Page 66 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 9 (1950-1951)

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quoted by Bachya is also made use of by Maimonides in his
to the Perplexed
, as is Bachya’s illustration about the host who
presented an abundance of barley for his guest’s cattle, but a
small portion of pure wheat for the guest himself.
The Gate
is an artistic description of the beauty
of nature, a poetical rendering of the structure of the world with
its living creatures, and a touching eulogy on man and his privi-
leges. So numerous are those privileges that man takes them for
granted, and notices only untoward happenings, without suffi-
ciently realizing the value of trial and discipline.
The third Gate,
The Service of God
, seems to me to be the very
heart of the book as well as the most profound part of it. It is
apt to lend itself to misinterpretations when not properly grasped.
It is not a devaluation, but a transvaluation of the precepts of
the Torah. It is, I think, an attempt to set the Torah within a
larger moral sphere, to which it serves as a necessary means to
an end beyond it and at the same time inherent in it. The sub-
mission to God induced by the study of the Torah “is a step by
which we ascend to the higher submission which arises from an
inward urge in the mind innate in the nature of a human being
in whom body and soul are joined together,” states Bachya. I
think he means that when the outward expression of the precepts
is not abstracted from their real meaning, the Torah and man’s
inner urge are united and come nearer to God. That is why he
gives the same number (seven) of advantages for both kinds of
endeavors which are “praiseworthy and lead to salvation in the
life hereafter.” It seems to me that a careful reading of the text
leads to this interpretation.
Another original conception of Bachya which approaches the
philosophy of our day is that moral principles grow and develop.
“The commandments of the Torah are limited in number. They
are a known number — 613 precepts. But the duties imposed
by the understanding are almost infinite, for a person daily in-
creases his knowledge of them and the more his faculty of per-
ception develops and the more he comprehends God’s beneficences
the more will a man humble himself.” In Bachya’s usage, the
term “humble” connotes the search for perfection.
The supreme source of morality is traced by Bachya to the
relationship of man to God, which is that of beneficiary to ben-
efactor. Such a relationship brings forth the urge to come nearer
to God and serve Him. The requisites of such service are “ that
a person should clearly realize what the Creator has implanted
in the human mind, namely, to esteem truth, detest falsehood,
choose righteousness, avoid injustice, requite benefactors with
good deeds and express gratitude to them, punish the wicked, . . .