Gate Nine: "The Gate of Abstinence"
Ch .5 (Part 1)
Let's inject an important note here. We've been advocating for spiritual
excellence throughout this work (throughout the series, in fact) and have
been siding with living a more removed-from-the-everyday, transcendent
sort of life. But sometimes spiritual excellence demands a degree of
spiritual *temperance* as well (rather than lapsing into what some
call "spiritual hedonism")!
That's to say that if we're truly to be spiritually excellent the way
Torah asks us to, then we're to take our cues from Torah-sources rather
than from others that sometimes make untenable demands upon the person in
search of such excellence, asking him or her to abstain from things the
Torah wouldn't want us to. So let's use this seminal chapter of "The
Duties of the Heart" to determine just how far we're to go if we're truly
to live the sort of religiously fulfilled life we're expected to as Jews.
We'll be concentrating on the following three central areas of life where
abstinence comes in: our relations with other people, our relations with
the physical world at large, and our inner-being.
We practice Torah-sanctioned abstinence in our relations with other people
by acquiescing to their needs over our own -- when it's reasonable. We do
that by being courteous and gracious to others, and "greeting them
cordially, and expressing happiness when with them" as Ibn Pakudah puts
it; by being humble, soft–spoken, and unpretentious; by "doing them favors
without thought of reward, and without hope of getting anything in
return"; and by helping "them find favor in G–d's eyes". We're also
expected to "tolerate their coarse language" or mannerisms even when they
go against our grain -- yet we're also advised to "articulate our feelings
about that ... to G–d" (rather than to them) in order to vent our
frustrations perhaps, interestingly enough.
But we're clearly *not* expected to give no thoughts to our own
legitimate, reasonable, and healthy needs in the process. Hence, we're
also advised to keep away from people who live indecent or immoral lives,
for our own spiritual well-being. For while we're to be polite and civil
to everyone we meet, we're still-and-all not expected to go out of our way
to grow close to everyone.