Cheshbon ha-Nefesh
(Accounting of the Soul)
Rabbi Mendel of Satanov

Harizut / חָרִיצוּת

All of your acts should be preceded by deliberation;
when you have reached a decision, act without hesitating.

81. Through use of the thought process, the animal spirit learns by experience. If a bird escapes a hunter's trap once, the memory of that experience is reawakened when it sees a trap again including the pain it experienced when it was trapped. It is therefore careful and flees. These experiences are reinforced by habit i.e., by the accumulation of traces into the memory to the point where they can themselves create desires [i.e., action caused by conscious thought]. This process is fundamentally similar to the dream process. However, because it is constantly interrupted by the alternating sensations that one experiences when awake, and continues [after having been interrupted] from the most recent sensation [whereas dreams appear randomly], it is therefore attuned and set according to the patterns of the world of action [i.e., the real world]. We therefore refer to it as the thought process. For example, a dog will stop running and will turn to take something being held out to it, or will flee from a stick being raised [through conscious thought based on previ­ous experience].

82. Similarly, a small child even before his intel­lectual spirit has crystallized learns through the ex­periential thought process. As children grow older and their Intellectual spirit develops and matures, they reach the point where they are capable of controlling their animal spirit [which reacts immediately to stimuli] and can take the time to consider the ramifications of any act by employing his power of understanding. For the most part, however, it is impossible to determine what the ramifications of any act will be especially when they concern interpersonal relationships so that one would be able to discriminate between good and evil with complete precision.

Generally, one must be content to rely on logic and make his determination based on probability. Moreover, one must reach his logical decision quickly, for most situations require alacrity so that the opportune moment does not pass. One must be stubborn so as to overcome all the impediments that stand in the way of making a decision. Once the intellectual spirit has reached its decision, the physical performance is relegated to the animal spirit to be executed with the full vigor which it possesses. This trait which we refer to as decisiveness or obstinacy is susceptible to many complications and extremes which can drive it away from the desired direction.

83. For example: There are people whose process of deliberation is so short that it seems as if they conduct all their affairs solely according to the advice of their animal spirits. About them, the verse (MISHLEI 21:5) states: The thoughts of the zealous are superfluous and those who are hasty reap only loss. Then there are people who are intelligent and quick in a certain field of learning or in a certain craft but who lack ideas or experience in other fields. When faced with a situation with which they are unfamiliar, they think and reflect and ponder, and then they consult and think again interminably. This one’s virtue is, in truth, one’s problem. Because humans are intelligent, they can always find endless rationales that support different courses of action. Because of one’s inability to reach a final decision, opportunity passes by or one delays an enterprise with one’s hesitations for days or years thus sacrificing their benefits for long periods of time.

For example: A person is considering whether to strike up a friendship with someone else so as to study Torah or engage in the Divine service with another. One continues to deliberate and hesitate because of people who obstruct or mock him and, in the meantime, the other person finds someone else. At least [i.e., even if the other person does not find someone else], he will have wasted a year or a month of Torah study. Similarly, one might be presented with the opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah which will benefit the public, but because of one’s procrastination, that mitzvah might be done completely or partially by someone else. This problem relates to both the affairs of Heaven and the affairs of the world.

Rabbi Mendel of Satanov. (1845). Chesbon ha-Nefesh. (D. Landesman, trans.) Feldheim Publishers, New York, 1995. Pages 135-139.

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