Blessed be the L-ord, G-d of Israel, to Whom true Unity can be fittingly ascribed, whose existence is Eternal, whose beneficence is unceasing, who created all that is found as a sign of His Unity, who formed beings to serve as witnesses of His power and brought new things into existence to testify to His wisdom and great benevolence, as written "one generation shall praise your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts" (Ps. 145:4), and "all Your works shall give thanks to You, O L-ord; and Your saints shall bless You; they shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, and talk of Your power; To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, etc" (Ps.145:10-12).
The greatest gift which the Creator bestowed on His servants, human beings, after bringing them out to full perception and complete (mature) understanding - is wisdom, which is the life of their spirit and the candle of their intellect; It brings them to the favor of G-d and saves them from His wrath in this world and the next, as Scripture says "for the L-ord gives wisdom: out of His mouth comes knowledge and understanding" (Prov.2:6); And Elihu said: "but there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty that gives them understanding" (Job 32:8); And Daniel said: "He gives wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding" (Daniel 2:21), and "I am the L-ord your G-d who teaches you for your benefit, who leads you by the way that you should go" (Isaiah 48:17).
Wisdom falls into three divisions:
The first division is the science of nature, called in Arabic, "Al-Ilm al-tibi". This branch of knowledge deals with the essential and incidental properties of material bodies.
The second division consists of the practical sciences, called in Arabic, "Al-Ilm al-riazi". These comprise arithmetic, engineering, astronomy, and music.
The third division, called in Arabic, "Al-Ilm al-ilahi". is the science of theology, which deals with the knowledge of G-d, knowledge of His torah, and other [spiritual] things, such as the soul, the intellect, and spiritual beings.
All these divisions of wisdom, and their respective branches, are gates which the Creator has opened for men through which they may attain [a comprehension] of religion and of the world. Only that some sciences are more needed for religious matters while others are more needed for secular interests.
The sciences whose use is closest to worldly matters is the science of nature, which is the lowest science and the practical science, which is second. These two sciences instruct on all the secrets of the physical world, its uses and benefits, its industries and trades and is conducive to physical and material well-being.
The science which is most needed for religion is the highest science - Theology. We are under duty to study it in order to understand and obtain a knowledge of our religion. But to study it in order to attain worldly benefits is forbidden. Our teachers said (Nedarim 62a): "[expounding the verse:] 'to love the L-rd your G-d, to hearken to His voice, and to cleave to Him' [This means] that one should not say, 'I will read Scripture that I may be called a scholar.' I will study [mishna], that I may be called Rabbi, I will study [Talmud], to be an Elder, and sit in the assembly [of elders]; but learn out of love, and honor will come in the end.". And "Do [good] deeds for the sake of their Maker, and speak of them [words of torah] for their own sake. Make not of them a crown wherewith to magnify yourself, nor a spade to dig with" (ibid). And "'Fortunate is the man that fears the L-ord, that delights greatly in His commandments' (Ps. 112:1), R. Eleazar expounds thus: 'In His commandments' but not in the reward of His commandments. This is just what we have learnt. 'He used to say, Be not like servants who serve the master on the condition of receiving a reward; but be like servants who serve the master without the condition of receiving a reward.'" (Avodah Zara 19a).
The avenues which the Creator has opened for the knowledge of His law and religion are three:
The first is a [sound] intellect which is free of any damage.
The second, the book of His law revealed to Moses His prophet.
The third, the tradition which we have received from our ancient Sages who in turn received them from the prophets, peace be unto them. The great Rabbi Saadia of blessed memory already discussed on this avenue to a sufficient extent.
Furthermore, the science of the Torah falls into two divisions:
The first aims at the knowledge of the duties of the limbs (practical duties) and is the science of external conducts.
The second deals with the duties of the heart, namely, its sentiments and thoughts, and is the science of the inner life.
The duties of the limbs likewise fall into two divisions.
The first consists of precepts which reason would have dictated even if the torah had not made them obligatory.
The second, precepts received on the authority of Revelation which reason neither obligates nor rejects such as the prohibition of milk with meat, shaatnez (garments woven of wool and flax), kilaim (sowing diverse seeds together), and similar precepts whose reason for being prohibited or obligatory is unknown to us.
The duties of the heart, however, are all rooted in rational principles, as I will explain with G-d's help.
All the precepts are either positive commandments or negative commandments. We do not need to explain this for the duties of the limbs because these are universally known. I will, however, with G-d's help, mention of the positive and negative commandments of the duties of the heart to serve as examples of those not cited.
Among the positive commandments of the duties of the heart: to believe that the world has a Creator who created it from naught, that there is none like Him, that we acknowledge His Unity, that we serve Him in our hearts, that we reflect on the wonders of His works, that these may serve as evidences of Him, that we place our trust in Him, that we humble ourselves before Him, that we revere Him, that we fear and feel abashed when we consider that He observes our outer and inner being, that we long to do His will, that we devote our acts to His Name, that we love Him and those that love Him in order to come close to Him, that we hate His enemies, and similar duties which are not visible by the senses.
Negative commandments of the duties of the heart are the converse of those just mentioned. Also included among them: to not covet, avenge, nor bear a grudge; as written "you shall not avenge nor bear a grudge" (Levit. 19:18).
Among them, that our minds not muse on [doing] transgressions, nor desire them, nor resolve to do them and other similar things which are hidden in a man and observed by none but the Creator, as written "I the L-ord search the heart, I test the mind" (Jer. 17:10) and "the candle of G-d is the spirit of man, searching all the inner depths of the heart" (Prov. 20:27).
