And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God…
Each day we recite this paragraph which reiterates the obligation to love G-d.
Rashi adds on this directive, לאהבה את ד, to love the Lord : You should not say: I will learn in order to become rich, or in order to be referred to as Rabbi, or in order that I receive a reward. Rather, whatever you do, do out of love, וסוף הכבוד לבא, and ultimately, the honor will come.
These last words of encouragement seem to negate the whole notion expressed immediately prior to it — that one should serve G-d for no other reason than pure and selfless love.
Clearly, Rashi’s intention in quoting from the Sifrei and Talmud — specifically on this verse although this injunction to ‘love G-d’ appears several times earlier in Torah — is because in the ensuing verses in this paragraph it states explicitly that if one heeds G-d’s commandments, by loving G-d wholeheartedly, He promises: “I shall provide rain in its proper time… I shall provide grass in your field… and you will be satisfied.”
If a reward is promised, obviously it is not a bad thing, though one must devote fully to G-d unrelated to that promise. But if one needs assurance that ‘honor’ will come, doesn’t that contradict the whole command to sense only pure feelings of love?
Why does Rashi emphasize ‘honor’ specifically? Aren’t there two other possible ulterior motives mentioned – wealth or welfare?
Maimonides too, reflects on this dichotomy, in his Laws of Teshuva (10 2), when he writes: One who serves [G-d] out of love occupies himself in the Torah and the mitzvos and walks in the paths of wisdom for no ulterior motive: not because of fear that evil will occur, nor in order to acquire benefit. Rather, he does what is true because it is true, וסוף הטובה לבא בגללה, and ultimately, good will come because of it.
He is certainly paraphrasing the idea expressed in the Talmud, וסוף הכבוד לבא, and ultimately, the honor will come. But he neutralizes the implication of pursuing honor, in accenting instead the general ‘good and welfare’ that will result.
Many of us were fortunate to be educated in our youth in some of the most wonderful institutions of chinuch in America and elsewhere. As young boys we were encouraged to aspire to become Talmidei Chachomim — scholars and rabbinic leaders, whether a great Rosh Yeshiva, Rebbi, or Rabbi. We dreamed of being successful and living inspired lives. Were they goading us to ignoble goals that counter our ambition to love G-d altruistically?
Of course not.
What they sought to instill within us was the notion of becoming vehicles in the promotion of the honor of Heaven. Whether it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s campaign to enlist children in Tzivos Hashem, soldiers in the army of G-d, doing good deeds and promoting Torah values, or prodding the aspirations of children to become Torah scholars and Jewish communal leaders — being proud representatives of G-d’s word — it was based in selflessness and infused with a devotion to a loving Father in Heaven.
Theכבוד — ‘honor’, that Rashi refers to as ultimately coming, is that healthy sense of nobility of spirit that enthuses all that we do in allegiance to our inspired mission.
Maimonides as well, by formulating this ultimate goal as: ‘all the good that will come because of it’, is referring to those promises of rewards that are not intended as an end to themselves, but rather as the tools we will use in accomplishing our duty in promoting His will.
But there is one caveat we must be aware of in assuring we get there — whatever we do along that journey must be fueled solely out of pure love, not for the sake of accomplishing a goal.
Maimonides describes how ‘loving G-d’ is expressed in one’s performance of mitzvos, only when one עושה האמת מפני שהוא אמת, ‘does what is true because it is true’. That is true love.
Too often, the ambition to be G-d’s agent in sanctifying His name, fuels a self-righteousness that corrupts and quickly transforms into a sense of ‘holier than thou’, all in the name of G-d of course.
A person’s motivation to do good must stem solely from a notion that it is — אמת מפני האמת, true because it true, independent of whether the goal of honoring G-d is accomplished.
The late Novominsker Rebbe, when hearing a principal admonish his students to behave nicely in public, lest they cause a chillul Hashem, a profanation of G-d’s Name — in misrepresenting Jewish values with their behavior, and should be mindful to sanctify the Name of Hashem, by acting properly and sensitive — would correct the school official by instructing him to teach the children to do what is right because it is right – האמת מפני שהוא אמת, regardless of the negative or positive consequences.
A very dear young friend of mine, Yitzi Weiner, a bright and charming young man, who attended several years ago, Jemicy, a prestigious local private school, not a Yeshiva, that adequately provided for his unique needs, was just one of a handful of Orthodox Jewish students attending there.
His father shared with me that from the moment he entered the school some seven years ago, he had a special custom — to approach each of his teachers at the end of every class, expressing appreciation for having learned so much, sincerely thanking the teachers for the time, efforts, and expertise they put in.
He did not do it because a Menahel or Rebbi ever instructed him to be Mekadesh Shem Shamayim, just simply because he knew and sensed it was the right thing to do – האמת מפני שהוא אמת!
Years later the Headmaster shared with his father that this practice has spread to all the students thanking their teachers at the end of class.
What a Kiddush Hashem!
But it did not happen because he was on a mission, but simply because his parents had inculcated within him the sense to do the Emes because it is Emes!
We all hope that we be privileged to serve as an instrument for G-d’s will in this world. That is a noble and admirable goal. We will only achieve that if we focus on our behavior and deeds, evaluating them by one yardstick only — the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!