The Duties of the Heart
Introduction (Part 5)
Ibn Pakudah introduced a second theme last week, aside from the original one,
which was why heart-based mitzvot weren’t explored in the past. And that
second theme touches upon the question of whether it’s wiser to explain
certain more “abstract” articles of the faith (that don’t touch upon actual
practise, i.e., “halacha”) *on our own*, or whether it’s better to depend
entirely upon the explanations we’ve inherited.
And he remarked that while some of his contemporaries thought it best to
simply draw and rely upon our spiritual heritage when it came to such things,
Ibn Pakudah himself thought we were *obliged* to delve into them on our own--
if we have the acuity needed.
In fact, he likened anyone who’s able to delve into those things on his own
but doesn’t to the poor servant of the king who was charged with shirking his
It seems there had once been a rather intelligent and capable servant of a
great king who was ordered to handle a very special assignment. He was to
collect all the taxes from the people, to categorize the funds he received,
and to allot whatever was needed for each purpose.
The servant was rather lazy or perhaps naive, though. And he let the people
convince him to take their word for what they’d paid out, and to allow them
to decide which causes they were to set aside for. The king found out soon
enough, and he ordered the servant to come before him.
“How much did you collect, and what did you allot it for?” asked the king.
The servant was dumbfounded and couldn’t say a thing. After all, he simply
didn’t know. And he was arrested. Not for embezzlement so much as of
dereliction of duty. After all, all he did wrong was to allow others to do
his work for him, when he was perfectly capable of doing it on his own.
“The same goes for you” charges our author. ”If you’re knowledgeable and
clever enough, and you’re capable of understanding what you’ve been taught”
already by our great sages, who explicated the more abstract fundamentals of
our faith-- “you’re obliged to make use of all of that to draw conclusions on
His point is clear, though, that you have to *know* what the sages passed
down to us in the form of the electric, light-studded, coalesced doctrine we
have. And only then can you-- and *must* you-- “put two and two together” and
offer cogent insights of your own. Again, though, this doesn’t touch on
practical halacha so much as on the haunting abstract ideas the tradition
As the Torah puts it, "Should something too enigmatic for you to judge occur
in differing bloods, laws, plagues...” which is to say, when it comes to
practise and halacha, you’re obliged to act “according to how you are
instructed" (Deuteronomy 17:8-10) without recourse to novel interpretation or
The implication though according to Ibn Pakudah is that when it comes to
things like “the nature of Gd's Oneness, about His various names and
characteristics, about a particular principle of the faith like serving G-d,
trusting Him, surrendering to Him, dedicating your deeds to His name, ridding
your good deeds of untoward influences, repenting, fearing Him, loving Him,
being abashed in His presence, being introspective for the sake of His name,”
and so on, that you’re to delve into these matters in light of the
traditions, but on your own.
It’s important to underscore the point, though, that study of the tradition
would naturally come first. Otherwise your conclusions would be purely
personal and conjectural. But that the person who can arrive at clear,
logical conclusions after having seeped himself in the Tradition “should
delve into the matter on his own as deeply as possible, and arrive at as many
proofs (i.e., of the underlying veracity of the tradition) as he possibly
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