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The Path of the Upright: Mesillat Yesharim

by R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto

Bibliographic information

TitleThe Path of the Upright: Mesillat Yesharim
AuthorR. Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001
SubjectJewish Religious Thought


The Path of the Upright, Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto’s guide to the perfection of human soul, stands on its own as one of the most influential and inspirational ethical works in Judaism. So critical was this book to Eastern European Jewry that in some yeshivot, pupils were expected to know it by heart.

Based upon the following famous talmudic passage, the Ramchal (Luzzatto’s Hebrew acronym) wrote Messillat Yesharim in order to teach himself and to remind others of the conditions for perfect service of God according to their levels:

Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair says: “Torah leads to watchfulness, Watchfulness leads to alertness, Alertness leads to cleanliness, Cleanliness leads to abstinence, Abstinence leads to purity, Purity leads to saintliness, Saintliness leads to humility, Humility leads to fear of sin, Fear of sin leads to holiness, Holiness leads to the Holy Spirit, And the Holy Spirit leads to the Revival of the Dead.”

Messillat Yesharim analyzes and discusses each of these phrases in depth, shedding light on their meaning and their relationship to the path one must follow in order to attain religious and ethical perfection. In this work, the Ramchal probes every aspect of the human personality and offers advice on ways to overcome its weaknesses. The Path of the Upright: Messillat Yesharim is a bilingual edition in Hebrew and English.

About the Author 

R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto ---

Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto, born in Pauda, Italy, in 1707, was a controversial eighteenth-century kabbalist whose saintly way of life gave rise to suspicion and strong opposition. Forced to emigrate, he moved to Amsterdam, where he taught and wrote on diverse topics such as ethics, philosophy, poetry, and kabbalah. It was in Amsterdam that he wrote his most important work, The Path of the Upright (Messillat Yesharim). In 1743 Luzzatto moved to Eretz Yisrael. Three years later he and his family fell victim to a plague in Acco.

The late Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of the Reconstructionist movement, has translated this outstanding and indispensable work, thus making a critical contribution to the accessibility of important Jewish classics for the reader.



Author’s Preface

Chapter I. Of Man’s Duty in the World

Chapter II. Of Watchfulness

Chapter III. Concerning Some Phases of the Trait of Watchfulness

Chapter IV. How to Acquire the Trait of Watchfulness

Chapter V. The Hindrances to Watchfulness

Chapter VI. Of Zeal

Chapter VII. Of the Various Functions of Zeal

Chapter VIII. How to Acquire Zeal

Chapter IX. The Hindrances to Zeal

Chapter X. Cleanness

Chapter XI. Details of Cleanness

Chapter XII. How to Acquire Spiritual Cleanness

Chapter XIII. Abstinence

Chapter XIV. Different Phases of Abstinence

Chapter XV. How to Attain Abstinence

Chapter XVI. Purity

Chapter XVII. How to Attain Purity

Chapter XVIII. Saintliness

Chapter XIX. The Aspects of Saintliness

Chapter XX. Deliberation a Phase of Saintliness

Chapter XXI. How to Attain Saintliness

Chapter XXII. Humility

Chapter XXIII. How to Attain Humility

Chapter XXIV. The Fear of Sin

Chapter XXV. How to Attain the Fear of God

Chapter XXVI. Holiness


In truth, the nature of saintliness requires considerable explanation. There are numerous habits and practices which pass with many people for perfect saintliness, but which are in reality nothing more than the rude and inchoate forms of this trait. This is the case because those of whom these habits are characteristic lack the power of true understanding and reflection. They have neither troubled nor toiled to understand clearly and correctly the way of the Lord. They have practiced saintliness according to the course of conduct which they hit upon at first thought. They have not delved deeply into things nor have they weighed them in the scales of wisdom. Such people render the very savor of saintliness repellent to the average person, as well as to the more intelligent. They give the impression that saintliness depends upon foolish practices that are contrary to reason and common sense, like reciting numerous supplicatory prayers and long confessionals, or weeping and genuflections, or afflicting oneself with strange torments that are liable to bring one to death’s door, such as taking ablutions in ice and snow. Though some of these practices may serve as an expiation for certain sins, while others may be fit for ascetics, they cannot form the basis of saintliness. The best of these practices may be associated with saintliness; nevertheless, saintliness itself, properly understood, is something far more profound. Saintliness should be reared upon great wisdom and upon the adjustment of conduct to the aims worthy of the truly wise. Only the wise can truly grasp the nature of saintliness; as our Sages said, “The ignorant man cannot be saintly” (Ab. 2.5).

The fundamental principle of saintliness is implied in the saying of the Sages, “Blessed is the man who labors in the study of the Torah and who affords joy to his Creator” (Ber. 17a). We know what Mizvot are equally binding upon every Israelite, also how much one should exert himself in fulfilling them. But the man who truly loves the Creator, blessed be He, does not content himself only with the fulfillment of the duties that are binding upon every Israelite. He takes the attitude of the son who loves his father.

If there is anything the father desires, he has only to suggest it, and his son makes every possible effort to secure it for him. The father may have mentioned the matter only once, and only hintingly; yet that is enough to enable the son to infer the trend of his father’s thoughts and to impel him to carry out his father’s unexpressed wish, because it would afford his father pleasure, without waiting to be told a second time more expressly what he should do. We see this occurring usually between friends, between husband and wife, and between father and son. In fact, all who are bound to each other by true love never say, “I have not been asked to do more,” or, “It is enough that I do what I am expressly told.” From the merest suggestion, they try to reason out the implied wish behind it, and then they do whatever they think will give the beloved one pleasure.

The same is true of the man who loves his Creator faithfully, for such a man is, in a sense, a lover. The Mizvot which are explicitly commanded are to him merely an indication of the purpose which is willed and desired by God, blessed be His Name. Such a man will not say, “It is enough that I do what I am expressly commanded,” or, “I will fulfill only those duties which have been imposed upon me.” On the contrary, he will say, “Now that I have discovered what God’s purpose is, it will guide me in going beyond the prescribed commandment, and in cultivating those phases of the commandments which, so far as I may judge, are pleasing to Him.” This is what is meant by affording happiness to the Creator.

Accordingly, the principle of saintliness is that the scope of the observance of the Mizvot should be enlarged. This applies to every possible aspect of the Mizvot, and to the circumstances under which they are to be observed.

You thus see that saintliness is only another form of abstinence, except that abstinence finds expression in negative precepts whereas saintliness expresses itself through positive precepts. Yet the same principle is implied in both, namely that it is necessary to do much more than what we are explicitly commanded, and to do that which we believe will afford happiness to God, blessed be He. This is the nature of true saintliness. We shall now treat of its different aspects.

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