As the science of the torah deals with two parts, external and inward commandments, I studied the books of our predecessors who lived after the [compilers of the] Talmud. They composed many works dealing with the precepts. In the expectation of learning from them the science of inward religion, I found, however, that all that they intended to explain and clarify fall into three categories:
The first, to explain the Torah and the books of the prophets, and this is in one of two ways, either explaining the words and subject matter, as did Rabeinu Saadya, of blessed memory, in his commentaries of most of the books on Scripture. Or to explain the language and grammar, grammatical forms and usages in all their varieties, as well as paying heed to accuracy of the text, like the books of Ibn Ganach, the Massorites, and their school.
The second, to compile the explanation of the commandments into summary form, such as the work of Rav Chefetz ben Yatzliach of blessed memory. Or of only the commandments which apply today such as Halachot Pesukot, Halachot Gedolot, and similar collections; or of special topics as the Geonim did in their Responsa on practical duties and in their decisions.
The third, to confirm our faith in the matters of torah in our hearts through logical proofs and refutation of heretics like the book of Emunot (of Rabbi Saadia), the Sharashei Hadat, the Sefer Mekametz and similar works.
I examined these writings but failed to find among them a book specially devoted to the inner wisdom. I found that this wisdom, which is the duties of the heart, had been entirely neglected. No work had been composed, systematically explaining its roots and branches.
I greatly wondered about this, and thought to myself, perhaps this class of duties is not obligatory from the torah but is only an ethical obligation the aim of which is to teach us the proper and just way. Possibly it belongs to the class of extra practices that are optional, for which we will not be held accountable for them nor will we be punished for neglecting them. And therefore, our predecessors omitted to write a special book on them. I investigated the Duties of the Heart from Reason, Scripture, and Tradition (talmud,midrash,etc.) to inquire whether or not they are obligatory and found that they form the foundation of all the precepts, and that if there is any deficiency in their observance, no external duties whatsoever can be properly fulfilled.
First the arguments from Reason. It is already familiar that man consists of body and soul. Both are among the benefits G-d has bestowed on us. One of these elements of our being is visible and the other is invisible. Therefore, we are accordingly under duty to render the Creator visible and invisible service. The outward service is the observance of the duties of the limbs such as praying, fasting, giving charity, learning the torah and teaching it, making a Sukka, waving a willow branch (on the festival of Sukkot), Tzitzit, Mezuza, Maake, and similar precepts whose performance is completed by the physical limbs.
Inward service, however, consists of the fulfillment of the Duties of the Heart such as: to acknowledge the Unity of G-d in our hearts, believe in Him and His torah, to undertake His service, that we revere Him and humble ourselves before Him, that we love Him, trust in Him, and give over our lives to Him, that we abstain from what He hates, devote our actions to His Name, that we reflect on the benefits He bestows, and similar things which are performed by the thoughts and sentiments of the heart but do not associate with activity of the visible limbs of the body.
I am certain that [even] the duties of the limbs cannot be performed properly unless they are accompanied by will of the heart, longing of the soul to do them, and desire of the heart to perform them. If it should enter our mind that we are under no obligation to choose the service of G-d and to yearn for it, then we would be exempt from the duties of the limbs for no act can be complete without the agreement of the soul. And since it is clear that the Creator has put us under obligation to perform the duties of the limbs, it would not be reasonable for us to suppose that our soul and heart, the choicest parts of our beings, should have been exempted from serving Him according to the extent of their ability, because their cooperation is required for the complete service of G-d. Therefore, it is clear that we are under obligation to perform outward and inner duties so that our service to the blessed Creator will be whole and complete, including both our inner and outer being.
After their obligation has become clear to me from the grounds of Reason, I said to myself "perhaps this matter is not written in the torah, therefore they refrained from writing a book which instructs on it and demonstrates it."
But when I searched in the torah, I found that it is mentioned frequently. For example (Deut. 6:5-6): "you shall love the L-ord your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might; And these words, which I command you this day, shall be on your heart", and "so that you may love the L-ord your G-d, and that you may hearken to His voice, and that you may cling to Him" (Deut. 30:20), and "to love the L-ord your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 11:13), and "You shall walk after the L-ord your G-d and fear Him" (Deut. 13:5), and "you shall love your fellow as yourself" (Levit.19:18), and "now, Israel, what does the L-ord your G-d ask of you, but to fear the L-ord your G-d" (Deut. 10:12), and "Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deut. 10:19). And reverence for G-d and love for Him are among the duties of the heart.
Regarding the negative commandments [of the duties of the heart], the torah wrote: "nor shall you covet etc" (Deut. 5:18), "You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge" (Levit. 19:18), "You shall not hate your fellow in your heart" (Levit. 19:17), "and so that you do not seek after your own heart and your own eyes" (Numbers 15:39), "you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor fellow" (Deut. 15:7), and many other similar passages.
Afterwards, the Torah reduced all [religious] service to the service of the heart and tongue in saying "For this commandment which I command you today is not hidden from you, neither is it far off; It is not in Heaven...But the matter is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it" (Deut.30:11). And in the other books of the prophets, they spoke extensively on the matter and mentioned it in several places. I do not need to mention them because they are numerous and well-known.
After it had become clear to me that the duties of the heart are obligatory from the Torah and from reason, I searched the matter in the writings of our Sages. I found it to be even more explicit in their words than what is explained in the Torah and derived from reason. Some of them are stated as general principles such as "G-d wants the heart" (Sanhedrin 106b), and "the heart and the eyes are the two agents of sin" (Yerushalmi Berachos 1:5). Some of them in Tractate Avos, which there is no need to elaborate. I also found many in their traits and habits when they were asked about them as written regarding "to what do you attribute your long life?" (Megila 27b).
