Gates of Holiness – Gate 3

A thorough explanation of the levels of “Tzaddik” and “Chassid” and how one should act in order to attain them

If a person wishes to purify and sanctify himself and truly accept the yoke of the heavenly kingdom upon himself, let him prepare himself with all his might to perform all 613 mitzvoth with alacrity. Through their fulfillment the 613 organs and veins of his soul will become perfected, as mentioned. This is because if he lacks even one of the 248 positive mitzvoth, he still lacks an organ of his soul. About such a person scripture states[1], “A lacking which is incalculable”, which is worse than the matter of, “Anyone who has a blemish may not approach”[2].

However, one who fulfills the positive mitzvoth, but has transgressed even one of the 365 negative mitzvoth, is within the category of an actual “Baal Moom” – a truly blemished person. This is because the pipe (or vein) that draws sustenance to the organs has become bent [thereby obstructing the flow]. About such as person the verse states[3], “irreparably crooked”. However, the meaning of the verse is that it is only irreparable once the soul has departed from this world, because one cannot perform the mitzvoth which he lacks or repent and thereby rectify the transgressions that he committed, except while he still is in this world. This is as scripture states[4], “Whatever you can accomplish while you are able, do it, for there is neither deed nor accounting nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave to which you are going.” “Deed” here, refers to performing the positive mitzvoth, “Accounting” refers to repenting over the negative ones and “knowledge” refers to the knowledge gained through Torah study. None of these are possible “in the grave to which you are going”.

From here we see that as long as a person has not fulfilled the 613 mitzvoth he is in the category of an “Imperfect Tzaddik”. It is not without warrant, that our teacher, Moses, peace be upon him, prayed for permission to enter the land 515 times, corresponding to the numerical value of the word, “VaEtchanan” – “and I pleaded for grace” (ואתחנן). He sought to perfect his soul by keeping the 613 mitzvoth [many of which only apply in the land of Israel].

If one fulfills all the mitzvoth, but has not also fully acquired all the good character traits, in that he must constantly conquer his Yetzer HaRa by struggling with it; such a person is in the category of the “Perfect Tzaddik who conquers his Yetzer”.

However, once all the good character traits become so totally imbedded in a person that they become his nature, so that he performs the 613 mitzvoth with joy that comes from love, without any resistance from the Yetzer HaRa because his physicality has become totally refined, he is called a “Perfect Chassid”. Similarly, King David said[5], “My heart is empty within me”[6]. Furthermore, he said[7], “HaShem, my heart was not proud nor were my eyes haughty. Neither did I pursue matters that were too great or wondrous for me. Have I not calmed and stilled my soul like an infant nursing from his mother? My soul is like a nursing infant.” This is to say that he appears as if all his good character traits were already naturally embedded in him when he first came out of his mother’s womb. Therefore, because good character traits and the performance of the mitzvoth had become so embedded in King David’s nature, he called himself a Chassid, as in the verse[8], “Guard my soul, for I am a Chassid.”

Moreover, our rabbis, of blessed memory, said[9], “Whosoever desires to become a Chassid should fulfill the words of Pirkei Avot – which speak regarding the acquisition of good character traits. For example, our sages, of blessed memory, said[10], “Rabbi [Yehudah the Prince] said, “What is the straight path that a person should follow? Everything that is both beautiful to the doer and beautiful to him from others etc.” Akaviah ben Mehalalel said[11], “Contemplate three matters and you will never come to the possibility of transgressing. Know from whence you came and where you are going and before whom you are destined to give an accounting. From whence did you come? – From a putrid drop. Where are you going? – To a place of dust, maggots and worms. Before whom are you destined to give an accounting? – Before the King, King of kings, The Holy One, Blessed is He. Likewise, Rabbi Levitas of Yavneh said[12], “Be very, very humble, for the hope of man is maggots.”

What Akaviah meant when he said, “and you will never come to the possibility of transgressing” is that you will never be subject to the Yetzer HaRa which causes a person to transgress, because your Yetzer HaRa will cease to be. However, if the Yetzer HaRa still exists and one merely restrains himself by force of willpower, he should have stated, “you will not transgress”.

