The Duties of the Heart
Gate Five: "Dedicating Our Actions to God"
Chapter 5 (Part 4)
It's common-enough, but most of us are dumbstruck by it nonetheless: the
sight of a doctor smoking. The usual reaction is to wonder at the outright
inanity of it. But the truth is that not a single one of us isn't just as
foolish in our own way.
Yet that doctor and we often rationalize our absurdities with statements
like, "What can I do? My head knows ... but my heart just won't accept it".
So it's vitally important to be aware of the conflict between mind and
heart, and reason and feelings, which is the realm within which our better
self battles our yetzer harah.
But it's a fact of life that holds true in all spheres that there's always
"another side to the story". For sometimes reason is misleading -- or even
detrimental. After all, as Ibn Pakudah notes, reason "can either cure any
disease if applied to correctly, or can itself be an all-encompassing,
incurable disease". So we'd need to explore another cunning and unexpected
ruse of the yetzer harah: its prodding us to depend on reason alone.
That most especially holds true when reason stands in audacious opposition
to revelation, and to the sort of knowledge that transcends reason and logic.
It's fundamental to our faith that G-d revealed His will (the Torah) to
Moses and some two to three million of our ancestors in the Sinai Desert;
and that He also revealed the immortal spiritual tenets that underlie them.
Yet logic (actually misperception, prejudice, and illogic, in this case)
often argues against the Torah.
As such, some of its tenets have been deemed "acceptable" and "reasonable"
at one point in time, and "objectionable" and "unreasonable" at another.
The Torah was once considered far too liberal in regard to women, for
example, when it came to certain familial rights and privileges in the
past, while it's now seen as conservative. The whole idea of a full day of
leisure each week -- the Shabbat -- was once anathema, but it's now a
universal ideal. The fact that the Torah banned human sacrifice and temple
prostitution was seen as sacriligious by ancient religious thinkers,
though both practices are considered repulsive now, and on and on.
"So for your own sake," Ibn Pakudah warns us "be careful not to forsake the
ways of your forefathers ... by relying on reason alone, by taking your own
advice and reaching your own conclusions".
The point is we're never to imagine that we ourselves have a truer grasp on
reality than our sages did, for "has anything ever occurred to you that
didn't already occur to them?" And while they were wise and far-sighted,
we're often more myopic than we like to think.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Yitzchak Hehrsh ben Daniel z"l,
and Sara Rivka bas Yaakov Dovid, z"l.
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