The Duties of the Heart
Gate Three: "Serving G-d"
Where do we go from here, knowing how manifest G-d's presence is and how much
of His bounty we enjoy? This third gate will explain a number of things
touching on that. And along the way it will also take lengthy forays into the
endlessly fascinating subjects of just what we do on our own as free agents
and what we're compelled to do; the meaning of our lives; how we're to
channel our personality traits, and much more.
As to where we go from here, we'll find that if we're indeed in search of
spiritual excellence (which is our underlying premise after all), then we
should be moved to serve and worship G-d in light of His presence and
goodness. After all, it's only natural that someone who's been helped by
someone else would only want to "return the favor". When it comes to G-d we
refer to doing that as "serving" Him. At bottom, though, what serving G-d
implies is doing whatever it takes to draw close to Him.
So let's start off by delineating the many ways people help others, and the
obligations their beneficiaries have to return the favor. For by doing that
we'll be able to infer ways to serve G-d.
The truth be known -- though we deny it and take this to be a rather cynical
and skewed view of things -- we mostly have ulterior, self-serving motives
for doing others favors. There's no denying the good and great things that
many people do selflessly, but let this basic and honest assumption form the
backdrop to what we have to say here. (The sensitive soul couldn't help but
recognize how true it is, in fact, albeit embarrassing.)
We'll begin by taking note of the many favors parents do for their children
(though we don't usually think of them as "favors"). The truth be known,
though, parents do much of what they do because their children represent the
parents themselves and their personal hopes, and because human nature
dictates that parents give to and protect children. Yet both the Torah and
common sense oblige us to serve, honor and revere our parents.
Consider now all the favors employers do for their employees -- how they
grant them salaries, offer them benefits, provide them with a sense of
security, etc. Yet as everyone knows, employers do that for the most part to
protect their own interests and for other self-serving reasons. Yet it's
incumbent upon us be honest and earnest at our jobs, and to be grateful to
We could then dwell on the way people contribute to the poor. In fact that's
often done for the sake of a Heavenly reward. As such, the contributors can
be seen to merely be investing a little money in a project that will surely
pay off grandly in the end. Still-and-all, though, their beneficiaries are
obliged to be grateful.
How about the favors we do friends and relatives? Aren't so many of them
laden with expectations of "returns on an investment"-- though this-worldly
ones -- too? Don't we expect gratitude, respect, and favors-in-kind? Couldn't
we be said to be merely "loaning" something we fully expect to get back, in a
sense? Yet none of us would dare not express thanks for favors done us, which
is the least we could do.
Consider the compassion and empathy many kind souls express to the needy and
troubled. Isn't much of that offered just to assuage their *own* pain and
anguish at having to see others in pain? And yet such people are to be
admired and praised.
"So it's clear in light of all of the above," writes Ibn Pakudah, "that
everyone who acts kindly to another does so essentially for selfish reasons".
And yet it's true that we're obliged and expected to offer "love, reverential
praise, and thanks" to them when we're favored by them.
"Consider then the magnitude of our obligation to serve, praise, and thank
*the Creator of kindness itself*" he goes on to say. To revere and thus
worship "*the Creator of people who act kindly*, whose own goodness is
infinite, constant, unending, and is offered for no selfish reason whatsoever
or in order to avoid harm". After all, what does G-d need that we could ever
provide, and who could harm Him? Hence we'd do well to realize that whatever
He grants us "is a gift outright and a personal favor".
We're thus commended to "reflect on G-d's greatness, capabilities, wisdom,
and abundance" in the face of our own human weakness and faults; to "discern
all the good and kind things G-d has done for us"; and to "serve, revere,
praise, acknowledge and constantly glorify G-d" in utter gratitude as a
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