Shabbat Parashat Tzav| 5764
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Essence of and Path to Perfection - From Perakim B’machshevet Yisrael, p. 390
The common denominator between all the classical approaches to self-perfection is that asceticism and denial of bodily needs is unnecessary. The Rambam criticizes that approach as acting “as if Hashem hates the body.” The Ramchal takes a more stringent approach than the Rambam, seeing the body and its desires as the factor that drags man down and tries to trip him up, but he too does not condone withholding the body’s legitimate needs. The Rambam agrees that one should ideally not take more from the world than he needs according his nature. He says that one should not get involved with over beautification of his home or clothes unless it is necessary to “widen his spirit” to cure himself from disease. So what is the difference between their respective approaches?
The difference between the Rambam and the Ramchal is significant in regard to emphasis. According to the Ramchal, the main attention in the fight against the yetzer hara is on its search for indulgence. This is the weak point, which the yetzer can exploit and, therefore, the task of conquering the desires is the most fundamental one in the search for self-perfection. The efforts progress in two stages, starting with observing required limitations and progressing to limitations beyond the letter of the law, which are the realm of the unique few.
The Rambam presents a very different approach. One does not need to fight his whole life against physical inclinations. Rather, at a preliminary stage, he should educate and accustom himself to a normal lifestyle. It may be true that a person can, because of poor education or surroundings, stray from the desired norm. But this is a state of disease, which the average person does not have to deal with. A person’s main focus should be, rather, to dedicate himself to intellectual/spiritual pursuits. While over-indulgence takes a person away from the intellectual, delving into the intellectual causes a person’s animalistic elements to subside. A person who excels in the spiritual, sees his body as the host for his spirit. Therefore, he sees the needs of the body as important for his main purpose. That which is beyond the necessary he sees as silly and not worthwhile, considering his goals. The Rambam does not talk about stages and levels of keeping the bodily tendencies under check. The minimum is also the maximum, with normalcy being the goal for all. Going beyond the normal in restraining bodily desires is needed only as a treatment for an aberration in one’s status.
While the Ramchal puts one under the pressure of an ongoing struggle against his own inclinations, the Rambam sees the situation differently. One should not feel saddened or pressured, but should feel that he has open spaces which allow him to strive forward to his goal of spiritual attainment.
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