Page 68 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 9 (1950-1951)

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Bachya gives definite instructions as to how to overcome the
“ tempter,” how to attain the ideal and how to avoid influences
detrimental to it. The deep concern with the “how” of the attain-
ment of moral ideals lends solidity to his structure. Kant’s categor-
ical imperative, as pointed out by John Dewey, remained an
abstract Duty, I would even say a sterile one, because there are no
adequate indications in Kant’s
Practical Reason
as to
reverts itself into duties. Bachya does not lose sight of it.
Humility; Repentance; Self-Examination; Seclusion from the
are weighed with ethical precision and each allotted its
fitting place in the diagram of the moral world. Humility comes
from the realization of the distance between sincere endeavors
and the ideals to be fulfilled. Repentance is of value when it
consists in a determination to change the conduct which led to
evil. Self-examination brings one to sift what is worthy and what
is unworthy. Such sifting gradually transports one from a world
of emptiness to one of real values, permeated with spirituality.
Bachya shows a pronounced ascetic tendency, but it is not a
denial of life per se. It is a passion to enrich it through the puri-
fication of the sensual. When he speaks of the liberation of the
heart and mind, it is from the “superfluities of the world and from
its luxuries.” Mohammedan and Christian monasticisms impressed
him because of their educational value in teaching the rest of
mankind discipline and self-control. However, his sense of balance
turned him towards the Jewish point of view which condemns
seclusion and excesses of privation.
The mystical vein in Bachya is apparent, and it is at its height
in the concluding Gate, the
Love of God
which binds man and
God into one. The Baal Shem Tov, of the eighteenth century,
the founder of Hasidism, interpreted Bachya as a mystic like
himself and drew his main inspiration from him.
Bachya’s stress, however, is not on the heart alone, but on the
coordination of heart, mind and action. He seems to me to seek
for an organic unity between intention and fulfillment, thought
and its expression, feeling and reason, precept and its underlying
devotion. All these form an indissoluble whole in his conception
of the duties of the heart which involves intelligence, wisdom and
understanding. Numerous passages give full proof that this must
have been his underlying philosophy. In Bachya there is an in-
tegration of that which was kept asunder by Plato and even as
late as the nineteenth century by the British moral philosophers.
The familiar discussions of their two divided camps as to whether
intention or action constitutes the moral good remained for a
long time without a solution. Bachya through his unifying con-
ception comes closer to the prevalent philosophy of our day.