The Duties of the Heart
Gate Eight: "The Gate of Introspection"
Ch. 3 (Part 6)
It would also do us well to reflect upon all the potential that G-d has
handed humankind as well as all our failures to achieve that potential,
and to determine where *we ourselves* stand on that line. For G-d has
indeed granted humankind many, many abilities; like the ability to control
our physical circumstances, to study His Torah as well as the mysteries of
His universe outright in order to know Him and His plans for us, to
address Him in prayer, and so much more. But there's no denying the fact
that He's also granted us the ability to plummet downward by disregarding
all that, and worse.
Yet sometimes we become so struck by our own possibilities that we ignore
our flaws and shortcomings -- and we forget G-d's overarching
transcendence in the face of human potential, too. After all, it's we who
need Him; He doesn't need us, no matter what heights we might hit. And so
we're told to "pity the great crown He placed upon us" -- the position G-d
sees us achieving, as well as "the venerable position He has placed us in,
in this world" and "the great reward awaiting us in the world to come",
and to humbly "commit ourselves to Divine service and gratitude" in light
of our failings.
We're then counseled to take all our good fortune to heart. For, all our
personal pain and hardships not withstanding, most of us have been
fortunate enough to have been spared a lot of the terrors and afflictions
that much of the world suffers-- "all the diseases people are prone to, as
well as misfortunes and woe like imprisonment, hunger, thirst, cold, heat,
poisoning, attacks by wild animals, leprosy, insanity, deterioration of
the senses, and the like". And why have we been spared all that? Certainly
not because we manifestly deserve that mercy, but as a direct result of G-
d's love for us.
And we're then told to set aside the time to actively and deeply "reflect
upon how often the Creator has tested humankind ... and has nonetheless
spared us them". Realize that indeed and you'll find yourself being more
grateful all the time for what you have, and you'll hurry to devote
yourself to fulfilling G-d's needs rather than your own.
It would then serve us well to concentrate on how we spend our money, and
on whether we spend it charitably or not. After all, our money isn't
really ours to keep for good; it's more like a "deposit left with us for
as long as G-d wishes it to be, which He'll eventually pass along to
someone else". If we'd only realize that, we're told, we'd be fearless in
the face of the many misfortunes time can come our way, "we'll be grateful
to G–d and praise Him if the money remains with us" after all, and we'll
learn how to "resign ourselves to our fate and to accept G-d's decree if
we lose the money". And as a result, it will be easy for us to use our
money in the service of G–d, to do other good things with it, and to
eventually return it to its rightful Owner.
The next thing to dwell upon is just how much time and energy you expend
in any given day on drawing close to G-d, and on how much you're willing
to enlarge and extend yourself in that area. Are you ready to do more than
you're now accustomed to, or to do it more eagerly and with more alacrity?
Ibn Pakudah even suggests we take it upon ourselves at a certain point
to "do more than (we) seem capable" or comfortable "doing right now". But
how do we ever come to do that? By getting to the point where we "long for
it in our heart, always have it in mind, and where we ask G–d
wholeheartedly and faithfully to help" us in it.
"Persist in that", we're assured, "and G-d will grant you your wishes, and
open up the gates of knowledge of Him". He'll likewise "strengthen your
mind and body, and enable you to fulfill the mitzvot that are now beyond
your reach, step by step".
Ibn Pakudah then offers us a fascinating analogy which we could all draw
invaluable lessons from. After all, he reasons, "when you begin learning a
skill" for example, "you start out doing as much of it as you can then"
and no more, which is far less than you *can* actually do, as you'll
eventually see for yourself. And you then work at it consistently till you
get to the point where you become more and more proficient at it, and G-d
begins to reveal the craft's "underlying principles and rules (to you)",
and you then "start to make assumptions (about what to do and not do in
your projects) that no one had ever taught you" as you move along. Which
is to say, you'd start to engage in a series of inspired tinkerings
without any expectations but with rich rewards.
The same elements are at play when it comes to our Divine service, we're
assured. For the goal is to fully and *skillfully* (to use our analogy)
fulfill the duties of the heart we'd been alluding to all along in this
work, since our "service to G–d depends on (them), and because they're the
very foundation of the Torah". But one only comes to concentrate on the
heart-based mitzvot after having first "distanced himself from most of his
animal desires, controlled his nature", and learned to "keep his movements
in check". The way to do *that*, we're told, is to first concentrate upon
fulfilling the physical mitzvot, which foster that sort of inner fortitude.
Thus, by concentrating on "the physical mitzvot as best you can" with the
same sort of inspired sense of tinkering, if you will, you'll eventually
find that "G–d will open the gate of spiritual progress for you" and that
you'll eventually manage to "achieve more than you'd ordinarily have been
able to, and that you'll (come to) serve G-d *both* bodily and
spiritually, outwardly and inwardly" -- through both physical and heart-
For, "when you try to hurry and earnestly do as much as you can" on your
own, G–d eventually "helps you do the things that are beyond your
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org