I found in the Torah regarding one who kills someone unintentionally, no capital punishment is incurred. Likewise, one who performs a sin unintentionally which if intentional would incur either capital punishment or the penalty of Karet (excision), the person had only to bring for them a sin-offering or an asham offering. All this is a clear proof that the essential condition of liability for punishment is the association of mind and body in a forbidden act, the mind by its intention, and the body by its movement.
So too our wise men said: "whoever performs a religious duty but did not intend to do it for the sake of G-d - he will not receive reward for it."
And since the hinge and pillar of all deeds rests on the foundation of intention and hidden sentiment of the heart, a system of the duties of the heart should precede, by nature, a system of the duties of the limbs.
After it had become clear to me through Reason, Scripture, and Tradition that the inner science is indeed an obligation, I said to myself, "perhaps this class of commandments are not obligatory at all times and at all places, similar to shmita, yovel (jubilee year), and [temple] offerings".
But when I delved deeper into the subject, I found that we are obligated in them constantly, without pause, throughout our lives, and that we have no claim (excuse) whatsoever for neglecting them. This applies to such duties, for example, as acknowledging the Unity of G-d in our hearts, to serve Him inwardly, to revere Him and to love Him, to yearn to fulfill the commandments obligatory upon us, as Scripture says "O my hope is that my ways are directed to observe Your statutes" (Ps. 119:5); to trust in Him and surrender ourselves to Him, as written "trust in Him at all times, pour out your heart before Him" (Ps.62:9); to remove hatred and jealousy from our hearts, to separate from the superfluous worldly matters which preoccupy us away from the service of G-d - we are under constant duty in all of these things, at all times and in all places, every hour, every second, and under all circumstances, as long as we have life and reason.
The analogy of this is to a slave whose master charged him with two jobs. One in the house and the other in the field. The latter consisted of cultivating the ground and its care at definite periods and times. When those times are past or if he is unable to work there due to some thing which impedes him, he is then to be relieved of his responsibility for the work in the field. But he is never exempt for the work which he is commanded to do in the house, provided there is no impediment or other matter he must tend to. Hence, he is constantly charged to work the house when he is free to do so.
Such too is the case for the duties of the heart which are always binding upon us. We have no excuse for their neglect, and there is nothing which impedes us in their fulfillment, except for love of this world, and lack of understanding in regard to our Creator, as written "they do not consider the work of G-d" (Isaiah 5:12).
I said to myself, "perhaps this class of commandments does not branch out to many commandments. Therefore, they abandoned them and did not compose a book specially devoted to them".
But when I investigated, on their number and derivatives, I found their derivatives to be exceedingly numerous until I thought that what David, peace be unto him, said "I have seen a limit to all perfection, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad" (Ps. 119:96) was referring to the Duties of the Heart. Because, the Duties of the Limbs are a known number, namely, 613. But the Duties of the Heart are exceedingly numerous until their derivative branches are countless.
I further said: "perhaps they are so clear and familiar to everyone, and every person clings to them that a book on the subject is unnecessary". When, however, I studied the conduct of human beings throughout the ages as recorded in books, I found that they are far from [the knowledge or practice of] this class of commandments, with the exception of some zealous individuals, special elect of them, according to what is recorded about them. But as for the rest, how much were they so in need of exhortation and instruction! And all the more so, for most of the people in our generation, who neglect even the commandments of the limbs, not to mention the commandments of the heart. And if any one of them is roused to devote himself to the study of the Torah, his motive in this is to be called a "wise man" by the masses, and to gain for himself a name among the great. And thus he strays from the way of the Torah to things which will neither aid him in ascending spiritually, nor save him from spiritually stumbling. And he studies unnecessary things the ignorance of which he would not be punished for, while he omits to investigate the roots of the religion and the foundations of the Torah, which he should not have ignored nor neglected and without the knowledge and practice of which, no commandment can be properly fulfilled. For example, regarding acknowledging the Unity of G-d, (the question arises) whether we are under duty to examine this by the light of reason or whether it is sufficient if we accept it by tradition alone, namely, that we declare like the simpleton and the fool that "G-d is One" without argument or proof. Or, if we are under duty to investigate through rational inquiry the distinction between true Unity versus relative unity, so as to distinguish [the Unity of G-d] from other existing unities which we call "one".
Of this the believer is not permitted by our religion to remain in ignorance, for the Torah exhorts us on this in saying "Therefore, know this day and consider within your heart, that the L-ord is G-d in Heaven above and on the earth below. There is none other" (Deut. 4:39).
The same is the case for other commandments of the heart which we have mentioned already or will mention. The believer's faith will not be complete until he knows these duties and practices them. They are the inner science, the light of the heart, and the shining of the soul. On this Scripture says: "Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts; make me, therefore, to know wisdom in mine inmost heart" (Ps. 51:8).
It is said of a Sage who would pass the first half of the day in the company of other people. But when he was alone, he would call out "O for hidden light", by which he referred to duties of the heart.
One of the wise men was consulted regarding a strange case on the laws of divorce. He replied to the inquirer: "you are asking on what will not harm you if you do not know it. Do you already know all that you are under duty to know of the commandments, and that you are not allowed to neglect, and that you should not be negligent of, that you turn to speculate on remote questions which will not avail you of any advancement, nor fix any crookedness in your soul. Behold, I swear, it has been 35 years that I have occupied myself with what is essential to the knowledge and practice of the duties of my religion. You are aware of my great in-depth study and the great library of books I possess. And yet, I have never turned my mind to the matter to which you have directed your attention and about which you inquire." And he continued to rebuke and shame him concerning the matter.
