Sunday, October 28, 2012

Derekh Hokhma - Complete Translation

       ספר דרך חכמה לחכם הכולל מו"ר הרמח"ל זלה"ה                        
             The Way of Wisdom by Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto
                                                  Translated by Rabbi Joshua Maroof

Student: My teacher, like a hind yearns for springs of water, so too does my soul yearn for knowledge and principles, and my heart burns with the flame of desire and passion to know, to understand and to become wise.

Therefore, I have come to greet you, to seek your presence so that you might be gracious to me and instruct me regarding the path upon which I should tread, and that you might teach me and make me aware of the appropriate sciences to pursue and which method I should follow in mastering each one properly.

Of course, you know that every actor has a reason that moves him to act. And every conscious actor acts with some end in mind, such that his main desire is for this end. For the sake of this objective, he will desire those things that he knows or thinks will serve as means by which he can achieve that end. Tell me, now, what is the reason that is motivating you to pursue this thing, or what is the end that you desire to achieve?

: Truthfully, the cause that is motivating me is the pain I feel from the storms raging within my soul to understand the matters brought to me via my senses or that arise in my imagination; and my objective is to give rest to my soul and to quiet my spirit which is disturbed by its doubts and its lack of apprehension.

: Do you have any other objective together with this objective - either of equal or lesser significance?

Yes, my master. In addition to the objective that I mentioned, I look to yet another objective, which is to be a man among men, so that I too can express my opinion in the community of scholars and I will not be like a silent stone among them, or like a mute who cannot open his mouth.

Furthermore, I wish to recognize the greatness of the Creator, Blessed is He, from the greatness of His creations, so that I may praise His great name on account of the depth of His thoughts.

: You did well to order your objectives in accordance with their level of priority in your desire. For, in truth, your primary objective is to find rest for your spirit and satisfaction for the yearning in your soul, which is the cause that moved you and for the sake of which you awoke to seek rest for yourself that will be good for you.

And afterwards you focus on your aim to have a position and standing among the wise men of the people. Were it not for the fact that I know you and I recognize you as a constant seeker (of truth) and researcher by nature, I would have assumed that this was your primary and essential goal, honestly, since it is the main objective for most of those who diligently pursue knowledge.

But since I see that you, by nature, have an inclination toward study, I believe that your primary objective is the settling and satisfaction of this natural desire, and that, for you, entry into the social circle of the wise and the achievement of success among them is secondary to that in priority.

The third objective - recognition of the greatness of the Creator, Blessed is He, that you mentioned - is really the primary and most essential purpose for which there is no second, but this can only be understood by one who has already grasped many fields of knowledge that you have not yet apprehended.

I also see that you are missing a fourth objective in this pursuit, which, were you to have had it in mind (as an objective) you could only have numbered first among all objectives. But you are lacking it because you are missing the motivation that would push you to seek it. I will open your ear and make known to you that which you do not yet know, until this motivation that is missing emerges within you, and then you will seek (this fourth objective) of your own accord.


Rabbi: You already know that the purpose for which the Master, Blessed is He placed man in the world was so that, through his efforts, he would acquire and achieve true perfection - namely, drawing close to Him (may He be blessed) and cleaving to Him to the greatest extent possible. Is this premise confirmed or not?

: It is confirmed in my mind and is clear based upon Torah sources - that is to say, from Scripture - from the tradition of our Sages, and from logical arguments as well.

If this premise is clear to you, then you will not doubt any inference that is drawn from it: Namely, that if the essence of the existence of man in this world is for this purpose, then it is proper that he conduct all of his affairs in their entirety in such a manner as to achieve this purpose, and neither detach himself nor turn himself away from it. For whenever an aspect of his life is turned away from this purpose, the result is that, in this respect, the design of the Blessed One is undermined, and the fact that it contravenes His will is sufficient reason to distance ourselves from it.

Reflect further and see that since true perfection is the true Good, any behavior that deviates from it is a deviation from the Good - and, if so, it is certainly bad or, at the very least, it is something superfluous and worthless, vain and empty which it is proper for any person of understanding to avoid. 