Generally, what comes out of this is that a Tzaddik is a person who has a Yetzer HaRa but fulfills the 613 mitzvoth by overcoming it. On the other hand, a person who has completely acquired good character traits, as his nature, fulfills the mitzvoth because his Yetzer HaRa has been abrogated. Such a person is called a “Perfect Chassid’.

In addition, there is a level of Chassidut even higher than this, which is the highest of all levels. Such a person is called “Holy”. This level is mentioned often in Sefer HaTikunim and in the Zohar, especially in Parashat Kee Teitzei of Raaya Mehemna[13], as follows:

“It is not without warrant that the Holy One, Blessed is He, said, ‘Whosoever occupies himself in the study of Torah, in doing acts of loving-kindness and in praying with the congregation, I regard it as if he redeemed Me and My children from exile amongst the nations of the world’. Now, how many people occupy themselves in the study of Torah, in doing acts of loving-kindness and in praying with the congregation, but nonetheless, the Holy One, Blessed is He, His Shechinah and Israel are not redeemed!? However, the meaning here is that a person should be occupied in the study of Torah solely to unite the Shechinah with the Holy One, Blessed is He.

As we have established, “Acts of loving-kindness” here means that a true Chassid is one who is kind toward his Master. That is, his intent in doing all the mitzvoth is to liberate G-d’s Shechinah from exile. By doing so, he acts kindly toward the Holy One, Blessed is He. By acting kindly toward G-d’s Shechinah he is acting kindly toward G-d Himself.

When Israel sinned, the Holy One, Blessed is He, wanted to punish them, but their Mother [the Shechinah] protected them. Because of this, they descended to evil ways. What did the Holy One, Blessed is He, do? He banished the children of the King, along with the Queen [the Shechinah] and He swore that He would not return to His place until the Queen returns to Her place. Thus, whoever repents with the sole intention of liberating the Shechinah through Torah and mitzvoth; such a person acts kindly toward his Master. It is as if he liberates Him, His Shechinah and His children from exile.

Eliyahu and all the heads of the upper academies declared, ‘Raaya Mehemna [Moses], you are such a person. You are the son of the King and Queen. Actually, your manner of toil for the Holy One, Blessed is He, is even beyond one who acts kindly toward his Master. Rather, you are like a son who invests his whole being and strength into liberating his father and mother; who is willing to give up his life for their sake. However, a person who is not the son of the King, but who, nonetheless, does a kindness to the King and Queen, such a person is considered to be kindly toward his Master’.

Raaya Mehemna stood up and bowed before the Holy One, Blessed is He. He wept and said, ‘May it be G-d’s will that he regard me as a son. May it be that He consider my actions on behalf of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and His Shechinah, like a son who toils on behalf of his father and mother because he loves them more than his own body, soul [Nefesh], spirit [Ruach] and super-soul [Neshamah] and he regards all his possessions as worthless, except for the purpose of serving the will of his Father and Mother and liberating them. Though I realize that [in reality] everything is G-d’s possession [and that I have nothing of my own], nonetheless, the Merciful One desires the heart.’”

Now, the above is as scripture states[14], “You have caused the Rock that bore you to be removed”. Moreover, it states[15], “Give strength to G-d”. This is in accordance to the statement[16], “Rabbi Yochanan says, ‘Happy is he who toils in Torah and brings satisfaction to the One who formed him.’ – meaning that he does not toil in the Torah in order to receive a reward at all. Rather, his intent is solely to bring satisfaction to the One who formed him, about whom it is written[17], “In all their suffering, He suffered.” That is, wherever Israel were exiled the Shechinah went with them. She is our Mother, about whom it says[18], “Thus says HaShem, ‘Where is your Mother’s bill of divorce [as proof] that I banished her? To which of my creditors did I sell you? Truly, you were sold through your sins and through your transgressions she was banished with you.’” [It is, specifically, the Shechinah that] is called “The One Who Formed us”, as in the verse[19], “You have caused the Rock who bore you to be removed.” [The word for rock here is Tzoor (צור), which also means the “source of form”, just as a child is formed in its mother’s womb.] This is why [Rabbi Yochanan said that such a person brings satisfaction “to the One who formed him”, rather than saying “to the Holy One, Blessed is He.”