Another Sage said "I learned to purify my deeds for 25 years."
A third Sage said "there is wisdom which lies hidden in the hearts of the wise, like secret treasure. If they conceal it, man cannot discover it. If they reveal it, man cannot deny the correctness of their words regarding it. And this is as Scripture says "wisdom in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out" (Prov. 20:5), i.e. wisdom is innate in a man's being, in his nature and faculties of perception, like water that is hidden in the depths of the earth. The intelligent and understanding individual will strive to investigate what is in his potential and inward faculties in order to discover and expose this wisdom, and will draw it forth from his heart, just as one searches for water that is in the depths of the earth.
I once asked a man who was considered among the Torah Sages concerning some of the topics we mentioned regarding the inner wisdom and he replied that on this and similar things, the tradition is sufficient to stand in place of rational inquiry.
I said to him: "This applies only to those who lack the ability to inquire due to low powers of perception and weakness of understanding, such as women and children, or feeble minded persons (Translator: women used to be much less educated than in our times). But a man who has sufficient power of intellect and perception to attain certainty on the truth of Tradition, and he neglected to investigate this due to laziness or due to holding in light esteem the commandments of G-d and His Torah - certainly he will be punished for this and he sins for having neglected them.
This matter is similar to [the following illustration]. An officer was charged by the king to receive money from the officials of his kingdom. The king gave him special instructions to count the coins, weigh them, and verify their quality. The officer was sufficiently intelligent and skilled to fulfill all that the king had commanded him. But the royal servants cunningly befriended him with words until he trusted in them. They brought the money to him and assured him that it was correct in amount, weight, and quality. He believed them and was too lazy to verify for himself the truth of their words thereby transgressing the king's orders. When the matter reached the king, he ordered that the money be brought before him. When the king questioned the officer as to the total count and weight of the money, he could not answer. Though the amount of money may have been correct, the king condemned him for having been lax in his command in relying on the words of the servant in something he could have obtained certainty for himself. Only if he was not skilled enough to make an accounting, would he not have been found guilty for relying on the servants.
So too, if you were not capable of grasping this subject with your reasoning faculties, as is the case regarding reasons for received commandments, then your excuse for refraining from this inquiry would be valid. Likewise, if your mind falls short and your perception is too weak to understand it, you would not be punished for your neglect, and you would be considered like children and women, who accept it from the Tradition. But if you are a man of intellect and understanding, who is capable of obtaining certainty on what you have received from the Sages and prophets regarding the roots of the religion and the pivots of the deeds, you are then commanded to use your intellect until you comprehend the matter so that it will be clear to you from both tradition and Reason. But if you ignore this and are negligent in it, you will be considered as falling short in your duties to the blessed Creator.
This will be explained in two ways:
Firstly, from what Scripture says "if there arise a matter too hard for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, between affliction and affliction...and you shall do according to the sentence which they declare to you" (Deut. 17:8-10). If you examine what subjects are included in the first verse, you will find they are things which need to be detailed, distinguished, and discussed by the method of Tradition, and not by that of logical demonstration from Reason alone. You can see, the verse does not include matters which can be attained through Reason. For he did not say, for example, "when you have a question on the Unity of G-d"; or regarding the Names and attributes of the Creator, or as to any of the roots of the religion, such as the service of G-d, trusting in Him, submission before Him, devoting activities to Him, purifying conduct from the damage of detrimental things, repentance from sins, fear and love of Him, being abashed before Him, making a spiritual accounting, and similar duties which can be fulfilled through reason and recognition. He did not say to accept them on the authority of the Torah Sages and to rely only on the Tradition. On the contrary, Scripture says in regard to these to reflect on them to your heart and to apply your intellect on them after having first accepted them from the Tradition, which covers all the commandments of the Torah, their roots and branches. You should investigate them with your intellect, understanding, and judgment, until you will sift the truth of it from the false [notions], as written "therefore, know this day and consider it within your heart, that the L-ord, He is G-d" (Deut. 4:39).
Likewise, we will say regarding all that we are capable of grasping by Reason, as our Sages said (Rabbi Yishmael's 7th rule of expounding the Torah) "if anything included in a general proposition is made the subject of a special statement, whatever is proclaimed of that special statement is not to be understood as limited to itself, but is applied to the whole of the general proposition". Knowing the Unity of G-d is but one branch of the topics which can be understood by Reason. And as it is our duty to use this method on this topic (of G-d's Unity), it is equally our duty to do so with all of them.
The second argument is drawn from Scripture says: "Have you not known? Have you not heard, that the everlasting God" (Isaiah 40:28). It says "known" which implies knowledge from rational proofs, and afterwards "heard" which implies from the Tradition. And likewise, "Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?" (Isaiah 40:21). The prophet preceded mentioning knowledge from rational proof to knowledge which is from received tradition. And likewise Moses, our teacher, said: "Do you thus requite the L-ord, Oh foolish and unwise people? Is He not your Father who acquired you? Has He not made you and established you? Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you." (Deut. 32:6). This is a proof to what we mentioned, that despite that the Tradition should be preceded by nature, for the students must learn it first, nevertheless, it is not right to rely solely on it for one who is able to comprehend it by the method of rational demonstration. It is therefore proper, that everyone who is capable of this, is under duty to investigate with his intellect and to bring logical proofs of it by the demonstration which deliberate judgment would support.
After I had become convinced that the commandments of the heart are indeed obligatory, and that, on grounds we mentioned, we are obligated in them, I found that these duties had been neglected and that no book had been composed specifically on them. I contemplated on the condition of low observance of them from my contemporaries due to their inability to comprehend them, and hence, all the more so, were they unable to perform them or toil in them. I was stirred by the grace of G-d to inquire into the inner science.