This too is obvious to me, for it is certainly not in the interest of the Wise to seek what is merely pleasant; rather, they seek only the True Good. And any action which is not a means to [the true Good] is superfluous and worthless; reason would not advise us to perform it.

Now that all of this is confirmed for you, you will certainly understand that any motivation to action that is emerges in the human will must be evaluated in light of the ultimate purpose that we have mentioned. If it conforms to the purpose, he should do it, and if not, he should abandon it.

Human activity can be divided into two categories: thought and behavior. Activities in both of these categories must be judged based on the instruction we have articulated; namely, they must be in agreement with the ultimate purpose and facilitate our achievement of it and must not deviate from it; needless to say, they must not contradict it.  When it comes to behavior, this is well known, and this is neither the place nor the time to elaborate upon it. But we will speak briefly about this issue insofar as it is relevant to thought, which is the subject of our discussion.

Behold, you can see that there are some human actions that are necessary and others that are voluntary. Some actions are necessitated by our biological or social nature and others are completely dependent on free choice. There is nothing that can be done with respect to the necessary activity, since necessity is neither worthy of praise nor of denigration.

However, some actions are combinations of necessity and free choice, such as when the essence of the action is necessary but the manner in which it is done is subject to choice, either in whole or in part. Whatever aspects are determined by necessity cannot be judged, as we already wrote; only the voluntary elements can be evaluated.

The general principle that applies to all actions that are voluntary is this: All voluntary actions should either be the fulfillment of a mitzvah, a preparation for the fulfillment of a mitzvah, or the removal of an obstacle (to the performance of a mitzvah). There is an additional condition; namely, that [no voluntary actions] should contain any nullification or violation of any of the laws of the Torah or Divine Service in any respect, not in its essential nature and not in any of its incidental qualities.

If the  action is not one of these positive types [the fulfillment of a mitzvah, preparation for a mitzvah or the removal of an obstacle to a mitzvah], or even if it is one of these types but it contains any element of violation of the laws of the Torah, then one should abstain from it. For example, taking a walk may be a preparation for Divine Service if a person needs it in order to relax his mind so that it will be better prepared to acquire knowledge. However, if this walking is, by its very nature, not permitted - either because it will be quantitatively excessive or because it will be in the company of inappropriate individuals - then it is one of the activities that should not be done.

The area of thought is judged in the same way as the area of action without any distinction. By virtue of the fact that the purpose of the entire existence of man in this world is a single purpose, all of the aspects of his life should proceed along the path of his achievement [of perfection] and the aim of all of them should be his ultimate success.

: Behold you have enlightened my eyes with the purity of your teaching, my master, and what my mind failed to grasp, you instructed me. Now, grace me with the particulars of what you have already graced me in generalities, and teach me how to evaluate intellectual pursuits with proper judgment in accordance with this instruction.

First of all, I must awaken you to another fundamental truth: Just as in the realm of bodily activity intention is essential and defines the very nature of an action, such that we require not only proper performance but also proper intent, so too in the realm of thought.  In order for study to serve as a means to the true objective that we have discussed, it must meet two conditions: [one with respect to] the kind [of study] and [one with respect to] the intention. That is to say, it must be a topic of study that leads to the ultimate objective, and it must be the intention of the learner to arrive at that objective.

If the intent of the study is only to satisfy the innate desire that you mentioned at first, even if the intellectual investigation is of the highest caliber, its significance will be tarnished and its status will be lowered because it is nothing more than the pursuit of the pleasurable, not the pursuit of the Good. For even though the study is inherently good, it is being sought not for its goodness but for its pleasantness.

Once the person's intent is directed at the achievement of the true objective, however, then he must scrutinize each particular field of study to discern its nature - if it conforms with the ultimate purpose, he will pursue it, and if not, he will abstain from it.

The utterances of your mouth are righteous and there is no room in my heart to doubt them!


