Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair says, “Heedfulness leads to cleanliness, cleanliness leads to purity, purity leads to separation, separation leads to holiness, holiness leads to modesty, modesty leads to fear of sin, fear of sin leads to piety, piety leads to the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit leads to the resurrection of the dead, and the resurrection of the dead comes from Elijah, blessed be his memory, Amen

Mishnah Sotah 9:15

This classic Rabbinic teaching is found in the Mishnah and (with some variations) in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds. It became the basis for one of Judaism’s most well known ethical treatises, Messilat Yesharim, The Path of the Upright . Like the ladder in Jacob’s dream, moral development is seen as a rung-by-rung ascent to the heights, with no shortcuts on the way. It is a painstaking climb up the mountain, with a Messianic future vision at the end. This is the basis of the Musar movement, a program of ethical growth that is being revived today across the Jewish spectrum.

Mussar work provides a contrast–or really a complement–to the notion of peak experiences as a spiritual foundation. There are moments of spiritual ecstasy, and there is the practice (often hard work) to internalize them. Without the work, the peaks would remain fleeting highs, but without the peaks, the work might become dull and dry. I recommend studying A Code of Jewish Ethics (2 volumes: You Shall Be Holy and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself) by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Ideally, read it with a partner or a group and help one another climb the path.

 

Featured Image:

By Hugh Miton, via Wikimedia: A multiple exposure of a Jacob’s Ladder, demonstrating where the name originates. An electrical arc rises between two wires.

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