The Duties of the Heart
Introduction (Part 8 - conclusion)
Ibn Pakudah finishes his introduction by detailing the process he used in
writing “The Duties of the Heart”. He first broke the various duties down
into ten major ones, which he presented as “gates” or major sections. He
decided to include the following elements in each gate: a working definition
of each duty, a laying out of its composite parts and implications, and a
listing of the sorts of things that would deter us from being successful at
that duty. And he wrote it all in “straightforward, everyday, and accessible
language that would be (easily) understood.”
The wise reader would use this very same process in his or her own search for
spiritual excellence. After all, it would do us all well to clearly, simply,
and succinctly break our spiritual goals down into categories; to then define
our terms fully, in order to know what we’re actually addressing (and what
not); to lay out the details of what we’re to do; and to consider the day to
day implications of that in our lives.
Ibn Pakudah then explained that he used logic and common sense to explicate
and justify his original thoughts, but that he was sure to “back them up”
with Torah verses and citations from the Talmud that either said outright
what he himself was pointing out or alluded to it.. And he cited the words of
non-Jewish sages as well.
He began by addressing what he depicted as “the greatest and most
fundamental” duty of the heart-- accepting G-d’s Oneness. So he called the
first gate “The Gate of the Wholehearted Acceptance of the Oneness of G-d”.
As we’ll find, though, this gate won’t just touch on accepting the fact that
there’s only one G-d. It will go to great lengths to explain the whole notion
of G-d’s Oneness and Perfection.
He called the second gate “The Gate of Reflection Upon Created Things”
because it concentrates upon catching sight of G-d’s Presence in the world.
The third one became “The Gate of Service to G-d“, and it explains the how
and the wherefores of Divine Service. The fourth is “The Gate of Trust”,
which dwells upon trusting in G-d in our daily lives. The fifth is “The Gate
of Directing Our Actions to G-d's Name”, which delves into the area of
complete and concentrated dedication to His Presence. Sixth is “The Gate of
Surrender” and it offers details on surrendering one’s own wishes and self to
the Divine Presence. Seventh is “The Gate of Repentance” and it details the
process of returning to G-d when we’d turned our backs to Him. Eighth is “The
Gate of Introspection” because it delves into the subject of self-awareness.
Ninth is “The Gate of Abstention” because it lays out the areas in which we’d
do well to practise some form of abstention (though it’s not the Jewish way
to be utterly ascetic, no matter how much one dedicates his life to G-d). And
the tenth and last one is termed “The Gate of the Love of G-d” because it
dwells upon the sublime idea of loving G-d Almighty
Ibn Pakudah then turned to each one of us and said, “as you read my book
brother and abide by it, use it as a reminder; and assess your soul honestly
with it. Read it again and again, draw conclusions from it, and affix it to
your heart and mind.” For after all, this book is a living text-- one that
demands that we take it to heart and incorporate it in our lives and in our
search for spiritual excellence.
He then presented the parable we cited earlier on in this series that touches
upon concentrating on those elements of our Holy Torah that delve into the
duties of the heart most of all. And he concluded his introduction with a
prayer “that G-d teach us how to serve Him”, which should be our heart’s
underlying prayer, too.
Subscribe to Spiritual Excellence and receive the class via e-mail.