Rabbi: In truth, the subjects of inquiry fall into four categories insofar as their relationship to the ultimate purpose is concerned:

The first category includes study which, in and of itself, serves as a means to the ultimate purpose.

The second category includes study that is not a means [to the ultimate purpose] in its essence but does serve as a means to the ultimate purpose in an incidental way.

The third category includes study that is not a means to the ultimate purpose intrinsically or incidentally, but can serve as means to the ultimate purpose indirectly.

The fourth category includes study that is neither a means to the ultimate purpose intrinsically nor incidentally, and does not even serve as an indirect means to the ultimate purpose.
Now I will elucidate each category by itself:

(I)The first category is study that intrinsically leads to the ultimate purpose. It can be subdivided into “essential study” and “preparatory study”.

(I.A) Essential study is that study the direct result of which is the achievement of the ultimate purpose. 

(IB) Preparatory study is study that does not lead directly to the achievement of the ultimate purpose, but is a prerequisite to a further field of study that is an essential one, as we mentioned. Indeed, it is a subject of study that prepares a path for the mind to enter into the essential areas of investigation.

(I.A)The essential study is none other than the study of the Divine (Metaphysics), which means the exploration of the Unity of God (Blessed is He), His transcendence, His perfection, and the manner in which He governs His universe, as well as the secrets of His creations and their structure, the function that He assigned to each of them, the revelation of His glory and Divine Presence, and the outpouring of His prophecy and His Holy Spirit. The Master, Blessed is He, made the perfection of man dependent upon this study, and through this does a person draw close to Him and cling to Him fully. The level of perfection that a person attains and the closeness to God he reaches will be in direct proportion to the extent to which he exerts himself to apprehend this knowledge. 

This is what the prophets commanded when they said, “And you shall know this day, and return it to your heart – that Hashem is God,” “Know the God of your father and serve Him,” and “Only in this should the boaster boast – understanding and knowing Me,” etc. But remember what I warned you regarding intention  - if the objective of this study is only to satisfy curiosity, this is not the essential study of which I now speak.  I refer only to study of the Divine that is undertaken with proper intention, that is, to provide satisfaction before God (so to speak), who commanded us to strive to acquire perfection through this study, and now His will is done (so He is, so to speak, “satisfied”).

(I.B) Preparatory study is also subdivided into two kinds.

(I.B-1) The first is the collection of background knowledge that a person must have before he enters into the investigation of the Divine Science, because these are the subjects upon which the entire investigation will be based.  Specifically, this includes the entirety of Holy Scripture and their primary commentaries, and all of the statements of our Sages in the Six Orders of the Mishnah and Talmud and in the Aggadot/Midrashim, because all investigation into the Divine Science is founded upon them.

(I.B-2) The second type of preparatory study is the general methodology of thought and analysis, which means the study of logic by which a person must train his mind so it can distinguish and define what it needs to define,  and so that it can grasp what it needs to grasp with regard to the Divine. Without this training, a person will never be able to arrive at knowledge that is precise and clear, much like an artisan who lacks the tools of his trade and will certainly be unable to fashion acceptable products.

(II)The second category of study is that which is not inherently a means to the ultimate purpose but serves as a means to the purpose incidentally. This category is likewise divisible into two subcategories.

(II.A) The first subcategory is the explanation of all of the commandments and laws with all of their principles and essential details. From the perspective of theoretical knowledge, this study is neither a direct means to the ultimate purpose [of grasping the Divine Science] nor is it a preparatory discipline for the study of the Divine Science. However, it is a preparation for another means, which is not theoretical; namely, the performance of the commandments, which is another means to the end [of cleaving to God] as we mentioned.

And behold, this study is necessary so that proper action can be carried out. From this perspective, it is also considered a means to perfection, but only incidentally [since it is valued not because of the study per se but because the knowledge thus gained enables us to choose proper behaviors], as we mentioned.

