Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Acharei 5632 Second Ma'amar

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם .../You shall observe My statutes and My laws for when a man performs them, he will live through them …” (VaYikra 18:5)  Rashi, quoting a Midrash explains that, “he will live through them” is referring to the everlasting reward that comes from mitzvos in the next world.  Chazal also teach us, “הֶוֵי מְחַשֵׁב הֶפְסֵד מִצְוָה כְּנֶגֶד שְׂכָרָהּ/Consider the loss through a mitzvah against its reward.” (Avos 1:3)  It pays to do mitzvos because the time, energy and money a mitzvah may cost us is no match for the everlasting reward we will receive for that mitzvah.

Chazal seem to be teaching us to perform mitzvos with an eye on the reward they engender.  However, we find another Chazal that enjoins us to serve God without considering the reward, “אַל תִּהְיוּ כַּעֲבָדִים הַמְשַׁמְשִים אֶת הָרַב עַל מְנַת לְקַבֵּל פְּרָס .../Do not be like servants who serve their master in order to receive a prize …” (Avos 2:1)  How does this Chazal reconcile with the previous ones?

In order to reconcile these two very different statements, we need to gain an understanding of the ultimate reward for performing mitzvos.  We see from the pasuk above and the Chazal that Rashi quotes that the true reward for mitzvos is attained in the next world.[1] 

What is the reward?  The Sfas Emes explains that the reward obviously is not connected in any way to anything we’ve experienced during our lives.  The next world is not physical.  Moreover, the next world is not even a place.  It is rather a state.  It is the state in which we have merited proper subordination to God.  It is a state of closeness to God that we cannot fathom or comprehend while in physical bodies.

In fact, the word for world – עוֹלָם – has the same root as the word for concealed – הָעֳלַם.  The next world is concealed from us because it is outside our life experience.  In this world, the physical hides God’s glory.  The truth is concealed by the illusion that there is no reality other than this physical world.

The ultimate reward for mitzvos is closeness to and experiencing God.  This can happen best in the next world where the physical barriers of this world do not exist.  Performing mitzvos in order to come close to God is the reason we have the mitzvos.  It follows that the purpose of the mitzvos and their reward is one and the same.  Accordingly, Chazal ask us to consider our loss from performing a mitzvah against the reward.  The reward is closeness to God, which is the purpose of the mitzvah.

The other ma’amar Chazal that admonishes us not to perform mitzvos in order to receive a prize does not mention reward – שָׂכָר.  It mentions prize – פְּרָס.  Here, Chazal are not referring to the ultimate reward and purpose of the mitzvos.  Rather, they are referring to performing mitzvos for personal gain. 

The word פְּרָס/prize connotes a piece/פְּרוּסָה which alludes to separation.  When we perform mitzvos for personal benefit and gain, we are separating ourselves from the source of life, from God.  This is the opposite of performing mitzvos in order to “live through them.” 

 Practical Application

From this ma’amar we see how important it is to have the proper intent when performing mitzvos.  The Sfas Emes is teaching what seems to be a big chiddush.  Performing mitzvos in order to get to the next world, according to the Sfas Emes, is not shelo lishma.  Just the opposite!  It is the very reason we were given the mitzvos because getting to the next world is synonymous with coming close to God.[2]

[1] We find this idea explicitly, “שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא/There is no reward for mitzvos in this world.”  (Kiddushin 39b)
[2] For a different view on this, see the Ramban on the pasuk, “וחי בהם/and you shall through them.”  The Ramban considers doing mitzvos to get to the next world as doing them from a place of awe of God.  The higher level is performing mitzvos from a place of love of God, simply because He commanded us to do them.

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