The concept of “being spiritual” is often assumed to be a fairly recent one, resulting, perhaps, from the enlightenment’s deconstruction of organized religion. The idea of spirituality – how to create, live and grow in a relationship with the Divine – is, however, not really new. In fact, it is a question that has often caused Jewish scholars to put pen to paper. Among the most highly regarded of such texts is Chovot Halevavot, most commonly translated as Duties of the Heart.
Chovot Halevavot was written by Bachya ben Joseph ibn Paquda Not much is known about Ibn Paquda other than that he was a well-regarded scholar who lived in Muslim Spain (Sargossa) in the eleventh century. His great work was written in Judeo-Arabic (in Hebrew letters) under the title Kitab al-Hidāya ilā Fara’id al-Qulūb. It was given the name Chovot Halevavot by the famed translator Judah ibn Tibbon.
Bachya ibn Paquda, divided his work into 10 chapters:
1. The Gate of Divine Unity
2. The Gate of Reflection
3. The Gate of Serving God
4. The Gate of Trust in God
5. The Gate of Unification of Action
6. The Gate of Humility
7. The Gate of Repentance
8. The Gate of Self-Examination
9. The Gate of Seclusion
10. The Gate of the Love of God
The term gate that is used in each title infers the progressive nature of ibn Paquda’s gates.
The detailed laws of the Torah, both written and oral, are the backbone of Jewish life. Ibn Paquda’s Chovot Halevovot clarifies how they are also the heart and soul of Jewish life and the means of creating an intimate spiritual relationship with the Divine.