Gates of Holiness – Gate 2

Concerning the blemishes which come about through bad character traits.

The character traits are naturally embedded in the lowly, fundamental soul of man. This soul is comprised of four aspects; inanimate, vegetative, animate and articulate. They too are a composite of good and evil. Therefore, the good and bad character traits depend on this soul. They constitute a seat, foundation and root for the upper, intellectual soul, upon which the 613 mitzvoth of the Torah depend, as mentioned above in gate one. Because of this, the character traits are not included as part and parcel of the 613 mitzvoth. Nonetheless, they are essential prerequisites to their fulfillment or negation, for the simple reason that the intellectual soul is powerless to fulfill the mitzvoth with the 613 organs of the body except through the agency of the fundamental soul which is connected to the body. This is the secret meaning of the verse[1], “For the soul of every flesh; its blood is its life.” This being the case, the bad character traits are actually much worse than the transgressions themselves.

We may now understand why our sages, of blessed memory, said, “When a person loses his temper, it is as if he is actually worshipping strange gods” – which is a negation of all 613 mitzvoth of the Torah! Furthermore, they said, “Whosoever has a haughty spirit is likened to one who denies the fundamental truth of G-d’s existence. He is worthy of being cut down like an Asherah grove[2]. There are many such quotes. Contemplate this greatly and consider that since the character traits are root causes and fundamental characteristics imbedded in the natural soul, they are not counted amongst the 613 mitzvoth that depend on the intellectual soul. We, therefore, find that greater caution must be taken to safeguard oneself from bad character traits, than even from fulfilling the positive mitzvoth or desisting from committing the negative mitzvoth. This is because if a person possesses good character traits, he will not find it difficult to fulfill all the mitzvoth.

With this, we may now understand some astounding comments made by our sages, of blessed memory, regarding character traits, such as the statement that humility and lowliness bring about the Holy Spirit, in which the presence of G-d[3] rests upon a person. Furthermore, Eliyahu said, “Only a person who is not pedantic will be given the ability to explain the meanings of Torah. Moreover, I too, will not be revealed except to one who is not pedantic.” Likewise, our sages of blessed memory said, “Who is worthy of life in the world to come? Whosoever is lowly and humble.” There are many such statements. Note that they mention good character traits rather than fulfilling the mitzvoth. Set your eyes upon these goals and you shall surely find success.

However, just as the four physical elements are the roots from which the 613 organs of the body were formed, so likewise, the physical life-force of these four elements are the foundations of all the good and bad character traits which are the means by which the Torah and the 613 mitzvoth, that come from the four letter name of G-d (הוי”ה), may be fulfilled or negated. It is the intellectual soul, which is comprised of the four spiritual elements from which its 613 organs were hewn, that fulfills the mitzvoth[4]. Contemplate this well and you will understand that the basis for the fulfillment or negation of the mitzvoth are good and bad character traits.

We have already explained that G-d composed everything of two opposites, good and evil. Just as there are four bodily elements composed of good and evil; the white, green, black and red humors, and these powers either establish a physically healthy body (“Matter”) or damage it, so is it regarding the life-force of the natural, fundamental soul (“Form”). Its four elements are also comprised of both good and evil which affect its health through good character traits, or its illness, through bad character traits which are drawn from its four evil, impure Kelipot (Husks).

When a person rids himself of these bad character traits, then, in their stead, the four letters of G-d’s name (הוי”ה) become invested in the natural soul and become a life-giving light for it. Thus, the natural soul and the physical body become a vehicle for G-d’s holiness in the world of Action (Asiyah) [which is the Nefesh level of the intellectual soul]. This, literally, is similar to what was explained about the intellectual soul when it fulfills the mitzvoth.

Moreover, keep in mind that, besides this, through occupying oneself in the study of the four levels of Torah, which form the acronym PaRDeS;

a) Peshat (the straightforward, simple meaning of the verses)

b) Remez (the meaning that is intimated but not explicitly stated in the verses)

c) Deroosh (The meaning arrived at through deeper investigation and analysis of the verses)

d) Sod (The esoteric secrets of the verses)

The Ruach level of his intellectual soul becomes a seat for the four letters of G-d’s name (הוי”ה) in the world of Formation (Yetzirah). Likewise, through contemplation and mental focus, the Neshamah level of his intellectual soul becomes a seat for the four letters of G-d’s name (יהו”ה) in the world of Creation (Beriyah).

