Saturday, November 28, 2015

Intro To Machshava: Rambam - The Ideal Form of Serving God (Part 1 of 2)

Rav Aryeh Leibowitz
Adapted by Micah Hyman

The Rambam wrote many important works.  His most important contribution in the world of halacha was his Yad HaChazakah, more commonly called the Mishnah Torah.  Although it is a halachic work, the Rambam also included select ideas in Jewish thought.  At the end of Hilchos Teshuvah the Rambam includes an important discussion about the ideal form of serving God.  He writes that a person should not do the mitzvos in order to reap reward in this world or even in the next world, nor should he avoid transgressing sin to avoid punishment in this world or the next.  Rather, one’s approach should be to “do what is true because it is true (עושה האמת מפני שהוא אמת)”.  The Rambam does not mean to say that there is no reward for the service of Hashem.  There certainly is!  But the Rambam is arguing that reward from Hashem should not be the drive to live a life of Torah and mitzvos.

Perhaps we can further understand this idea by using a philosophic concept described by the famous German philosopher Immanuel Kant.  Kant claimed that while most people’s actions in life are driven to achieve a desired goal, he believed that there ought to be actions that are done simply because of the action itself and irrespective of the gain or pleasure they provide.  If we apply this distinction to our discussion, the person who is serving Hashem for reward has chosen a desired goal (reward/avoidance of punishment), and views Torah and mitzvos as a means to get there.  This is not ideal, because Torah and mitzvos have become secondary to man’s primary goal of attaining pleasure and comfort.  In contrast, one who learns Torah and does mitzvos because they are true, is not acting based on a personal goal. The end goal is chosen objectively, and it is pursued simply because it is true and correct.

To further understand this concept, a parable is in order. When a child is three years old, giving him a lollipop will encourage him to act in a certain way.  When the child is twelve, a shiny bike will encourage behavior.  At age nineteen, a car; at age twenty five, money; at age fifty, fame; at seventy, to make a mark on the world.  The common denominator is that the person values the incentive.  In the same way, a person who serves Hashem for olam habah is also serving for a reward they value.  A three-year-old wants lollipops, a seventy year old wants to make a mark on the world, a pious Jew who values God wants olam habah.  Granted the desire to make a mark on the world is more sophisticated and elevated than the desire for a lollipop.  Are these not all examples of service for personal desire?  Realize that as a person becomes more sophisticated, so do his desires.  One who recognizes the value of olam habah has acquired a more sophisticated perspective on reward than the three year old child who wants a candy.  For this reason, the Rambam instructs a person that the highest form of service is because Torah is true, without any consideration of personal gain, even olam habah.

To be Continued….

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