The Duties of the Heart
Introduction (Part 1)
Though the thrust of this work will center on the ways our *heart* can best
serve G-d, it would be silly of us to altogether skirt past the mind as if it
hardly mattered. For in fact we’re told that the greatest gift G-d has
granted us beyond mere conscious awareness of things is our ability to reason
and to acquire knowledge. In fact, our mind is termed the “life” of our
spirits and the “light” of our intellects.
Without it we couldn’t hope to succeed on any level in our search for
spiritual excellence, despite our very best and most heart-felt intentions.
But there are many, many things to think about and know. There are things
we’d have to know in order to accomplish everyday sorts of things, other
things to know to accomplish some more exalted things, and yet other things
to know to achieve our *ultimate goal*-- drawing closer to G-d. And it would
do us well to know the difference, and where our priorities are to lie.
So we’re told that the knowledge of more practical things, as well as of even
more exalted things that nonetheless don’t directly touch on our relationship
to G-d are at best secondary to the kind that would draw us closer to Him.
And that the latter sort of reasoning and knowledge only comes to us when we
delve into the kinds of things we’d need to know to comprehend G-d’s Torah.
For while other forms of knowledge and insight certainly make life a lot
easier and help us carry out our G-d-given functions in the world, only the
latter type directly help us achieve our ultimate goal.
As we’ll discover in the course of this work, Ibn Pakudah’s underlying points
will prove to be that the sorts of things we’ll be concentrating on here, in
“The Duties of the Heart”, will indeed either directly or soon-enough help us
in our search for spiritual excellence. And that there are three sorts ofTorah knowledge as well: knowledge of less-essential things like proper
cantillation, grammer, and story-line; knowledge of more exalted things like
the physical mitzvot (“commandments”); and knowledge of ultimate issues, if
you will-- the duties of the heart.
But there’s a hitch. For despite the fact that certain studies directly
nourish our beings and lead head-on to spiritual excellence, we’d
still-and-all have to engage in them for the right reasons to achieve our
We’d need to avoid delving into them for material gain, in order to advance
our “careers”, or to impress others. Our impetus should be achieving
spiritual excellence for its own sake, and thus drawing close to G-d.
After all, we’d be touching upon some of the very secrets of the universe,
and it wouldn’t do to delve into it for selfish, self-serving reasons!
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