Returning to the explanation of the acquisition of good character traits through the clarification of the four elements; know that all the bad character traits are rooted in the evil and Kelipah of the four levels of the fundamental soul. Because of this, all bad character traits may be categorized into four kinds, as follows:

 

A) The Element of Fire:

This element is the source of arrogance, which is called, “A Coarse Spirit”. This is because it is the lightest and highest of all the elements. It includes anger, because, when his will is not done, an arrogant person becomes angered. If he would always be humble and recognize his own shortcomings, he would not lose his temper. From this we see that arrogance and anger are one and the same quality. This character trait has three offshoots;

1) Being pedantic. If not for haughtiness, a person would never be pedantic, similar to what we explained regarding anger.

2) Seeking to dominate others and to be honored by them. This is because he believes he is their superior.

3) Hatred toward anyone who is his superior. This too is an offshoot of arrogance.

 

B) The Element of Wind (Air)

This element is the source of the kind of speech which is called, “Idle Chatter”. That is, talking about needless matters which have no bearing on anything, neither spiritually nor physically. This character trait has four offshoots;

1) Speaking words of flattery.

2) Speaking lies.

3) Speaking the “evil tongue” about others.

4) Speaking words of boasting and self-aggrandizement to others.

 

C) The Element of Water

 

This element is the source of lust and the desire for pleasure. This is because water causes all manner of pleasurable things to grow. This character trait has two offshoots;

1) Envy. This leads to stealing another’s property or seducing his wife or the theft of anything that someone else possesses which he wants to delight in.

2) Jealousy. If his friend is wealthy or the like, which he wishes he could be; he will harbor jealousy toward him.

 

 D) The Element of Earth

 This element is the source of depression in all its details. It has one offshoot;

1) Laziness. This causes him to be slothful in studying Torah or fulfilling the mitzvoth, either because he is depressed by the difficulty of acquiring the vanities of this world or because of troubles that befall him. Such a person will never be happy with his lot, in any matter. Moreover, no matter how wealthy he becomes, it will never satisfy him.

From the above, we find that there are four sources of all the bad character traits. These are arrogance (including anger, which adheres to it), idle chatter, lust for pleasure and depression. Their sources are the four Kelipot of the Yetzer HaRa (The Evil Inclination) in the fundamental soul.

The opposites of these are four good character traits whose sources are the four good elements of the fundamental soul. These are;

1) Humility. This is a total sense of unimportance. Such a person distances himself from any kind of anger, because anger is a result of haughtiness.

2) Silence. Except when he is occupied in the study of Torah and mitzvoth or in the physical needs of the body or for the needs of others, he acts as if mute, as one who cannot open his mouth.

3) He despises all physical pleasure or unnecessary excesses.

4) He is always happy with his lot. This is because he realizes that it is all from above and everything that G-d brings about is for the good. This attitude also results in alacrity with perfect joy in serving his Creator, as scripture states[5], “I rejoice in your words (O G-d) as one who has discovered vast treasure.” Similarly our sages stated, “Make Torah study your permanent priority and your occupation a temporary one”.

We see that when bad character traits are embedded in a person they obstruct him from fulfilling Torah and mitzvoth. Even if he does fulfill them, it will not be for the sake of heaven and they will be very burdensome to him. About such a person scripture states[6], “A golden ring in the snout of a pig”, because his impurity is still within him, vested within the Kelipot. This is as our sages, of blessed memory said[7], “If a person is meritorious, his Torah learning becomes a life-giving elixir. However, if he is not meritorious it becomes fatally poisonous”.

However, if a person rises up to overcome his evil inclination and battles against it until, through great effort, he rids himself of his bad character traits, and thus truly fulfills Torah and mitzvoth; he is called a “Perfect Tzaddik”, a “G-d Fearing Person” and a “Mighty Warrior who conquers his evil inclination”.

Moreover, if a person advances himself in this, accustoming himself to it to an even greater degree, until he totally rids himself of all bad traits, so that his soul no longer lusts after them at all and he acquires the good traits to the point that they, literally, become natural to him, in that he no longer need battle against the evil inclination, since both his body and fundamental soul have been thoroughly cleansed of all physical dross, as Sefer HaTikunim comments[8] on the verse[9], “Take your shoes off your feet” in regard to Moses; then the four letters of G-d’s name (הוי”ה) become invested in him and he becomes a holy seat for G-d’s chariot, Blessed is He. Such a person is called a “Friend of G-d out of love”. He is called a “Perfect Chassid”, “One who is perfect with every kind of perfection”.



[1] Leviticus 17:14

[2] This was a grove used for the ancient idolatry of tree worship.

[3] Shechinah

[4] This means that in order for the Divine soul to perform the physical mitzvoth, it must act through the agency of the four elements of the animal soul (which are the physical life-force of the body and the source of all the natural character traits). This is because the Divine soul is invested in the animal soul and the animal soul is invested in the body.

[5] Psalms 119

[6] Proverbs 11

[7] Talmud Yoma 75

[8] Tikun 31 and 48

[9] Exodus 3

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