3.6 - Introduction to Shaar HaBechinah (The Gate of Examination)
Sources refer to Rabbi Bachaye ibn Pakuda's Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart)
God’s kindnesses are universal as Psalms 145:9 tells us, “God is good to all.” Nevertheless, many people are unable to see this for themselves. There are three reasons why people fail to recognize God’s goodness:
(1) People are too wrapped up in material things and they crave physical pleasures beyond reasonable expectations. No matter how much they have, they always want more. No matter how many blessings they have in their lives, they can only focus on the things they don’t have. If something good happens to another person, they feel as if they themselves rightfully deserve that thing. Their dissatisfaction blinds them to God’s goodness, from which they have benefitted. Along these lines, Psalms 10:4 tells us, “The wicked, in his arrogance, does not inquire. All his evil thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’”
(2) When human beings are born, they’re as ignorant as beasts, as Job 11:12 says, “Man is born a wild donkey.” People grow up so used to God’s many forms of goodness that we take them for granted. We consider these blessings not favors granted us, but just the natural way life is. Many people remain this way even after they mature and become more intelligent. It never even occurs to such people that they should thank God for all this goodness because they’re completely oblivious to it.
(3) Some people cannot recognize the goodness in their lives because they’re hyper-focused on their misfortunes. They just can’t see that their problems are part of a larger tapestry that is overall good. The obstacles in life are beneficial to us in a variety of ways, such as when we pass tests or when God disciplines us to improve our ways. Regarding the latter, King David wrote, “Fortunate is the man whom You correct…” (Psalms 94:12). People who are absorbed in the negative forget that they owe God gratitude for their lives and all the good in them, and that their troubles are rightly brought upon them. They resent when they receive punishments as God’s judgment but they don’t thank Him for the manifold goodness that He provides. In their ignorance, they can’t even recognize the goodness! Worse yet, they may even presume to think that they know how to run the world better than He does! Of course, they’re just projecting their own ignorance. King Solomon tells us, “When a fool walks on the road, he has no sense. He says of every person, ‘He is a fool’” (Ecclesiastes 10:3).
In this “gate,” Rabbeinu Bachaye discusses the obligation for a person to examine creation, the manner in which to do so, the kinds of wisdom that may be so examined, and more on this subject.