Serving Hashem Without Expectation of Reward

The third mishnah in the first perek of pirkei avos discusses the optimal attitude one must assume to achieve true yiras Hashem (fear of G-d):

Al tiheyu k'avadim ha'meshamshim es harav al menas l'kabel pras; elah heyu kavadim ha'meshahshim es harav shelo al menas l'kabel, v'ihi morah shamayim aleichem

Be not like servants who serve the master on condition of receiving reward. Rather, be as servants who serve the master without the condition of receiving reward, and fear of Heaven will be upon you.

What seems unclear is why being motivated by reward (and deterred by punishment) should detract from one's yiras Hashem. If one tries to do the right thing (and avoid the wrong things), motivated by a desire to obtain reward (and avoid punishment), why should that person's yiras hashem be less? Indeed, isn't fear of punishment synonymous with yiras Hashem? I try to avoid sin in order to avoid Hashem's wrath, and pursue good in order to obtain Hashem's blessing. What is wrong with that?

Yet, in the fourth chapter of Mesilas Yesharim, we see that reward and punishment is considered the lowest form of motivation for choosing good and avoiding evil (which R' Luzzato refers to as "vigilance" or zehirus). The highest motivation for exercising vigilance in one's actions is the realization that perfection of character is an ideal in and of itself, irrespective of reward.

Insights provided by Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky of Jersualem in a recently taped Tisha B'Av shiur can help shed some light on these issues. Briefly, R' Orlofsky described 3 types of relationships with Hashem by analogy to relationships with other people with which we are all familiar in our daily lives. Since we understand the dynamics of these human relationships so well, the analogy can help us model a relationship with Hashem of the kind described in the mishnah. That is, because we understand which relationships in life give us the most satisfaction and pleasure, we can begin to understand why a relationship with Hashem that is not based on reward will be the most spiritually uplifting.

Continue reading "Serving Hashem Without Expectation of Reward" »

The Torah as a Roadmap to Spiritual Growth

For the inaugural post of the Chizuk Shaya blog, I'd like to share an insight from pirkei avos (a/k/a pirkei avot) (note: for those unfamiliar, pirkei avos (Hebrew: פרקי אבות‎) (literally, Chapters of the Fathers) is a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of various Talmudic sages divided into six chapters traditionally studied each Shabbos during the summer months).

Before studying a chapter of Pirkei Avos, it is customary to read from an introductory mishnah from Sanhedrin as follows: "kol yisrael yesh lahem chelek b'olam haba, sh'nemar, "v'amech kulam tzadikim, l'olam yirshu ha'aretz; netzer matai, ma'aseh yadai l'hitpaer." (transl: "Every member of Israel has a portion in the world-to-come, as it states (in Isaiah 60:21), "Your people are all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, so that I may be glorified.").

The mishnah is saying that all Jews have a share in olam haba (i.e., world-to-come) based on a pasuk (i.e., verse) that states that all Jews are righteous. But is it true that we are all righteous? Are we all tzadikkim? The reality is that everyone has their flaws and areas of weakness - both in areas of b'ein adam l'makom and b'ein adam la'chaveiro - and it is the very rare individual who can truly be described as a tzaddik. So how is it that the pasuk can state that all Jews are tzaddikim?

By the same token, the mishnah also seems to be giving every Jew a "free pass." Simply by virtue of one's Jewishness, one obtains a share in olam haba. What happened to all the hard work and striving required to achieve piety, as outlined in such sefarim as mesilas yesharim? Seems to good to be true.

Continue reading "The Torah as a Roadmap to Spiritual Growth" »