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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Humility, Holiness and Fearing Hashem

51. Sanctity

Sanctity is the highest rung on the ladder of desired character traits: Torah leads to caution, caution to alacrity, alacrity to cleanliness, cleanliness to abstinence, abstinence to purity, purity to piety, piety to humility, to fear of sin, to sanctity.
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The final trait addressed by Ramchal in his work "Mesilat Yesharim" (The Path of the Just) is the trait of sanctity. This trait constitutes the highest rung on the ladder of desired character traits constructed by R' Pinchas ben Yair: Torah leads to caution, caution leads to alacrity, alacrity leads to cleanliness, cleanliness leads to abstinence, abstinence leads to purity, purity leads to piety, piety leads to humility, humility leads to fear of sin, and fear of sin leads to sanctity.

R' Pinchas ben Yair's ladder continues: Sanctity leads to Divine Inspiration, and Divine Inspiration leads to resurrection. Ramchal, however, concludes with the trait of sanctity because this trait still involves human effort, but Divine Inspiration is a gift from God bestowed upon a person after he has climbed all the preceding rungs of the ladder.

Possessing sanctity means sanctifying all aspects of life, including mundane, physical activities. It means sanctifying the mundane. Even the ordinary consumption of food is sanctified by those who have reached this level. When they eat, it is as if they are offering a sacrifice to God upon the altar, and via this offering the entire world is blessed. In this very manner the food eaten by a person who has reached the level of sanctity is sanctified and raised up as if it had been offered up upon the altar.

Hence, the sages say that if a person brings a gift to a Torah scholar, it is as if he had offered up a first-fruit offering, and they say that if a person wishes to offer a libation upon the altar, let him fill the throats of Torah scholars with wine. This does not mean, of course, that Torah scholars should be gluttonous, Heaven forbid. Rather, Torah scholars are sacred in their ways and actions, and the Divine Presence rests upon them. They resemble the Holy Temple and the Altar, and just as the Divine Presence abided in the Holy Temple, so does it rest upon the Torah scholar.

Hence, whatever is given to a Torah scholar ascends and is sanctified by virtue of their elevated status and sanctity. And because they cling to God's sanctity, whatever they make use of in this world ascends and is sanctified.

Regarding the stones that Jacob gathered and placed under his head at Beit-El, "R' Yitzchak said: This tells us that all the stones gathered themselves together into one place and each one said: 'Upon me shall this righteous man rest his head' " (Chullin 91b). In sum, possessing sanctity means being so attached to God that nothing one does can separate or distance him from the Almighty, and when such a person occupies himself with worldly matters, his bond with God is not weakened. Rather, he elevates the matters he is occupied with.

Sanctity, of course, is only reached after one has climbed all of the previous rungs – Torah, caution, alacrity, cleanliness, abstinence, purity, piety, humility, and fear of sin. Without first perfecting all of the preceding traits one cannot attain sanctity. In fact, sanctity is so lofty in its own right that it cannot be reached without Divide assistance. It begins with human effort and ends with Divine grace, as the sages say, "If a man sanctify himself a little, he becomes much sanctified; if he sanctify himself below, he becomes sanctified from above" (Yoma 39a).

With this we have completed a series of fifty-one short articles on the subject of character improvement, based upon Ramchal's classic work, Messilat Yesharim. We have finished but our work is not complete, for improving character traits is a constant, life-long endeavor.
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Translated biblical verses and/or Talmudic sources in the above article may have been taken from, or based upon, Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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