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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 Gd 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 Gd, 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 Gd 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 Gd 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 "Gd 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- based mitzvot.

For, "when you try to hurry and earnestly do as much as you can" on your own, Gd eventually "helps you do the things that are beyond your capacity".


Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org


 






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