From this we see that when a Chassid is occupied in the study of Torah or in performing the mitzvoth or in good character traits; if even a hint of motivation to receive a reward is mixed into it, he is a Chassid for himself, as in the verse[20], “A man of kindness (Ish Chessed) brings goodness upon himself.” This is because when he fulfills the mitzvoth he brings goodness upon himself. Therefore, he is called a “Man of Chessed” rather than a “Chassid”, because he does himself the kindness. Only a person whose sole motivation is to do a kindness to his Master can be truly called a “Chassid” and a “Holy Man”. This is because he has become purified from all impurities and has sanctified himself in G-d’s holiness, Blessed is He. We find that the term קדושה-Kedushah (holiness) means “preparation”, as in the verse[21], “Prepare[22] yourselves for tomorrow and you shall eat meat”. This is because such a person makes himself the vehicle for G-d’s holiness, Blessed is He. As mentioned above, rather than caring about his own glory, he only cares about his Master’s glory.

When Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair said[23], “Caution brings to zeal, zeal brings to cleanliness, cleanliness brings to separateness, separateness brings to purity, purity brings to holiness, holiness brings to fear of sin, fear of sin brings to humility, humility brings to Chassidut, Chassidut brings to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit brings to resurrecting the dead” – he was referring to this. This is specifically the perfect Chassidut which follows holiness and leads to the Holy Spirit. Because he cleaves to G-d totally he will merit to attain the revelation of the secrets of Torah and to prophesy about the future.

This is as Rabbi Meir said[24], “Whosoever is occupied in Torah for its name (i.e. for its sake, rather than his own sake) merits many things. Moreover, the whole world is worthwhile because of him. He is called friend, beloved, lover of G-d, lover of the creatures, the delight of G-d and the delight of the creatures. The Torah garbs him in humility and awe. It prepares him to be a Tzaddik, a Chassid, upright and trustworthy. It distances him from sin and brings him close to merit. He benefits others with counsel and wisdom, understanding and strength, as it says[25], “Mine is counsel and wisdom; I am ‘understanding’, strength is mine”. The Torah gives him kingship, governance and penetrating judgment. The secrets of the Torah are revealed to him. He becomes like an overflowing spring and like an ever-flowing river. He becomes modest, long-suffering and forgiving of insults. The Torah magnifies him and elevates him above all things.”

Furthermore, when Rabbi Meir said, “For its name”, he meant for the “name” of the Torah, in that the Torah is the name of the Holy One, Blessed is He. This is because the entire Torah is comprised of the names of the Holy One, Blessed is He.

[1] Ecclesiastes 1:15

[2] This is because, as explained above, a blemish in a mitzvah is not the complete absence of the mitzvah. Therefore, one who lacks a positive mitzvah altogether is worse off than one who performs it, but in a blemished and imperfect manner. Nonetheless, though his positive mitzvoth blemished, nonetheless, since he does not transgress the negative mitzvoth, he does not fall into the category of an actual “Baal Moom” i.e. a truly blemished person.

[3] Ecclesiastes 1:15

[4] Ecclesiastes 9:10

[5] Psalms 109

[6] This means that he rid himself totally of the Yetzer HaRa by starving it to death.

[7] Psalms 131

[8] Psalms 86

[9] Talmud Baba Kama 30

[10] Avot 2:1

[11] Avot 3:1

[12] Avot 4:4

[13] page 281a

[14] Deuteronomy 32:18

[15] Psalms 68:35

[16] Talmud Berachot 17

[17] Isaiah 63:9

[18] Isaiah 50:1

[19] Deuteronomy 32:18

[20] Proverbs 11:17

[21] Numbers 11:18

[22] The word here for “prepare yourselves” is Hitkadshoo-“sanctify yourselves” (התקדשו).

[23] Mishnah , end of Sotah.

[24] Pirkei Avot 6:1

[25] Proverbs 8:14

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