I also noticed from the practice of our Sages, and from their sayings that we have received, that they were more zealous and engaged in their personal duties than in developing inferences of laws and remote, doubtful questions.
Their efforts were first spent on determining the general principles of judgment, to make clear what is permitted and what is forbidden.
Afterwards, they busied and strove to clarify their active obligations and inward duties. If a strange case came before them that belonged to the class of inferences from existing laws, they investigated it at the time it was presented to them, and deduced the law from the principles known to them. But they never troubled their minds for these things before this for they regarded secular matters lightly.
And when they needed to render a ruling on that matter, if the ruling was clear to them from the Tradition transmitted to them by the prophets, they would rule on that basis. If it was a question which required expounding the Tradition, they would investigate it with the light of reason. If they all agreed together, they would give a ruling. But if there was a disagreement on the ruling, they would rule according to the majority opinion, as written by the Sanhedrin (Talmud Sanhedrin 88b): "when a question was posed to them, if they had a tradition on it, they gave the decision right away. If they differed, they took a vote. If the majority ruled the thing was clean, it was declared clean. If the majority ruled it unclean, it was declared unclean. This was according to the principle they received 'the decision follows the majority'". They composed in Tractate Avot, the traditions of the moral principles and ethical standards of the Rabbis as taught by each of them in his time and place.
The reports of the men of the Talmud regarding their teachers, are enough to demonstrate the depth of their wisdom and great toil in purifying their deeds. For instance (Berachot 20a): "Said R. Papa to Abaye: How is it that for the former generations miracles were performed and for us miracles are not performed? It cannot be because of their [superiority in] study, because in the years of Rab Judah the whole of their studies was confined to Nezikin (the mishna order of monetary damages), while we study all six Orders...And yet when Rab Judah drew off one shoe, rain used to come, whereas we torment ourselves and cry loudly, and no notice is taken of us! He replied: The former generations used to be ready to sacrifice their lives for the sanctity of [G-d's] Name; we do not sacrifice our lives for the sanctity of [G-d's] Name", and (Avodah Zara 17b): "he who only studies the Torah, is like a man who is without a G-d, as it is said (Chronicles II 15:3) 'Now for long seasons, Israel was without the true G-d'. Hence, Torah study must be combined with acts of kindness".
Thus it became clear to me that all the roots of deeds which one intends for His Name are founded on purity of heart and mind and singleness of mind. Where the motive is tainted, good deeds, however numerous and diligent, are not accepted; as Scripture says "even when you make many prayers, I will not hear. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes; cease to do evil" (Isaiah 1:16). And, "but the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it" (Deut. 30:14), and "give Me your heart, and let your eyes keep My ways" (Prov. 23:26). And our wise men have said: "if you give Me your eyes and heart, I know that you are Mine" (Yerushalmi Berachos 1:5); and Scripture says "you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes" (Numbers 15:39), and "with what shall I come before the L-ord and bow myself before G-d on high? Shall I come with Olah offerings?" (Micha 6:6), and the answer given was "He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the L-ord demands of you; but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d" (ibid 6:8); and "but let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the L-ord doing kindness, justice, and righteousness" (Jer. 9:23). The explanation is that a man who glories should glory in comprehending G-d's ways, recognizing His beneficence, reflecting on His creation, realizing His might and wisdom, as manifested in His works. All these verses which I have brought are proofs on the obligatory character of the commandments of the heart and the discipline of the soul.
You should realize that the aim and value of the duties of the heart is that our exterior and interior be equal and consistent in the service of G-d, so that the testimony of the heart, tongue, and limbs be alike, and that they support and confirm each other instead of differing and contradicting each other. This is what Scripture calls "tamim" (innocent/perfect), in saying: "You shall be perfect with the L-ord your G-d" (Deut. 18:13), and "Noah was a righteous man and perfect in his generations" (Gen. 6:9), and "he who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart" (Ps. 15:2), and "I will give heed unto the way of integrity..I will walk within my house with a perfect heart" (Ps. 101:2).
On the other hand, one whose inner [being] is not consistent with his outer [life] is condemned by Scripture, as written: "his heart was not whole with the L-ord, his G-d" (Kings 11:4), and "but they flatter Him with their mouths and lied with their tongues. For their heart was not steadfast with Him" (Ps. 78:36).
It is well known, that whoever exhibits conflicting or contradictory behavior in word or deed - people do not believe in his integrity and have no confidence in his truthfulness. Likewise, if our exterior conflicts with our interior, if our heart's intent conflicts with our words, if our physical activities are not consistent with the convictions of our soul - our service to our G-d will not be whole, for He will not accept from us fraudulent service, as written "I cannot [bear] iniquity with assembly" (Isaiah 1:13), and "For I am the L-ord, Who loves justice, hates robbery in a burnt offering" (Isaiah 61:8), and "if you offer a blind [animal] for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if you offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil? Bring it now to your governor. Will he accept you, or lift up your face" (Malachi 1:8), and "Behold, to obey is better than a peace-offering; to hearken (is better) than the fat of rams" (Samuel 15:22).
Hence, one commandment, according to the heart and intent with which it is performed, can outweigh many commandments, and likewise one transgression can outweigh many transgressions. Even the thought to do a commandment and the yearning to do it out of reverence for G-d, despite that one was unable to actually perform it, may, nevertheless, outweigh many commandments performed without this reverence, as G-d said to David: "because it was in your heart to build a house for My Name" (Chronicles II 6:8), and "then the G-d fearing men spoke to one another, and the L-ord hearkened and heard it. And a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared the L-ord and for those who thought upon His Name" (Malachi 3:16), and our Sages expounded the last words (Shabbat 63a): "what is meant by 'thought upon His Name?' - [answer:] "if one intended to fulfill a commandment but was prevented from doing it, it is accounted to him as if he had done it."
