We’d need to undergo and then pass a number of tests if we’re ever to achieve our life’s goal of drawing close to G-d, Ramchal insists. And it touches on our relationship to everything around us, which is alternately tinged with holiness and unholiness.
For, we’re taught that if we’re to draw close to G-d Almighty we’d need to associate with holiness as much as possible and avoid unholiness. But just what’s holy and what’s not? Does holiness have anything to do with healthiness, for example? Or with kindness, other-worldliness, courage, abstaining from earthly pleasures, seriousness, and the like?
It can’t really though, for a number of good reasons. Because I could certainly be healthy and do unholy things, much the way that I can be kind to one person yet manage to hurt someone else in the process; or the way I could be too other-worldly and wind up being insensitive to the world’s woes, so courageous that I threaten my life and the well-being of my family, so abstentious that I become too weak to do good, so serious that I couldn’t empathize with others’ smaller but real pains, and the like.
There would be other questions, too. How would we be expected to worship G- d, and what are we to think about what He’s like? Are there specific places, times, and ways to worship Him? Can legal matters be considered holy or unholy? Are there holy times of day, of the week, or of the year; and what would they be? Does what I eat matter? Where do social, political, legal, property, business, or family matters fit in?
So there clearly have to be rules and guidelines to go by — and ones that G-d Himself would approve of. Or else our efforts would have been for naught (or nearly so), and we’d have gone through all sorts or trials and efforts, and been unsuccessful.
There’s another factor in this besides all that. There’d always be things along the way that would keep me back from G-d and from holiness. They could come from deep within my heart, which may be frightened of drawing close to G-d or too concerned with my own needs; or from others, who wouldn’t care for me to be “so holy”. So there clearly has to be a system in place to contend with all that too, if we’re ever to succeed in our life’s goal.
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon “The Gates of Repentance”, “The Path of the Just”, and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.