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The Duties of the Heart

Gate Eight: "The Gate of Introspection"
Ch. 4

Essential truth is always stunning and usually sudden, and it's also alternatively wonderful or unsettling when it's met head on. So seeing as we'd faced a lot of it in the last chapter, and considering that our discussion has touched on vital things like our raison d'être, our relationship to G-d, and more, our having encountered all that truth is bound to have affected us deeply. Ibn Pakudah's promise to us is that the encounter will prove to be positively life-altering and enlightening in the end if we take what we learned to heart.

Concentrate upon these thirty instances of introspection in the spirit in which we're asked to, and "an exquisite and lofty change will come about from within" he assures us. For one thing, all the "ambiguities of ignorance" and the "darkness of doubt" -- all the apprehensions and qualms that riddle our souls when we don't know what life is about -- will be gone. Because the rock-bottom truths of life will have been established in our souls, which will help us understand so much.

Reflect whole–heartedly and devoutly on what we'd come upon, we're assured, "and you'll find your way to the higher planes, and your yetzer harah will be unable to reach or beguile you". You'll come to be "one of G– d's treasured ones", and "a curious celestial capacity never before known to you will overcome you". Not only that, but "you'll come to comprehend great things and unravel profound mysteries ... and you'll never be without joy in this world and the next".

And he then draws a tantalizing analogy to what would be required of us as well as what we could expect. He asks us to imagine we were "standing someplace, when suddenly above you to the side, stood an object you couldn't see. Imagine (as well that) someone were to tell you that if you were to make a metal plate, buff it until it was no longer dull, polish it for a long time with a lot of ointment, then place it in front of your face that you'd be able to see the object above you whose shape you can't now make out, and that you could then delight in its pleasant reflection".

What is the mysterious object standing off to the side we'd have now come to see? It's "the Creator's wisdom and abilities, and the beauty of the supernal world whose form and make-up are usually hidden from us". The lense we'd produced stands for "the human soul", the buffing and polishing processes represent "involvement in logic– and Torah–based wisdom and ethics", and the ointments used are "the thirty instances of introspection" we'd presented.

His point is that the only way to actually catch sight of G-d's ways in the world and beyond is to "buff", or refine and hone, your being by delving into G-dly wisdom, ethics, and into the thirty instances of introspection at great length.

"Affix those instances of introspection to your heart and go over them in your mind" Ibn Pakudah concludes, "and your soul will become pure, your mind enlightened, and you'll come to see everything that was ever hidden from you, and the true form of things. The gate to elevation will be opened to you, the curtain between you and the wisdom of the Creator will be drawn from your eyes, and G–d will instruct you in transcendental wisdom". And in the end, we're informed, "the spirit of G–d will rest upon (you), the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of insight and the fear of G–d" (Isaiah 11:2).

Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and



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