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Jerusalem on My Mind

By Tzvi Fishman
5/20/2009, 12:00 AM

The book, “Mesilat Yesharim,” known as “The Path of the Just,” is universally recognized as a classic in Torah scholarship. Written by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, who made aliyah in 1744, and whose yahrtzeit was honored yesterday, the text is studied in every yeshiva, whether Ashkenazic or Sefardi, whether Chabad, Satmar, Hasidei Gur, Breslov, or Rav Kook.

The Divinely inspired treatise sets down the ideal path in reaching the love and fear of Hashem. In its concise and clear style, it explains that there is a proper path and a mistaken path in serving Hashem. Using the teachings of our Sages, the text highlights the differences between the two paths by carefully guiding the reader up the ladder of character improvement and Torah observance.

Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Harlop, a close friend and student of Rabbi Kook, taught that in our generation of revival and redemption, students should begin by studying Chapter 19, which deals with Saintliness, in order to understand the true goal of Judaism.

An excerpt of the chapter is presented below from the Feldheim Edition, translated by Shraga Silverstein, available online at   

“It cannot be said that one who is motivated in his Divine service by a desire to purify his soul before his Creator so that he can come to sit in His presence together with the just and the Saintly, to see the pleasantness of God, to dwell within His Sanctuary and to receive the reward of the World to Come - it cannot be said that such a person is badly motivated. On the other hand, we cannot say that his motivation is a very good one either. For as long as a person is concerned with his own good, his Divine service is also performed for his own good.”

In other words, a Jew should not be solely concerned with his own personal journey in getting close to Hashem. There is a higher service of Hashem that should be the goal of the saintly.

“The true motivation, which is common to Saints, who have exerted themselves and persevered to acquire it, is to serve solely for the purpose of magnifying and extending the honor of the Lord Blessed Be He, may His praises be magnified and spread. One will serve for this end only after he has grown strong in love for the Blessed One, and longs and lusts for the magnification of His honor, and is pained by anything which detracts from it. He will hope that he is at least doing his part towards magnifying the honor of the Blessed One and he will wish that all others possessed this aspiration. The shortcomings of others in this respect will pain and grieve him, not to speak of his own unintentional and accidental lapses and those resulting from his natural weakness, which makes it difficult for him to constantly protect himself against sin, as it is stated (Ecclesiastes 7:20), ‘A man is not righteous in the land, who will do good and not sin.’”

In other words, the goal of the true saint should not be to amass as many private “mitzvah points” for himself that he can in this world, but to magnify the honor of Hashem. The shortcomings of others in this regard should cause him actual pain.

“The Saintly attitude we are discussing has been set forth in “Tanna d'bei Eiiyahu” (Chapter 4): ‘Every Sage in Israel who possesses the words of Torah according to their true significance and grieves for the honor of the Holy One Blessed be He, and for the honor of Israel all his days, and lusts and feels pain for the honor of Jerusalem and of the Temple, and for the swift flowering of salvation and the ingathering of the exiles, attains to the infusion of the Divine spirit in his words...’”

Notice that there are two types of Sages - those “who possesses the words of Torah according to their true significance,” and those who don’t. And the true Sage will grieve over the honor of Hashem, which is dependent upon the standing of Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple, and the ingathering of the exiles, may it be completed soon.

If I don't set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

 “This, then, is the proper frame of mind for one to cultivate, removed as it is from all considerations of personal pleasure, directed only towards the honor of the Presence and towards the sanctification of His Name, which is sanctified by His creations when they do His will. In relation to this it is said (Zohar, Mishpatim), ‘Who is a Saint? One who is Saintly with his Creator.’ A Saint of this kind, aside from being motivated in the proper manner in relation to the performance of mitzvot in pursuance of his Divine service, must, without doubt, constantly feel actual pain over Jerusalem and the Destruction because of their tendency to minimize the honor of the Blessed One, and will lust for the Redemption so that the honor of the Blessed One may grow. As stated by the aforementioned ‘Tanna d'bei Eliyahu:’ ‘And he lusts and feels pain for the honor of Jerusalem and prays constantly for the Redemption of Israel and for the restoration of the honor of Heaven to its former pre-eminence.’"

