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The Duties of the Heart

Gate Five: "Dedicating Our Actions to God"

Chapter 5 (Part 6)

Our last point was that, at bottom, we're very crafty when it comes to deluding ourselves. Especially when it touches on our spiritual achievements. For while there are times when we do indeed reach our potential; become the fuller, deeper, and more G-d-driven people we hope to become; and when we manage in fact to express our soul's longings to be good and noble -- there are other times when those achievements themselves get in the way, or when we get sidetracked.

It might occur to you in the more blessed moments of your Divine service, for example, that you're probably one of the only people in your generation trying to do this at all -- let alone doing it well. After all, you'd reason, who do you know who's dedicating his or her life to drawing close to and serving G-d Almighty the way you are?

Now, that's all for the good, since we should all indeed acknowledge the good we do and the ways we stand out. But then it begins.

It suddenly occurs to you -- in a wily sort of way -- that you should probably be less spiritual and more "real-world". After all, as Ibn Pakudah depicts the inner-dialogue, "other people can help you out (so) ... try to please ... them as much as possible." Which is to say, you'd argue, it would be "wise" to please ... indeed, *serve* ... people, too -- not only G-d!

Understand of course that this would be your yetzer harah speaking. That's not to say that it's wrong to try to please others; after all, our sages taught us that "someone whom others find favor in is also favored by G-d" (Pirke Avot 3:10). But the problem lies in trying to please others by being a hypocrite, by losing your sense of spiritual balance, and by being dazzled by externals, and benumbed to internals (which often happens when we look to others for approval rather than to G-d). For then, rather than associating with people and pleasing them because they, too, have a sacred core and root, you'd be associating with them because they seem to wield ultimate power, when only G-d does.

So while it's indeed a holy thing to be in the world and to touch others' with your goodness and faith, recall that our ultimate goal is to achieve spiritual excellence. And it's G-d and our relationship to Him that serves as the major artery of that system.

It would thus only make sense to determine just how close to G-d we really are, despite our vaunted wishes to be.

Ibn Pakudah's advice for us then is that remind ourselves that no matter how much we do in the service and worship of G-d it would hardly be enough. After all, how much could one mortal do to draw close to Him and to express his or her gratitude for all the good that G-d grants us? That humbling realization will draw us back on course and have us recall just how much further we have to go.

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

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