The Duties of the Heart
Gate Five: "Dedicating Our Actions to God"
Chapter 5 (Part 5)
"Nothing good in the world is without its blemishes" we're told, which goes
for our good character traits and deeds as well. And -- unfortunately --
nothing amuses the yetzer harah quite as much as confounding us with
ethical shades of gray. So we're often in a bind about what to do. After
all, what seems to be good might really be bad (and vice versa).
So it's vitally important for us to know ourselves and our motivations, and
to discern when the time is ripe for this ... or for that ... if we're ever
to achieve spiritual excellence. Because "if you're aware of the blemishes
affecting your actions, you'll know how to be on guard against them, while
if you only know of the good, you can't help but lose it" -- that is, you
can't help but lose the opportunity to do the right thing.
For as a pious man once told his disciples, Ibn Pakudah records, "You must
first learn about evil (i.e., the evil within you) to separate yourself
from it. For only then can you learn about the good (within you) and follow
So we're going to be presented with ways to do good things badly, if you
will; and be shown how the yetzer harah tries to persuade us to take
something good that we do and spin it on its axis just a bit until it
Now, the sensitive reader will easily catch sight of his or her own inner
dialogue in the chapters to follow, and will surely blush; while the less
sensitive reader will be quick to deny his or her own chicaneries, and will
in fact pick up a trick or two. So the question might be asked -- why lay
this out in full sight if it could trip up some people?
But as Ibn Pakudah points out, quoting Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, "Woe is
me if I say anything, and woe is me if I say nothing! For if I say
anything, dishonest people will learn how to cheat from it; and if I say
nothing, cheaters will think the sages aren't aware of what they do" (Babba
That's to say that while the bind is real, it has been determined that
revealing the darker side of light is better than keeping us all in the
This series is dedicated to the memory of Yitzchak Hehrsh ben Daniel z"l,
and Sara Rivka bas Yaakov Dovid, z"l.
Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org
Subscribe to Spiritual Excellence and receive the class via e-mail.