Gate Eight: "The Gate of Introspection"
Ch. 3 (Part 8)
Then we're to dwell on how often we lay all our hopes and dreams on the
few, lean years we're given in this world rather than on the eternity that
can be ours. "Try to extract the love of this world from your heart" we're
advised, "and replace it with a love of the world to come". For not a
single one of us can love both life in the here-and-now and life in
Heaven's bosom. But that's not to say that we're to abandon the here-and-
now entirely, G-d forbid, as we'll see.
The best way to live, we're taught, is to discipline our drives, use our
faculties to concentrate on G-d's Torah, and reject the raw and brutish.
Yet we're also to enjoy "healthful, appetizing foods and drinks, ... and
(to) be sensitive to what's good for us and what we need". For the point
needs to be made (again and again) that we're not to abandon the physical
or to despise it -- just to not spoil our bodies silly. And to balance the
body's appetites with the soul's.
For "if you mean to improve your body by paying attention to it alone,
you're bound to overlook the betterment of your soul; while if you mean to
keep your soul alive by paying attention to *it* alone, then you're bound
to overlook your body's needs". So, "pay attention and be sensitive to the
body and don't neglect what's important for it", but provide your soul
with the nourishment it needs, too.
We're then asked to dwell on how seriously we take the fact that we stand
in G-d's presence all the time. After all, we tend to disregard Him
despite His supreme sovereignty, while we'd never disregard a powerful and
prestigious mortal we were standing in front of. But our values are
skewed, for what person with any wisdom whatsoever doesn't "realize how
unable a king (or anyone else of authority and power) is to fully enforce
his decrees, how slow he is to recompense, how remote he is from (his
charges), how unable he is to notice them and how thoroughly preoccupied
he is with his own affairs to care about them?" unlike G-d who's
omnipotent, just, immanent, omnipresent, and compassionate.
So, Ibn Pakudah challenges us to truly become aware of G-d's presence in
our lives. After all, "how long can a person rebel against Him" by
avoiding Him, "when he knows that G-d is watching over ... him, outside
Now touching on a subject most of us don't really bear well, Ibn Pakudah
then suggests we reflect upon how we contend with trials and tribulations.
And he suggests that we somehow learn to "happily accept things as being
from G–d, and (to) resign ourselves willingly to G–d's judgment" rather
than resent them. But he then offers that we're also only to "resign
ourselves to things *when it's appropriate to*", which is surprising,
since we'd have expected him to say that we're to resign ourselves to
*every* circumstance. So, let's explore his point here.
He contends that there are different sorts of resignation to sad
circumstances, and that it's important to know the difference. For there
are instances in which we draw closer to G-d by submitting ourselves to
those sorts of sad circumstances, and others in which we draw *away* from
Him by doing that.
For sometimes we suffer as a consequence of our misdeeds. And if we simply
resign ourselves to *those* sorts of trials and tribulations, then we're
bound to draw away from G-d. After all, if we're comfortable with what
goes wrong with us because we've strayed from G-d, we're hardly likely to
do what it takes to draw close to Him.
Yet other times we suffer in order to be challenged to grow (since pain
either toughens and strengthens or it wears-down and weakens, depending on
your reaction to it). If we *honestly* determine that that's why we're
suffering rather than for our misdeeds (which calls for a lot of
introspection), then we're advised to indeed resign to that reality. Since
both the transcendence we'd have achieved and our resignation to G-d's
will itself will elevate us in the end.