The Duties of the Heart
Gate Two. "Reflecting Upon Created Things"
Given all it does to foster spiritual excellence, what would ever prevent us
from reflecting upon G-d's presence in the world?
A number of things. First, the mistaken belief we cited earlier that G-d
isn't really in utter command of the universe, and that He "delegates duties"
to lesser but commanding phenomena. The truth is, though, that while G-d
certainly does make use of the superabundance of implements at His disposal,
it's He alone who makes all the decisions. And until we come to know that
deeply in our beings we'll never know Who to thank for all the good.
We already offered three other things that prevent reflection, including our
being too absorbed in the pursuit of pleasure; our growing used to all the
good around us, and taking it for granted; and our not understanding the
ultimate good that suffering renders.
But in addition to those is another one: our out-and-out arrogance and sense
of entitlement in the face of all the good granted us. But as Ibn Pakudah put
it, "only a fool would think he deserves all he has and more; and only a fool
wouldn't reflect on G-d's generosity, or compel himself to praise and
acknowledge Him for them".
So it would do us all well to grow past all that and acknowledge the good G-d
has bestowed on us by dwelling on the signs of Gd's wisdom, seeing new signs
of it each day, and by worshipping Him accordingly.
But make no mistake about it. For as Ibn Pakudah warns us, "all we have
alluded to in this gate is but a fraction of what can be culled from the
mysteries of Gd's wisdom". After all, "what you know about the Creator's
wisdom and abilities in this world is absolutely nothing compared to His
actual wisdom and abilities. For we only see the things we need to know for
our own well-being -- not everything His infinite abilities are capable of
bringing about". We'd thus be wise to take the time to dwell on what we don't
know, too, and to worship and adore G-d on that level as well. The experience
will prove to be stunning.
In fact Ibn Pakudah likens our situation to that of a young man long ago who
was born and raised in a king's palace and knew of nothing else. It seems the
king had taken pity on him from birth and had him treated well and relatively
The palace staff member who regularly brought him all his food, clothes, and
niceties thought at one point that it was time to fill the child in on the
truth of his situation.
"It's important for you to realize that you're a subject of the king, and
that it's he who has been providing you with everything you have," he said.
"It's your responsibility to thank and praise the king!"
The young man thought about that, was humbled, and said in all sincerity, "I
offer praise to the owner of this palace for choosing me as his subject, for
singling me out for all his favors, and for looking after me."
But the man was thunderstruck by the fact that the young man -- not knowing
any better -- referred to the great and mighty king as merely "the owner of
this palace" and he said, "Don't say that! For the king's domain doesn't only
consist of this palace. He has countless others along with vast stretches of
land, and he provides for many, many individuals. All the goodness bestowed
on you is nothing compared to what he's done for others; and his taking
personal notice of your situation is nothing compared to the many, many
others whose situations he's taken notice of."
But, again, having been born and raised in the one palace (and only one wing
of it, at that), the young man didn't know what the older was talking about.
"What should I be saying?" he asked. "Say, 'I offer praise to his Royal
Highness whose rule is boundless, and whose goodness is endless. Now I know
that I am but one of his many subjects, that I am of no consequence, and that
what's been granted me is nothing compared to what the king is capable of
The point is that we, too, would do well to realize how small our purview is,
and how little we actually know of G-d's capabilities and goodness. We should
praise and thank Him for all He has given us -- for what we know of, and
for what we can't even imagine -- and worship Him accordingly. After all, as
Ibn Pakudah points out, consider the awe and respect you have for someone
who's wealthier, and more capable and powerful than you; and how quickly
you'd do whatever he asks of you, simply because he paid attention to you!
Shouldn't we heed G-d's wishes all the more so?
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