When these arguments from Reason, Scripture, and Tradition dawned on me, I began to train myself in them, and I undertook on myself the task of knowing and practicing them. The discovery of one principle revealed another related to it, which in turn led to a third, until the matter became broad and it was difficult for me to retain it always in mind. I feared that I might forget what I had already thought out, and that what had become solid shaped in my mind might dissolve, especially since in our times there are so few helping on this wisdom. I decided to compose a book on them which would include their roots and surrounding divisions, and much of their derivatives; and so I would always urge myself to know them and obligate myself to do them.
Where my practice was consistent with my words, I thank G-d who helped me in this, and taught me His ways. But where my practice was inconsistent with my words and fell short of attaining this, I blame and rebuke my soul, and argue with it, so that from the standard of righteousness set forth in this work, my soul might realize its own iniquity, and from its standard of justness, its own deviation, and from its uprightness, its own perverseness, and from the perfection there taught, its own short-comings.
I saw proper to make the book one of permanent value, a hidden treasure, a lamp to illuminate men's paths and teach them the path in which they should go. I hoped that the book would be of still greater use to others than to myself, and of greater beneficial instruction to others than to my own benefit of fulfilling my wish.
I said to myself that I will compose a book on this subject that would be systematically divided according to the roots of the duties of the heart and the inner commandments; be comprehensive and adequate to the matters, point out the good and right way; serve as a guide to the customs of the earlier Sages and the discipline of the pious; awaken men from their senseless sleep; delve in detail into the depths of this wisdom; recall to men the knowledge of G-d and of His Torah, promote the salvation of the soul; encourage the observant, stir up the negligent, set the eager on the right road, straighten the early, guide beginners and show the way to the perplexed.
But when I thought of proceeding to carry out my decision to write this book, I saw that a man like myself is not fit to compose a work like this. I estimated that my strength was insufficient to properly divide its parts, the subject appearing too vast to my eyes, my knowledge too inadequate, and my intellectual faculties too weak to grasp the topics. Furthermore, I am not proficient in the subtleties of the Arabic language which it would need to be in, due to this being the easiest language for most of my contemporaries to grasp. I feared that I would be toiling at a task which would only serve to demonstrate my deficiencies and that I would thus be exceeding proper bounds of discretion. I therefore, told my soul to retract the thought and to draw back from what it had resolved on.
When I then decided to relieve myself of the burden of this undertaking and give up my plan of composing this work, I again suspected my soul of having chosen tranquility, to dwell in the abode of laziness, in peace and quiet. I feared that perhaps this decision to abandon the project stemmed from the lust for pleasure, and that this is what had inclined me to the way of peace and tranquility, to decide to abandon this in order to sit in the company of laziness.
I knew that many great works were lost due to fear, and many losses were caused by concern. I remembered the saying: "it is part of prudence not to be overly prudent". I told myself, if every person who ever composed a good work or who ever taught the upright and proper path had waited until all his wishes were fulfilled, no person would have ever uttered a word after the prophets, whom G-d had chosen as His agents and strengthened with His divine help. If every person who had wished to attain all good qualities but was unable to attain them, had abandoned whatever he could attain of them, then all human beings would be devoid of all good and lacking all excellencies. They would have been perpetually pursuing after false hopes, the paths of righteousness would have been desolate, and the abodes of kindliness would have been abandoned.
I understood that while men's souls lust greatly to attain evil ends, they are sluggish to toil in the pursuit of what is noble. They are lazy in seeking the good, and always walk in the paths of laughter and rejoicing.
If a vision of lust appears to them and beckons to them, they invent falsehoods so that they may turn to it. They bolster up its arguments to make its deception seem upright, to strengthen its lies, to make firm its looseness. But when the light of truth invitingly shines before them, they make up idle pretexts to refrain from turning to it. They argue against it, declare its courses misleading and contradict its assertions, so as to make it appear inconsistent and thus have an excuse to part from it. Every man's enemy is between his own ribs. Unless, he has an aid from G-d, a rebuker always ready for [rebuking] his soul, a powerful governor, that will harness his soul with the saddle of service, and will muzzle it with the bridle of righteousness, strike it with the stick of discipline; and when he resolves to do good, he should not delay, and if his heart entices him to a different path, he should scold it and overpower it.
Therefore, I found myself obligated to force my soul to bear the task of composing this book, and resolved to expound its topics with whatever language or analogy would make the matters readily understandable. Among all the duties of the heart, I will only mention those which suggest themselves to me, and will not trouble to expound all of them, so that the book will not be too long. I will, however, cite among the things necessary for the clarification of each of its roots in the section allocated to it. And from G-d, the true Unity, may I receive aid. On Him, I place my trust and to Him I ask to teach me the right path which He desires, and which is pleasing and acceptable to Him, in word and deed, in inner and outer conduct.
When my deliberation was complete, and I finally resolved to write it, I laid its foundations. I built it on a basis of ten principles, which cover all of the Duties of the Heart and accordingly divided the book into ten parts, each part designated for one principle, discussing its scope and divisions, the things it depends on, and the things detrimental to it.
I propose to take the most direct (easiest) method of arousing, teaching, and instructing, using language clear, direct, and familiar, so that my words will be more easily understood. I will refrain from deep language, unusual terms, and the arguments in the way of "defeat" (nitzuach), which the logicians call in arabic "Algidal", and likewise for remote inquiries which cannot be resolved in this work, for I only brought such arguments as are satisfactory and convincing according to the methods proper to the science of theology.