(II.B) The second subcategory of study that serves as a means to the ultimate purpose incidentally includes several fields of knowledge that we require in order to properly observe elements of one or more of the Torah’s commandments. For example, geometry, mathematics and astronomy, which we need in order to determine the calendar as well as to observe the laws related to intermingling species and not traveling beyond the Shabbat boundaries.

Student: Permit me that I may ask – how do these subcategories differ, such that you counted them as two?

Rabbi: The distinctions between them are clear. First of all, the explanation of the commandments is an involvement in something which is, in and of itself, a direct means to the ultimate purpose – namely, the performance of the mitzvoth, which are inherently means to the ultimate purpose, as we mentioned [ since, as stated above, both thought and behavior are instrumental to the ultimate purpose]. So the objective of the study of the commandments is knowledge of something that is, in and of itself, a means to the ultimate purpose.

By contrast, the other sciences we mentioned (geometry, mathematics and astronomy) do not deal with something that is a means to the ultimate purpose, nor is their objective to elucidate this; rather, their content and objective is [to explain] a certain component of Existence, the knowledge of which neither aids us nor detracts us insofar as our ultimate purpose is concerned. The utility of these sciences is merely inasmuch as knowledge of them serves  us in terms of some aspect of the commandments or of Divine service.

For example, geometry deals with length and measurement, and its goal is to elucidate this in all of its details; mathematics deals with “number” and elucidates all of its details, and so on. So their subject matter is not something that facilitates our attainment of the ultimate purpose, although knowledge of them helps us with respect to elements of observance of certain commandments, as we said.

Secondly, aside from the fact that study of the commandments is a preparation for their performance, the study itself is also the fulfillment of a commandment, because Hashem commanded us to meditate on His Torah, as it is written, “and you shall speak of them [the words of Torah.” Thus, in addition to the practical benefit that emerges from it with regard to fulfilling the commandments, it is also the fulfillment of a commandment in its own right. And in this sense, it is, in and of itself, a direct means to the ultimate purpose – not insofar as theoretical study is concerned, but insofar as it is the performance of a commandment (i.e., a good action).

This cannot be said of the other sciences, because we were not commanded to meditate upon them, although familiarity with them is necessary for us inasmuch as we need it for some aspects of the Divine Service. In this sense, they are like the necessary actions we encounter in the realm of behavior (i.e., eating, sleeping, using the restroom), such that, were they not necessary for us, we would not attempt to perform them at all [so too, were they not necessary, we would not involve ourselves in the study of these “necessary sciences” at all].    

Student: Your words are to me a comfort of the soul, and with the sweetness of your teaching you give delicacies to my soul.

Rabbi: I will return now to complete my discourse on the four categories of knowledge that I mentioned to you.

(III) The third category is knowledge that is neither intrinsically nor incidentally a means to the ultimate purpose, but which may indirectly serve as a means. This includes all of the sciences and arts that do not contribute to knowledge of the subject matter of the commandments nor to the investigation of the Divine Science, but which may nonetheless be appropriate at a particular time, for a particular person or in a particular place.  For example, aside from the need that a person has to support himself, he is also obligated by the Torah to do so, for the Sages of blessed memory have taught us,“’You shall choose life’ – this refers to a profession.” They also said, “you might think a person should sit and be idle; therefore, the Torah teaches ‘you will succeed in all of the endeavors that you pursue.’”

Now, a person who selects a profession as his livelihood certainly needs to master all of the knowledge that is required for that particular field. For example, one who chooses to become a doctor will certainly need to know about the nature of the body, surgery and other matters that are prerequisites for one who wishes to hold this profession. 

Moreover, it is proper for a person who must interact with gentile scholars to master subjects that will lead them to respect him, so that the name of God will be sanctified through him, and the same would be the case in any similar circumstance. 

(IV) But the fourth category of study is that which neither inherently, intrinsically nor indirectly serves as a means to the ultimate purpose in any way. This includes subjects that have no connection to the understanding of the commandments or the investigation of the Divine, for which a person has no need either for his profession or for some aspect of Divine Service . Rather, a person merely wishes to enjoy this knowledge because of the sweetness and pleasantness he finds in it, just like one who takes a pleasure stroll or pursues any other form of human entertainment. 

