Love and Self-Deception
Chapter 10, Law 1
"A person should not say, 'I will fulfill the mitzvos (commandments) of
the Torah and study its wisdom in order that I receive the blessings written
in the Torah or so that I will earn the life of the Word to Come. And I will
abstain from the sins forbidden by the Torah in order that I will be spared
from the curses written in the Torah or that I not be cut off from the World
"It is not proper to serve G-d in this manner for one who does so serves out
of fear. This is not the high level of the prophets nor of the wise. The
only ones who serve G-d in this way are the unlearned, the women, and the
children -- whom we instruct to serve [G-d] out of fear until their
understanding increases and they serve out of love."
After spending much time discussing the concepts of reward, punishment and
the World to Come, the Rambam in this chapter discusses the motives we
should have in serving G-d. On the one hand, as we were recently taught, the
heavenly rewards in store for the worthy are unimaginably great -- beyond
even what the human mind -- in man's current state -- can comprehend. Yet
here the Rambam teaches us that we must not serve G-d in order to receive
those rewards -- and certainly not for the smattering of blessings we might
receive in this world.
Rather, continues the Rambam, one should serve G-d out of love -- out of a
devotion to do the will of his Creator. In the coming weeks the Rambam will
describe more fully what love of G-d actually means. How does one "love" an
infinite, unknowable Being? Can we build a loving relationship with Him in
the manner we would with another human being?
For now, however, I would like to make a different observation. There is a
very fundamental quandary which arises when we attempt to serve G-d out of
love. We are taught not to serve G-d for the anticipated reward, but rather
as an act of love. Yet we know that that reward is coming. If so, we are
basically being asked to ignore what we know will be -- to train ourselves
not to think about it -- and only then can we serve G-d properly.
To me this seems a very strange arrangement. In the back of our minds we
*do* know reward is coming. Yet we are asked to suppress this knowledge, to
act as if it isn't so. It seems a very curious form of mind control: Ignore
what you know to be true and only then will you be serving Me properly. Does
this mean that someone who is not so schizophrenic will not be a good
servant of the L-rd?
The simplest answer is basically yes. We are told to ignore what we know in
our hearts to be the case. But it is not simply a mind game. As the Rambam
will explain in future laws, loving G-d is such a powerful, overwhelming
emotion that one who experiences it can think of little else. It is hardly a
great act of omission for a lovesick person to forget everything else on his
mind. If we truly love G-d, we will want to serve Him period. It will matter
little to us that He will reward us in kind. All we want ourselves is to
make our Beloved happy.
My teacher R. Yochanan Zweig (www.talmudicu.edu &
www.torah.org/learning/rabbizweig) saw a much deeper message in this. There
in fact *is* a dilemma here -- serve G-d out of pure love, ignoring the
reward you know He will bestow. But in fact, if not for that reward we would
not be *able* to serve G-d out of love. Let us explain.
Our relationship with G-d is in many ways not so different from our
relationship with other human beings. Let's say I have a friend (or spouse)
whom I care for and give to selflessly. I devote myself to his needs and do
everything for him. But the friend never does anything for me in return --
nor does he so much as acknowledge any of the acts I've done for him. Do I
have a "relationship" with such a person? Do my acts for him increase my
closeness? No -- that is no relationship. It is self-sacrifice. Doing for
another who never does back for you is not devotion and does not build
closeness. It is a one-way relationship -- in fact not a relationship at
all. It will leave me feeling wasted and empty.
As an interesting aside -- perhaps getting a bit ahead of ourselves, this
explains why intimacy is the highest expression of love in a marriage. Both
parties give pleasure to each other at the same time. Giving to another is a
wonderful expression of love. But as we have seen, if it is not
reciprocated, at a point it is not giving at all, but just wasting and
sacrificing myself. Conversely, receiving from the other is wonderful, but
if I never reciprocate, the giver will equally feel betrayed.
Marriage -- the highest human relationship achievable to man -- contains
both elements at once. Each party gives much to the other -- not in the
expectation of but with the active knowledge that the other does for it as
well. In intimacy these two elements come together at once -- in the highest
expression of sharing known to man.
Based on this reasoning, it becomes evident just how significant one's
intentions are during intimacy. If I am focused on giving pleasure to my
spouse -- knowing at the same time that it is reciprocated, then it is a
truly high form of giving -- without the possible residual sense of
unrequited love. If, however, I am focused on the pleasure I am taking, it
is an act of selfishness -- perhaps only somewhat ameliorated by the
awareness that I am giving pleasure at the same time. The exact same action.
But it can be a beautiful act of giving and sharing or a viciously selfish
one of taking. As always, in the truly profound challenges of life, it all
depends on our intentions.
There is yet another tangential issue I should address -- the parent-child
relationship. Parents give selflessly to their children for years on end --
yet they love them dearly. The Talmud states it dryly: "The love of the
father is for his children; the love of the children is for the children
*they* have" (Sotah 49a). For years children give virtually nothing back to
their parents. Why do parents instinctively love their children so? Isn't it
self-sacrifice, unrequited love?
The answer is that in fact, giving to another greatly increases our love for
and attachment to that person. The more we invest of ourselves into someone
else, the more we feel a part of ourselves to be in him. Yet, this is true
only to a degree. If a child comes of age and still exhibits no gratitude
towards his parents -- as well as providing no "nachas" returns on their
investment by never making anything of himself, the love will become
strained. In fact, after years a parent may suddenly blow up at the child
who never does anything in return. In spite of the many years of love and
devotion, at the very same time a pent up sense of resentment and unrequited
love slowly builds up in the parent. In the end -- once the parent feels it
is time for the child to come into his own, the relationship may slowly turn
into one of nagging and resentment, or of outright anger and disgust. Love
relationships are powerful indeed. And they can never be one-way.
(An exception is giving to another who you know can never fully give back to
you, such as a disabled child -- or a pet or plant for that matter. We love
and feel attached to anyone and anything we invest in -- and simply lower
our expectations of what we hope to receive in return. On the one hand, the
lower expectations do not diminish our love, yet on the other, the
relationship is of a different sort. To the degree that I cannot receive in
return, my relationship is one of caring and stewarding, rather than a
two-way reciprocal one.)
Getting back to our relationship with G-d, we are presented with the same
fascinating dilemma. We should be overcome with love of our G-d and want
nothing other than to serve Him and fulfill His wishes. Reward should make
no difference. Yet all of this would be crushing if we did not at least
*know* our service will be repaid in kind. The Talmud (Nedarim 62a; see also
Rashi to Deut. 11:13), in explaining the verse "to love the L-rd your G-d"
(Deut. 30:20), writes that one should study Torah not in order to be called
"sage" or "rabbi", but out of love. The Talmud then concludes, "And in the
end, the honor will come." Do not *serve* for that reason, but know that all
the honors and pleasures of the world are the rightful due of G-d's special
servants. And we need to know that. For we would not -- *could* not --
*really* love our G-d if we did not know that He loves us too.
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org