One of the outstanding personalities in the "Golden Era" of Jewish History in Spain was Rabbi Bahya bon Joseph Ibn Pekudah. Because of his great piety and holiness, he was also referred to as "Ha-Chasid" (the Pious one). Although he was one of the greatest Torah scholars of his time, some 800 years ago, little is known about his life. We know that he was a Dayan (Judge) in the city of Saragossa in Spain. But, we do not know the exact dates of his birth, death, nor the number of years that he lived. He became famous because of his important and holy work "Chovos Halevovos" (Duties of the Heart), which he wrote before the year 4916 (1156), as Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra mentions him then. He lived at about the same time as Rabbi Solomon Ibn Gabirol.

There are differences of opinion as to whether a little earlier or a little later than Rabbi Solomon. About one thing, however, all are in agreement-that the "Chovos Halevovos" is one of the most important and inspiring books written about Torah and Mitzvos.

The "Chovos Halevovos" was written originally in Arabic, and was later translated into the Hebrew language by the famous translator, Rabbi Judah Ibn Tibbon (approx. in the year 4940/1180).

In the foreword of his book, the author explains why he undertook to write such a book. He did so, he writes, because up to his time, none of the great Jewish scholars had written a book about the importance of delving into the Mitzvos connected with the heart; Rabbi Bahya, therefore, took upon himself the task of writing about such a book in order to stimulate constant awareness of G‑d and of His commandments. This will lead to fear of the Almighty (Yiras Hashem), and love of the Almighty (Ahavas Hashem), and thereby to perfect service to the Almighty.

Rabbi Bahya divided his book into ten parts (Sh'eorim-"Gates"), which he considered as rungs on a ladder. By means of these rungs, a Jew may reach the highest level in his service to the Al­mighty. The first part is "Shaar ha­Yichud" (The Gate of Unity), where he discusses the basic precept of the Jewish Religion, the belief in one G‑d (Achdus Haboreh). The Almighty is the Creator of the whole world, and to comprehend the greatness and goodness of the Creator, one has to give a lot of thought to the wonder of nature, and to the realization that G‑d deals with the whole world graciously and with kindness. How thankful every human being should be, and especially the Jew, whom the Almighty chose to serve Him!

The author then passes on to the "Sha­ar haBitochon" (The Gate of Trust). He describes the importance of good traits and the ugliness of vices, and how to improve one's faults. Trust in the Almighty is one of the fundamentals. When one is aware of the greatness and goodness of the Almighty, one can then feel full of trust in Him; once a person has trust in the Almighty, the person can then serve Him with a sure heart, free from worry and disappointments. However great a person may be, he must always be on guard. The Yetzer Hora (Evil Inclination) is always seeking to weaken the person's trust in the Almighty, and to cause him to have doubts; the author shows one how to avoid and to conquer these doubts.

One of the worst vices is the trait of Haughtiness. Humbleness and Fear of the Almighty are the most beautiful traits of a Jew. A Jew should always be modest in his dealings with other people; should always respect one who has more knowledge, or who has better traits, than he; if someone praises him, he should be mindful of his own short­comings, and if someone insults him, he should not become angry, but should take stock of himself and seek to improve his ways; if the Almighty blesses a person with wealth, then he has to be extremely careful not to turn astray from the right path, as is so often the case-the rich person forgetting that the Almighty gave him his wealth, in trust for a special purpose. A Jew has to avoid even the slightest sin, and when he performs a Mitzvah, he should do so with his whole heart and full devotion to the Allmighty.

Rabbi Bahya then talks about Teshuvah (Repentance). A person who sins should never feel lost, because the Almighty, in His mercy, has given one the wonderful possibility of Teshuvah as a means of purifying oneself. Here are also described the ways how to reach that sublime state, Teshuvah.

He then discusses the importance of knowing where one stands, and to make a soulful reckoning (Cheshbon Ha­nefesh) from time to time. This is necessary in order to ascend from one level to the next, and to attain perfection. He advises against too many earthly pleasures, and suggests paying more attention to important eternal values, which lead to Ahavas Hashem (Love of the Almighty).

The "Chovos Halevovos" is one of the most beautiful and holy Mussar texts, and many later authors drew from this "Well." The book is extremely popular and is learned even up to the present day.

From this classical work can be seen what an exalted soul its author possessed. It is no wonder that this work became so beloved by the Jewish people throughout the world.