Behold, I have explained to you the various categories of study and their respective levels, and if you have doubts about any of the matters that I have elucidated, ask!

Student: I have no doubt about any of your words, for reality testifies to the truth of all of them; only one whose power of discernment is deficient could possibly be in doubt about them.

Rabbi: Now that I have explained to you the various categories of study, I must explain to you which of them you should select and to what extent it is appropriate to select them. It is obvious that the extent to which someone should increase or decrease their involvement in an activity depends upon to the degree to which that activity is beneficial. If so, the study that leads to the achievement of true perfection is certainly worthy of as much involvement as possible, because to the degree that we increase our involvement in it will determine the level of perfection we attain, and one who diminishes his efforts in this area to a certain degree diminishes his own perfection to the same degree.

When it comes to preparatory study, however, the benefit is only insofar as it is instrumental to the primary activity for which one is preparing. Therefore, to the extent that one needs this study to support that primary activity, one should devote effort to it – no less and no more. If you devote less effort than is necessary, you will be lacking in preparation for the primary activity. And if you devote more effort than is necessary, the additional effort is totally superfluous.

Regarding the second category of study, which is only incidentally useful because it is necessary and preparatory for the fulfillment of mitzvoth – to the extent that it is required for the fulfillment [of mitzvoth], it is proper for him to devote effort to it. Not less – for this will leave him lacking preparation, and not more – for [the additional study] will be a worthless activity. 

With regard to the third category of study, which only indirectly supports Divine Service, it should be measured by the same standard – only insofar as it is instrumental to Divine Service, and to the extent that it is necessary for the context in which it is supporting Divine Service, is it proper for a person to devote effort to it. Anything beyond this is superfluous and worthless.

All the more so with regard to the fourth category which is totally superfluous and is not appropriate at all according to the premises with which we began [that only activities that lead us to our ultimate purpose are worthwhile]. Anyone who devotes effort to these fields of study is deviating [from the proper path], removing himself from perfection and pursuing absolute fantasy, and have nothing to show for all of his toil [at the end of his life] when he reaches the Eternal World.

Student: What I think I can gather from your general remarks is that a person’s primary intellectual focus should be on the Divine Science, and he should study Holy Scripture, its commentaries and the statements of our Sages of blessed memory in depth, because he needs to build his investigation into the Divine Science upon them.

He must study logic to the extent that he knows the methods of investigation and analysis, but no more.
With regard to the explanation of the commandments and laws, he should study what he needs for practical purposes.

When it comes to geometry, mathematics and the like, knowledge of which is a prerequisite for some elements of observance of the commandments, he should study the amount that is necessary for this purpose but no more.

In other fields of study that have no connection to the Divine Science nor to the commandments, he should study of them whatever he needs for the purpose of Divine Service, and only to the extent that is necessary for his objective, but no further. And someone who has no need for knowledge of these subjects should not invest any effort in them at all; rather, he should overcome his desire for them like he would overcome his desire for the enjoyment of excess food, pleasure strolls, and the like.

Rabbi: Perfectly stated! Do not deviate right or left from everything you have said. However, I still must caution you a bit with respect to some of these principles. I have already shown you that, when it comes to the explanation of the commandments, beyond serving as a means for performance, their study is also a commandment in its own right, as we mentioned. If so, it is definitely more appropriate to invest time in them than to invest time in any other subject, since the former study is a mitzvah and the latter is not. Nonetheless, the value [of studying the commandments] certainly doesn’t compare to that of the investigation of the Divine Science, because the latter has two benefits – it is a form of Torah study, which is also the fulfillment of a commandment, and  insofar as its subject matter is concerned, which is the most powerful means to the attainment of perfection, unlike the study of the explanation of the commandments, which has only one benefit – the fact that it is itself a mitzvah, as we mentioned. But from the standpoint of the subject matter of study, it is only a preparation for action. If so, it should be given a greater share of effort than other things but not a measure commensurate with the level of effort that should be devoted to the Divine Science. It should be thought of as a secondary matter relative to one that is primary.

