Rabbi Bachaya Ibn Pakuda
(c. 11th century)
Rabbi Saadyah wrote the first Jewish work of philosophy
in 933. Rabbi Bachaya wrote the first work of Jewish ethics more than
a century later. Rabbi Saadya flourished during the twilight of once
glorious Babylonian Jewry; Sephardic
Jewry continued its magnificent history in Spain,
reflecting the shift from Asia to Europe, where R. Bachaya lived and
created his magnum opus, Duties of the Heart (Chovot HaLevovot).
Rabbi Bachaya lived in Muslim Spain, probably in Saragossa, and served as a judge, but little else
is known about his life. He was thoroughly conversant with the entire
Biblical and Talmudical literature and was also master of all the knowledge
and science of his day.
Though a philosopher in his own right, Rabbi Bachayas
essential contribution is that of creator of a new genre in Jewish literature,
Jewish ethics. The first chapter of his work which is devoted to the
unity of G-d employs philosophical
arguments which some felt were not readily understandable and was skipped
over by many students.
Rabbi Bachayas work, as indicated by its title,
focused on the non-physical obligations of the Jew: the obligations
of feeling, heart and mind in contrast to those mitzvot that involve the limbs. Pointing to the neglect of this group of mitzvot,
he underscored their critical importance.
Rabbi Bachayas central focus was on Service of
G-d and abiding by His will, and fulfilling the duties of the heart
was viewed as the entree to nearness to G-d, the ultimate objective.
Understandably, the tenth and last chapter of the book is Love of G-d.
Though emphasizing the importance of rational thought,
Rabbi Bachayas real goal was the experience of G-d. A systematic,
carefully constructed work, Duties of the Heart, has remained
to this day a favorite of serious, sensitive students.
The Chatam Sofer studied with his students from Duties
of the Heart for 15 minutes before his lecture in order to
inspire their hearts with fear of G-d.. and almost all his musar was
taken from that book (Chut HaMeshulash). And, Rabbi Yonah
Landsofer, an eighteenth century gaon wrote, a person must attach
himself to the Duties of the Heart from whence he can acquire
the choice midot for the service of the Lord. And one must plummet it