Tzemach Tzadik by Rabbi Leone di Modena Chapter 30 Persistence and Perseverance


Back to chapter 29 about arrogance

Translated by Ralph Anzarouth and an anonymous friend

Persistence and perseverance:

Persistence and perseverance in trying circumstances and in all events is called steadiness: it involves always being firm and strong in one own's resolution. This trait is very essential in matters of faith, Torah observance, and authentic values.

However one must be careful not to fall into the trap of intransigence and stubbornness which prevents him from accepting rebuke or the advice of a wise man. As it is commonly quoted from the Scriptures (Proverbs 18, 14): "The stubborn person will fall into evil".

This trait is compared to the one of its kind bird called the Phoenix, which in some opinions is mentioned in the Bible (Job. 29, 18): "Like the Phoenix I will have a long life". According to the fantasy of mythologists, this bird lives for 315 years. When it grows old and is close to exhaustion, it collects branches from dry aromatic trees and makes itself a nest into which it enters, turning its face towards the sun. It then hovers with a great flapping of its wings until the heat of the facing sun ignites the nest. This bird is so tenacious in its resolve that even when it feels the blazing fire it does not budge until it is reduced to ashes, since it knows from its natural instincts that it is destined to renew itself. At the end of nine days it is reborn from the ashes and the remains of its body in the form of a small worm which lives and grows in a natural way until after thirty days it returns to its original form as a bird. There is only one unique specimen of this bird in the whole world.

In addition, the One ruler of the world is strong in His wisdom as it is written (Bamidbar 23, 19): "The Lord is not like a mortal who deceives; And unlike a human, He does not change His mind". It is further written (Psalms 89, 54): "I will not renege my covenant nor will I alter the utterances of my lips".

The holy martyrs, when they stood firm in time of trial and went through fire, water, sword and several others deaths, also possessed this trait and their hearts remained as solid as a rock1. Our Sages of blessed memory have told us about some of them, in particular the Midrash concerning Hannah's seven sons and others. Perhaps King David had this in mind when he said (Psalms 57, 8): "My heart is ready, Lord, my heart is ready; I will sing and praise". In other words, King David said: "I feel my heart ready and steadfast in Your awe; therefore I wonder if there is anything which can turn me away from You". Tullius (Tully) said: "Nothing befits man more than steadiness of purpose". Cato said: "Stick to your opinions insofar as they conform to reality". Somebody else said: "Praise the person who has completed his task and not the person who has just began". Another said: "Many make a start in acquiring virtues; however, only the strong and persevering achieve them."

The Romans wrote that Lycurgus (one of the Greek rulers) ordered and set up for his people laws and codes of behavior which were difficult to comply with. In order to make sure that the people would observe these laws, since they were just for the public welfare, he told them that he would go and pray that it be granted to him to modify them according to their wishes. In the meantime, he requested they swear to conform to these laws until his return. The whole population gave their word. Lycurgus then left then and never returned, so that they would fulfill these laws forever. Before his death he gave order for his body to be burned and his ashes scattered on the sea, so that there would be no way that the people would try to invalidate their oath by bringing his body to the city2.

Notes of the translators:
[1] The original text used the expression "as steady as a building".
[2] Even though the gentile hero of this story apparently seems to do the right thing, we should point out that according to Jewish law it is absolutely forbidden to cremate human bodies.

The whole book Tzemach Tzadik in Hebrew (printed in Rashi characters) can be downloaded in PDF format and read online at Chapter 30 about persistence and perseverance is found at pages 60-61.