The Duties of the Heart
Gate Three: "Serving G-d"
Since we addressed the profound notion of free will last time, let's go
deeper yet now and delve into the stuff we're made of, and the meaning of our
lives. Now, whole books can be culled from the rich mine of wisdom Ibn
Pakudah provides us with in this chapter (like so many others). So take heart
if you find yourself dazzled and a little overwhelmed. The best advice we'd
offer would be to reread it from time to time and to savor its delights again
The truth of the matter, as Ibn Pakudah puts it, is that we're strangers
passing through this world, and native to the far-off, unearthly world we
originated from. (In fact, it would do us well to see things in that light in
our travails, and to keep "home" in mind when we interact with others, plan
for the future, try to maintain our bearings and try keep a perspective on
things, and when we set our goals.) And it would only be expected of us to
love the world we find ourselves in now, yet long for home.
We're said to have been created out of the same "nothingness" -- the same
etheric, diaphanous, and abstruse stuff -- the angels were created out of.
And we were chosen to have the wherewithal to draw close to G-d.
But we'd have to accomplish three things in our lives if we're ever to
achieve that great goal. In Ibn Pakudah's words, we'd have to "remove the
veil of foolishness" surrounding us (which the sensitive, honest soul knows
of only too well); to "pass tests set up to determine whether we'll serve G-d
or not"; and we'd have to endure some hardships that will be sent to test our
spiritual mettle in order "to determine whether or not we can serve G-d" in
the depths of our beings and thus achieve the level of those exalted souls
who'd undergone all that before and passed.
We're depicted as having been granted five "gates" through which the world
outside must pass in order to reach our inner beings: our eyes, ears, nose,
tongue and hands -- each with its own "gatekeeper" of sight, hearing, smell,
taste and touch. (Indeed, without them we'd be without access to anything
outside of ourselves, and could neither grow in our beings nor delight in
The "palace" that is our body is said to have been granted various body-part
"administrators" and "functionaries"; our minds are said to have been granted
two opposing "advisors" -- reason vs. enticement -- which are both free to
express their opinions, and that we've also been assigned "scribes" that
maintain "records" of everything we do, deep in our beings.
We're comprised of a slew of emotional "employees" and "attendants" that
make-up our inner lives, including "happiness and worry, gladness and sorrow,
memory and forgetfulness, wisdom and ignorance, strength and timidity,
generosity and selfishness, righteousness and wrongfulness, bashfulness and
brazenness, hope and fear, love and hate, pleasure and pain, arrogance and
modesty, control and acquiescence" which we can channel in any direction we'd
like, but which it would be wise to use in the pursuit of spiritual
Given all that we have within us and given the great wealth all around us,
we're warned not to be "bewitched" by the more frivolous things of the world.
Ibn Pakudah likens them to "the afterbirth to a newborn, or an eggshell to a
chick", in that they're far from essential, and they serve a limited purpose
after which they're superfluous. We're advised to make use of the better of
our two "advisors" -- reason -- when it comes to these things, to make the
service of G-d our prime motivation and to repent when we go off the mark,
and we'll indeed achieve spiritual excellence.
Do that, we're told, and "when your days of trial and tribulation in this
world are over, the Creator will command all the aforementioned gates,
gatekeepers, servants and employees to leave you, and all the bonds and
affiliations between your self and your body will be undone. You'll then
return to your original state of being", which is to say, you'll go home
again in good standing.
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