In The Pacific, Mark Helprin reaffirms his place as our most elegant moralist. Set in Italy, France, Israel, California, and New York during times of war and peace, these 16 stories feature mostly self-made men who are builders, soldiers, seekers, and without knowing it, experts on the ineffable. In ''Il Colore Ritrovato,'' an aged Italian opera impresario spares a gifted young diva from a life poisoned by fame, and in the aptly titled ''Perfection,'' a Hasidic student living in 1950s Brooklyn embarks on a divine quest to ''the House of Ruth'' to lend aid to the failing ''Yenkiss.'' Helprin's range is staggering, but no more so than the convincing, unsentimental case he makes for the importance of honor. Even in this day and age.