We’re about to enter the very last gate of our book, entitled “Loving G-d Wholeheartedly.” It’s comprised of some very precious, fervent notions that have transported sensitive souls to higher and higher planes of Divine service.
Ibn Pakudah offered it at this point, he tells us, because he’d already cited the idea of loving G-d in the previous gate (see Ch’s 3-4 there) so he thought he’d finish off the book itself with insights into how to come to love G-d in fact. After all, as he put it, “it’s the greatest skill to have” to achieve spiritual excellence, “and the highest level of service to G-d humanly possible”.
Loving G-d wholeheartedly is also absolutely central to the subject of this entire book, he also says. Since everything mentioned in it “about (fulfilling) The Duties of the Heart, about achieving good personal qualities and being benevolent is but a rung and a step up to the great level we intend to explain in this gate”. And besides, “every single obligation and good quality required of us … is an aspect of and a step up to the love of G-d, which is their aim and purpose. For there is no higher, more advanced level than it.”
Now, we’re taught there’s another way to react devoutly to G-d aside from loving Him. And that’s by fearing or, better said, *revering* Him. But the two are fundamentally different. After all, when we revere G-d, we stand apart from Him in utter awe and trepidation, respectfully; while when we love Him we draw close to Him, Intimately. So, given that both are important, though each is unique unto itself, which should we concentrate on first?
The Torah itself often places reverence for G-d before the love of Him, as in “And now, Israel, what does G-d your L-rd ask of you but to revere G-d your L-rd… and to (then) love Him” (Deuteronomy 10:12); and, “You will revere G-d your L-rd … and (then) cling to Him” (Ibid. 10:20). Hence it seems important to learn to revere G-d before learning how to love Him. And Ibn Pakudah agrees, since “reverence is … the most accessible step to the love of G-d, and the first gate to it”. In fact, it’s actually “impossible to come to the love of G-d without having come to revere Him first”.
We’re also told, incidentally, that “one of the greatest deterrents to the love of G-d … is the love of *the world*”, and that’s another reason why Ibn Pakudah placed the Gate of Abstinence before this one. We’re thus counseled to “empty our heart of the love of the world”, and that “the love of G-d will fix itself in our heart, and establish itself in our soul” as a consequence.
We’ll be focusing on these seven things in the course of this final gate: just what the love of G-d is; the various kinds of love of G-d; how we come to love G-d; whether it’s actually humanly possible to love G-d, seeing how sublime a phenomenon it is; what prevents us from loving G-d; the various signs of the love of G-d; and finally, on the practices of those who do indeed love G-d.