's NAME (Chilul Ha-shem): The Branches of the sin of "profanation of [G-d's] Name" (Chillul Ha-shem) are also numerous and great. For a person must be exceedingly concerned of his Master's honor. In everything he does, he must look and contemplate exceedingly that there will not come out of this something which may cause a profanation of the honor of Heaven, G-d forbid.
SABBATH AND HOLIDAY OBSERVANCE: Guarding of the Sabbath and Holiday observance is also severe for the laws are very numerous. Thus our sages said: "this is a great law of the Sabbath" (Shab.12a).
CLEANLINESS IN CHARACTER TRAITS: Just like Cleanliness is needed [to acquire] for the deeds, so too cleanliness is needed for the character traits. One can almost say that Cleanliness in character traits is more difficult to acquire than in the deeds.
ARROGANCE: Generally, the matter of arrogance is that a man ascribes importance to himself on himself and imagines that he is worthy of praise.
This could grow out of many different reasons. Some people consider themselves of high intelligence. Some consider themselves handsome. Some consider themselves important or great or wise. The general principle of the matter: if a person thinks he possesses any of the good things of the world, he is in immediate danger of falling in this pit of arrogance.
ANGER: Let us now discuss anger. There is an anger-prone person about which our sages said: "whoever gets angry is as if he worships idols" (Zohar Korach daf 179, Rambam Deos 2:3, Shab.105b). This person gets angry on anything that is done against his will. He becomes filled with wrath till his heart is no longer with him and his judgment is lost.
JEALOUSY: Jealousy also is nothing but lack of understanding and foolishness. For the jealous person gains nothing for himself nor does he cause any loss to the person he is jealous of. He only causes loss to himself as the verse we mentioned states "jealousy slays the foolish" (Iyov 5:2).
LUST FOR WEALTH AND HONOR: You will observe that the sisters of jealousy are desire and lust. This is what wearies a man's heart until the day of his death as our sages said: "no man dies with half of his lusts attained"(Kohelet Raba 1:13).
SEPARATION IS THE BEGINNING OF PIETY. All that we have explained up to now concerned the requirements needed for a man to become a Tzadik (righteous person). From here on we will discuss the requirements in order to become a Chasid (pious person).
We find that Separation is to Piety as Watchfulness is to Zeal. For the former concerns "turning from evil" (Tehilim 34:14), while the latter concerns "doing good" (ibid).
[The Goal: Transformation of the mortal human into a transcendent being]
But if after he has prepared himself with all these preparations, he persistently clings with powerful love and intense fear in pondering G-d's greatness and infinite exaltedness, he will separate himself from physical matters little by little and will direct his heart in all his actions and movements to the true inner clinging, until, a spirit from on high will pour upon him and the Creator will cause His Name to rest upon him, as He does with all of His holy ones.
He will then actually be like an angel of G-d, and all his actions, even the lowly and the physical ones, will be like temple sacrifices and services.
Behold, you can see that the way to acquire this trait is through much Separation, intense study of the secrets of divine providence, the hidden matters of the creation, and knowledge of His exaltedness, blessed be He, and His praises, until one clings greatly to Him, and knows how to have intent in his thoughts, as was proper for the Kohen to have intents while slaughtering the offering, receiving its blood, and sprinkling it, until he would draw down the blessing from G-d of life and peace.
From there, he may ascend to a higher level, namely, Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh), then his thinking will ascend beyond the bounds of human limits.
His clinging may reach such high levels that the key to revival of the dead will be given to him, as it was given to Eliyahu and Elisha. This will reveal how intensely is his clinging to G-d, blessed be He. For in His being the source of life, who bestows life to all living things, as our sages of blessed memory, said: "three keys the Holy One, blessed be He, has retained in His own hands and not entrusted into the hand of any emissary (angel): the Key of the Revival of the Dead..." (Taanit 2a). Behold, one who clings to the blessed G-d completely will be able to draw down even the flow of life itself from Him, which is, what is attributed to G-d more than anything else as I wrote. This is what the Beraitha concludes: "Holiness brings to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit brings to the Revival of the Dead".