In other words, a Jew is to constantly feel actual pain over the destruction of Jerusalem and exile, which minimize the honor of Hashem in the eyes of the world. Even during sisterhood meetings, lavish Kiddushes, Sunday brunches, golf games, and trips to the Caribbean.

Grieving over Jerusalem

“Mesilat Yesharim” continues:

“If one would say, ‘Who am I and what am I worth that I should pray for Jerusalem etc... Will the exiles be gathered in and will Salvation sprout because of my prayer?’ his answer awaits him. As we learned (Sanhedrin 37a) ‘Man was created individually so that each man should say, `The world was created for my sake.'" It is the Blessed One's pleasure that His sons desire and pray for this. And though their desire may not be fulfilled because the proper time has not yet arrived, or for some other reason, they will have done their part and the Holy One Blessed Be He rejoices in it. The Prophet stormed over the absence of this attitude (Isaiah, 59:16) ‘And he saw that there was no man, and he was amazed that there was no contender’ and (Ibid. 63:5) ‘And I looked and there was no helper, and I was amazed and there was no supporter,’ and (Jeremiah, 30:17) ‘It is Zion; no one inquires after it.’ Commenting upon this verse, our Sages of blessed memory said (Sukkah 41a) ‘This shows that it needs inquiring after.’”

In other words, every Jew has to do his share in uplifting Hashem’s fallen honor by participating in the ingathering of the exiles, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the revival of the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael.  In his book, “Eim HaBanim Semeichah,” Rabbi Yissachar Teichtal explains that for nearly 2000 years we could only pray. But now, in our generation, when we have the physical capability of actualizing our prayers, we must actively participate in the return to Zion. Just as a person understands that to have a baby, it is not enough to pray, but he must also perform the necessary deed.

You have to do more than pray.

So too "inquiring after Zion” means working to re-establish the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael by praying, reading Arutz 7, making financial contributions to organizations in Israel, coming on aliyah, encouraging others to follow, educating Diaspora youth to the set aliyah above their chiefest joy, and studying, working, defending, and raising one’s children in the Land. This is how Hashem’s honor is raised.

I remind you, dear readers, this is not some religious Zionist propaganda, or the wild invention of Tzvi Fishman, but the holy words of “Mesilat Yesharim,” which is learned in yeshivot throughout the world (assuming they keep learning until Chapter Nineteen).   

Rabbi Luzzato concludes:

“We see, then, that we are duty-bound in this respect. We cannot exempt ourselves because of our inadequate strength, for in relation to all such things we learned (Avoth 2.16) ‘The work is not yours to complete, but you are not free to abstain from it.’ And the Prophet says elsewhere (Isaiah, 51:18) ‘She has no one to lead her from among all the sons to whom she has given birth; no one to hold her hand from among all the sons she has raised.’ And the verse (Ibid. 40:6) ‘All flesh is grass and all of his kindness is as the blossoming of the field,’ which our Sages of blessed memory interpreted (Avodah Zarah 2b) as meaning that all of their kindnesses are performed for their own sake, for their own good and pleasure, that they are not governed by this pure motivation and do not seek the magnification of God's honor and the redemption of Israel. The honor of God can grow only with the redemption of Israel and the growth of their honor, the one, in reality, being dependent upon the other, as may be seen in the aforementioned ‘Tanna d'bei Eliyahu:’ ‘And he grieves over the honor of the Holy One Blessed Be He and over the honor of Israel.’"

In other words – let “Mesilat Yesharim” be your yardstick. Are you grieving over the honor of Hashem? Are you doing everything you possibly can to advance the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael? Are you teaching your children that the goal of the Torah is to magnify the honor of Hashem by living a life of Torah in Israel? Are you planning your own aliyah? For those who can’t come, are you encouraging others to make moving to Israel their life’s supreme ambition?

On Jerusalem Day, have you set Jerusalem above your chiefest joy?