Moreover, it is important to distinguish between a person on whom the community depends for halakhic instruction and someone on whom the community is not dependent. One whom the community needs must increase his involvement a bit more in the field of the explanation of the mitzvoth than others may have to [because his knowledge must be more nuanced and extensive].

I must also caution you about the category of study that is not a means to the ultimate purpose but serves as an indirect means to Divine Service, because in this area a very broad vision is needed to save oneself from the enticements of the Evil Inclination and the cunning of its falsehoods. Many times [the Evil Inclination] will cause a person to fool himself and take from these areas of study what his error has convinced him to take, saying to himself: “I need this”, or “this will be instrumental to Divine Service and my intention is for the sake of Heaven”, or “I will gain benefit from this with respect to my character or my principles”, but the truth of the matter is not so, and really it is his base desire inclining him to it and he is being pulled along after it. If he investigates the matter, he will see that the benefit he imagines or says or desires to gain from this study – or even better! - is already available to him from Torah studies if he toils in them.

The general principle is that good and evil are in the hands of human beings. One who wishes to live must choose life and not fool himself. An explicit Biblical verse cries out and says, “Life and death have I placed before you – you should choose life!” and “so that you will live.”

Student: You have shown me great kindness in teaching me up till this point. Now, please begin making known to me what order of study I should adopt in my own learning so that I may be successful!


Rabbi: Behold, anyone who wishes to be a wise man in Israel must first know all twenty four books of the Tanakh with their primary commentaries and, after this, the thirteen principles by which the Torah is interpreted with all of their explanations – for they are the ways of the Oral Torah.

After this, he needs to master the methodology of the Six Orders of the Mishna/Talmud, so that he knows how to understand any given halakha correctly. He must know the manner of dialectic of the Talmud, with its exchanges of questions and answers, and he must know how to differentiate between answers that are not conclusive and answers that are true, as well as between difficulties that are raised merely as foils for predetermined answers and strong difficulties that are genuine problems.

After he knows all of this, it is proper that he study the entire Six Orders of the Mishna/Talmud from beginning to end, understanding the simple meaning of all of the discussions correctly. Then he must learn the “Yad HaHazaqah” (the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam) from beginning to end with its commentaries, so that he knows the source for each and every law. Afterwards, he should learn the Shulhan Arukh and identify any law in it that deviates from the words of the Rambam or adds something onto them; he should then seek its source in the Bet Yosef in order to understand its reasoning and basis. Then he should study all of the Midrashim of the ancients in their entirety.

He should also study the arts of logic, rhetoric and poetry until he has mastered them. He must be careful to learn these subjects from the works of authors who present them succinctly [so as not to waste additional time].  He should furthermore learn the fundamental principles of geometry, mathematics, and astronomy, until he has mastered them. With respect to other sciences and arts, he should learn from them whatever matters he needs to know until he knows them. And then he should set the essential focus of all of his study on the Divine Science all the days of his life.

It is not necessary that he first study the entire Talmud, and only then begin the Rambam, and afterwards study the Midrashim, and then finally the other sciences. Rather, he should apportion his time among these areas of study, devoting more time to the subjects that are quantitatively larger at first until he finishes them, and then, after he finishes them, readjusting his routine accordingly. Even then, it is important that he continue to set aside time for [all areas of Torah] so he doesn’t forget them.

By contrast, once he knows the secular arts and sciences he can set them aside. However, to ensure that he doesn’t forget them, he should review them regularly while in the restroom.

He should structure his time in such a way that his primary area of study and effort is in the Divine Science. He shouldn’t neglect other components of Torah rather, he should involve himself with them a little bit each day out of love for the Torah. 

Hashem grants knowledge – from His mouth come wisdom and understanding!

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