As the philosopher said "it is not proper to seek of every inquiry a conclusion in the way of mofet (irrefutable proof), since not every topic in rational inquiry can be demonstrated to this extent. Likewise, we should not be satisfied in the science of nature with the method of 'sufficient' (since a full "raya" proof can be achieved). Nor in the science of theology should we strive to apprehend with the senses or draw comparisons with physical phenomena." Nor should we require logical demonstration of the first principles in nature. Nor should we require logical demonstration of the first demonstrations of the first principles.
If we carefully avoid these things, it will be easier for us to achieve our aims. If we do not do so, we will stray from our subject, and it will be difficult for us to achieve our intended purpose.
Since this work is of theological character, I have refrained from the methods of demonstration usual in the sciences of logic and mathematics except in the first gate, where possibly the subtlety of the inquiry compels resort to these methods.
I have drawn most of my proofs from propositions which are accepted as reasonable and these I have made clear by familiar examples about which there can be no doubt. I supported them with what I found written in Scripture and afterwards with the words of tradition received from our Sages. I quoted also the pious and wise of other nations whose words have come down to us, hoping that my readers' hearts would incline to them and give heed to their wisdom, as for example, the words of philosophers, the ethical teachings of the ascetics, and their praiseworthy customs. Our Rabbis have already said regarding this (Sanhedrin 39b):
"One verse says: 'after the ways of the surrounding nations you have done' (Ezek. 11:12), while in another verse it says [in contradiction] 'after the ways of the surrounding nations you have not done' (Ezek. 5:7). How can this be reconciled? As follows - their good ways you have not copied; their evil ones you have followed."
Likewise, the Rabbis said (Megila 16a): "whoever says a wise thing, even among the gentiles is considered a Sage". They also said regarding bringing analogies to make difficult concepts easier to understand: "he taught it by signs and explained it by analogies" (Eruvin 21b); and the wise man said: "to understand a parable and figure, the words of the wise and their riddles" (Prov. 1:6).
When I accepted to undertake the task of composing this book on the divisions of the duties of the heart, I set my mind to select those which were most comprehensive and which would lead to the rest.
I set their chief root, and great foundation to be the wholehearted acceptance of G-d's Unity. Afterwards, I examined which of the duties of the heart are most fitting to be joined to the [wholehearted acceptance of the] Unity of G-d. I fully realized that as the Creator is the true Unity, and is subject to neither essence nor incident, it is impossible for us to grasp Him from the aspect of His glorious essence. We are therefore forced to know and grasp Him from the aspect of His creations. This is the topic of the second treatise, the Gate of Examination of G-d's works. I therefore made this examination the second root of the general principles of the duties of the heart.
I then reflected on the sovereignty belonging to the true Unity, and what service is correspondingly due to Him from His creatures. I therefore set the assuming of His service as the third root of the general principles of the duties of the heart.
It then became clear to me, what is proper regarding the true Unity, that as He alone rules all things and all the benefits and harms we receive come from Him and are under His permission, we are in duty bound to put our trust in Him and to surrender ourselves over to Him. I therefore made Trust in G-d as the fourth root of the general principles of the duties of the heart.
Afterwards, I pondered on the conception of absolute Unity, that as G-d is unique in His glory, has nothing in common with anything, nor resembles anything else, we must therefore join to this that we serve Him alone, and that we devote all activities to Him, since He does not accept worship which is associated with other than Him. Therefore, I placed the devoting of acts to G-d as the fifth root of the general principles of the duties of the heart.
Afterwards, when my thoughts continued pondering as to what we owe to the true Unity regarding proclaiming His glory and greatness. Since there is none like Him, therefore we decided to join to this - humbling ourselves before Him to the utmost of our ability. Hence, I made Humility/Submission the sixth root of the general principles of the duties of the heart.
When I reflected on what happens to human beings, that they neglect and fall short of what service they owe to the blessed Creator, and the path with which they can rectify their crookedness and shortcomings, namely repentance and beseeching for forgiveness, I therefore placed Repentance as the seventh root of the general principles of the duties of the heart.
When I sought to grasp what our inner and outer duties to G-d truly are, and realized that it is impossible for us to fulfill them until we bring ourselves to an accounting on them before G-d and are meticulous in this, I made the spiritual accounting the eighth root of the general principles of the duties of the heart.
When I meditated on the matter of the true Unity, I saw that the wholehearted acknowledgement of His Unity cannot possibly endure even in the soul of the believer, if his heart is drunk with the wine of love of this world and he inclines to the material pleasures. But if he strives to empty his heart and liberate his mind from the superfluities of this world and separate himself from its luxuries, only then will he completely accept G-d's Unity and rise to its level. I therefore set Abstinence as the ninth root of the general principles of the duties of the heart.
Afterwards, I inquired on what we are obligated to the blessed Creator, who is the goal of all our desires and the purpose of all our hopes and with whom all things begin and end, and as to what is due to Him from us in regard to the love of His favor and fear of His retribution, the former being the highest good and the latter being the greatest evil, as Scripture says "For His anger is only a moment; in His favor is life; Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" (Ps. 30:6), I therefore placed love of G-d as the tenth root of the general principles of the duties of the heart.
After I arrived at these principles by Reasoning, I searched our Scriptures and traditions and found them indicated in many places. I will explain each of them in their respective treatise with G-d's help. I named the book, with a title which reflects my aim in writing it. It is called the Instruction of the Duties of the Heart.
