Shabbos Parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei

Prologue to Sefer HaMiddos, Part 4
[In the previous selection from Sefer HaMiddos, we presented the Maggid’s teaching that a person must first bring his conduct in line with the dictates of human decency and only afterward seek to perfect his service to Hashem. The Maggid is not saying that a person should not perform any other mitzvos until he has perfected his character. Certainly a person should make an effort to observe all mitzvos at a basic level. Rather, the Maggid is saying that as between perfecting one’s character and perfecting his observance of other mitzvos, perfecting one’s character takes precedence. We now continue with the Maggid’s discussion.]
We can bring out the point with an analogy. A man had a running dispute with his wife about what to do with assets she received from her father. One day, the man got severely sick and had to be confined to bed. While on his sickbed, he continued to argue with his wife about the assets. His wife said: “Why are you arguing with me while you are still so sick? First you should get yourself in proper shape, and then we can continue the discussion.”
Previously we quoted Hoshea’s exhortation (Hoshea 14:2): “Return, Yisrael, up to (עד) Hashem your God.” We noted that Hoshea does not tell us to return to Hashem (לה' or אל ה'), but rather to return up to (עד) Hashem. We can explain the exhortation as telling us that a person must perfect himself on all levels, starting from the level of basic human decency, progressing level by level, and aiming eventually to the heights of closeness to Hashem.
Accordingly, I [the Maggid] felt it fitting to compose a work that would benefit me and those like me in the process of character development. We could study from it every day of our sojourn on earth, examine our character traits, and assess whether they are in line with what a thinking man would view as proper, keeping in mind that Hashem is in our midst. Now, great luminaries of earlier times have composed works on character perfection, which have been circulated among the Jewish People. But in our times, a different kind of work is needed. The previous works on character perfection present finely-reasoned philosophical discussion. Those versed in philosophy were able to see the great wealth of wisdom buried within these works’ brief words. But what will be with simpler people, who have never delved in philosophy? Moreover, the earlier works are available to most Jews only in translation [Chovos HaLevavos and similar works were written originally in Arabic], and a translation cannot fully bring out what the author meant to express. Language is the quill of the heart and the agent of the author’s conscience, and no translation can reproduce the author’s message with perfect accuracy. This point has been discussed by various translators, such as Yehudah Ibn Tibon in his preface to his translation of Chovos HaLevavos.
Further, I saw that sainted authors who preceded me described in great depth and breadth the ideal level of service of Hashem which is the ultimate goal. But we have already noted that there is much work that a person must do before setting out to perfect his observance of all the mitzvos. We have already quoted the teaching that “basic human decency comes before Torah.” And we are in a constant struggle against our evil inclination, so that Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 6:4-5): “Do not let your eyes sleep or your eyelids slumber; save yourself like a deer from the hand [of the hunter] and like a bird from the hand of the trapper.” Shlomo teaches further (ibid. 4:19): “The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know on what they stumble.” Over the course of their entire lives, the wicked are madly racing about at the instigation of their evil inclination, and they forget who put them here and why they are here. Nailed into their hearts from youth is the drive to toil and sweat for worldly assets, which they cannot hold onto permanently, but must leave over to their heirs when their life in this world ends. A person must bear in mind where he is headed to after he departs from this world. Thus, the Mishnah teaches (Avos 4:16): “R. Yaakov says, ‘This world is like a lobby before the world to come. Prepare yourself in the lobby, so that you may enter the banquet hall.’”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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