The Duties of the Heart
Gate Five: "Dedicating Our Actions to God"
Chapter 5 (Part 7)
The next ruse the yetzer harah tries is to have you take yourself and your
spiritual accomplishments more "seriously". It has you stand back and admire
those achievements, and most especially your trusting in G-d alone (which it
tried to trip you on the last time, but failed). But then it makes another
"It's not right for you to hide your piety from others", it says. "What you
should do," it offers, "is show people what you do and reveal your heart to
them", since you'll gain their respect that way.
Now, ordinarily a person of high spiritual stature wouldn't fall for that.
After all, it smacks of egoism. But the yetzer harah's next trick often does
It suggests that if you let others know how hard you work at your being, that
they'll "learn from your actions". That's an exemplary thing since good
people should serve as role models and be more open and aboveboard than they
often are. But the yetzer harah will also claim that the honor you'd get from
doing that isn't only for others' sake -- it's for your own good as well.
Don't fall for it, Ibn Pakudah warns. It's vitally important to realize a
couple of things. First, that few ever actually benefit from others' respect
(though we pressure ourselves so to achieve it!); and second, that even the
idea of influencing others to grow by your example can backfire if people begin to
consider you a hypocrite (and perhaps for good reasons).
And besides -- a person truly in search of spiritual excellence would only
want to do things for G-d's sake. (We'll get back to this point soon enough.)
Aside from that, even if you were to become famous for your piety, how would
that matter in the end? How long would it last and how far would it go? For as
Ibn Pakudah asks, "what is this world, anyway ... and what, after all, is a
He then counsels that we learn to be stoical about things -- that we come
to the point where "praise and insult one and the same" to us. He depicts
stoicism as "the highest form of piety" which we can certainly
understand. But he likewise terms it "the ultimate pleasure", which is surprising. Because isn't a stoic someone who's never thrown one way or the other by circumstances, and
always stays the course because he's sure of his convictions and is willing to
withstand anything to achieve his goal? Wouldn't he be expected to shun
pleasure -- to say nothing of "the ultimate pleasure"?
But only people like us would think that way, since our definition of
"pleasure" is so earthbound and egoistic. A stoic's sense of "the ultimate
pleasure" would be drawing closer and closer yet to G-d. So if one does that by doing
things for His sake alone (as we depicted it above), and one has to withstand
the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (a la "Hamlet") in order to
achieve that, then it's worth it!
If only you and I would internalize so sublime an attitude ....
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
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