My goal in this book is to obtain wisdom for myself and at the same time, to stir the simple and the negligent among the followers of our Torah and those who have inherited the precepts of our religion, by bringing sufficient proofs which reason can testify as to their soundness and truth and which will only be disputed by the hypocritical and false people, because to such people truth is a burden on them and their desire is to make things easier on themselves. I will not trouble myself to answer them because my purpose in this book was not to refute those who dispute the fundamentals of our faith. My aim is rather to bring to light what is already fixed in our minds and embedded in our souls of the fundamentals of our religion and the cornerstones of the Torah. When we arouse our minds to ponder them, their truth becomes clear to us inwardly and their lights will illuminate even our exterior.
The following is an analogy for this: An astrologer entered the courtyard of his friend and divined that there is a hidden treasure in it. He searched for it and found masses of silver that had turned black due to a crust of rust which had formed on it. He took a small portion, scrubbed it with vinegar and salt, washed and polished it until it had regained its original luster, splendor and shine. Afterwards, the owner [of the courtyard] gave orders that the rest of the treasure should be treated so.
My intent is to do the same with the hidden treasures of the heart, namely, to reveal them, and demonstrate their shining excellence, in order that anyone who wishes to draw close to G-d and cling to Him may do the same.
When, my brother, you have read this book, and comprehended its theme, take it for a remembrance. Bring your soul to a true judgement. Ponder it over, develop its thoughts. Cling it to your heart and mind. If you find an error in it, correct it; any omission, complete it. Have intent [when reading it] to follow its instruction and guidance. Do not have the aim of acquiring a name or to gain glory through its wisdom. Judge me leniently if you find any mistake, flaw, or whatever other shortcoming in its topics and words. For I hurried to compose it and did not tarry because I feared that death would overcome me and prevent me from my goal of completing it. You know how weak is the power of flesh to attain anything, and how deficient is man from fully grasping, as Scripture says: "Surely the sons of men are vanity; the sons of men are a lie; if they go up in the scales; they are altogether lighter than vanity" (Ps. 62:10). I have already confessed from the outset on my insufficient strength. Let this admission atone for the errors and flaws in it.
You should know that all the Duties of the Heart and all disciplines of the soul, whether positive or negative, fall within these ten roots which I have composed in this book, just like many of the commandments fall under the precepts of "love your fellow as yourself" (Levit. 19:18), and under "he did no evil to his fellow" (Ps. 15:3), and under "turn from evil and do good" (Ps. 34:15).
Fix them to your mind. Return them to your thoughts continuously. Their derivatives will be made known to you, with G-d's help, when He will see your heart desiring in them and inclining to them, as written: "Who is the man who fears the L-ord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose" (Ps. 25:12).
I saw fitting to conclude the introduction of this book with a wondrous parable, which will stimulate you to study its content, and arouse you to realize the special importance of this class of commandments over the others, as well as the difference between the level of the physical, philosophical, and linguistic wisdoms to the level of the wisdom of the Torah. Try to understand this parable when you read it. Recall it to your thoughts. You will find what you seek with G-d's help.
A king distributed balls of silk to his servants to check their intelligence. The industrious and sensible one sorted from the balls of silk allotted to him and selected the best quality ones. He then did the same with the remaining ones until he divided all of his portion into three grades - fine, medium, and coarse. He then made from each grade the best that could be done with it and had the material done by skilled craftsmen into expensive garments of various colors and styles, which he wore in the presence of the king, selecting garments suitable to the occasion and place.
The foolish among the king's servants used all the balls of silk to make that which the wise servant had made with the worst sort. He sold it for whatever he could get for it, and hastily squandered the money in good food and drink or the like.
When the matter came to the king, he was pleased with the deeds of the industrious and sensible one, drew him closer, and promoted him to a position of one of his treasured servants. The deeds of the foolish servant were evil in his eyes, and the king banished him to the faraway desert lands of his kingdom to dwell among those who had incurred the king's anger.
Likewise, the blessed Al-mighty gave His Torah of truth to His servants to test them. The thinking, intelligent man, when he reads it and understands it clearly, will divide it into three divisions. The first is the knowledge of fine spiritual themes, namely, the inner wisdom, such as the duties of the heart, the discipline of the soul and will obligate his soul on them always. Afterwards, he will select the second portion, namely, the practical duties of the limbs, doing each one in its proper time and place. Afterwards, he will make use of the third division, the historical portions of Scripture, to know the various types of men and their happenings in historical order, and the events of past ages and their hidden messages. He will use every part according to its proper occasion, place, and need.
Just like the industrious servant provided skilled craftsmen's tools in order to carry out his intentions in the manufacture of the silk of the king, so too, in each of these divisions, the intelligent man will use the help of the practical sciences, the science of logic, the science of language, etc. which he will employ as introductory to the science of theology. For one who is not knowledgeable in them cannot recognize the wisdom of the Creator in nature, and will not know the physical workings of his own body, much less for what is outside himself.
The foolish and distracted person when he occupies himself with the Book of G-d, uses it to learn riddles of the ancients or the historical accounts. He hastens to apply it for worldly benefits and will bring arguments from it to justify pursuing worldly pleasures, abandoning the way of abstinence (from the superfluous), going in his own way, and following the views and wishes of each type of person he meets, as written "he shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray" (Prov. 5:23).
Examine, my brother, this analogy. Ponder it in your thoughts. Deduce from the Book of G-d what I have called to your attention. Seek help in this by reading the books of Rabeinu Saadiah Gaon which enlighten the mind, sharpen the understanding, instruct the ignorant, and arouse the lazy.
May the Almighty teach us the way of His service, as His anointed one beseeched Him: "You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; in Your right hand bliss forevermore" (Ps. 16:11).