The Path of the Just
Chapter 16 (Part 2)
Not only should our actions be “pure”, which is to say unsullied and well
executed, but our thoughts and intentions should be, too. That’s to say that
we should have the very noblest of motivations when we fulfill G-d’s mitzvot
rather than do them for ulterior, self-serving reasons.
The truth be known, there’s a world of utilitarian reasons why we might do
mitzvot. As Ramchal words it, we might want to “deceive others”, by having
them think we’re deeply observant when we’re perhaps not; or we might
calculate that we’d somehow be “honored or become wealthy” by our pious
affect, in situations in which others might trust us with private
information or property, or place us in honored positions on the assumption
that we’re inherently honest. Or we may be anxious for a reward in the
At bottom the point is that it would be small of us to turn to things so
lofty as mitzvot to raise our stature in others’ eyes. (Ramchal depicts the
greatness of doing mitzvot altruistically in some of his more esoteric
works; see especially his remarks in Tikkunim Chadashim 39, 69 as well as in
Pinot HaMerkavah as found in Ginzei Ramchal p. 116.)
But what’s a mere mortal to do? We can’t deny the impressions that the good
things that we do make on others any more than we can deny that we sometimes
do indeed try to impress others by our observances. Are we to not fulfill
G-d mitzvot if we can’t do them selflessly?
As our sages stated it, the answer is that "a person should always be
involved in Torah and mitzvot despite any ulterior motives” and
notwithstanding the risks, “so that he might come to do them altruistically"
in the end (Pesachim 50b).
That is, we’re to do what’s to be done even if less than nobly since it’s
what we’re asked to do as Jews. We’re nonetheless asked to strive toward
selflessness later on and we’re promised that if we have that intention
we’ll eventually come to be altruistic. As Ramchal reminds us though, the
point remains that “if you haven’t yet reached the level of doing mitzvot
altruistically after having done them for ulterior motives you’re still far
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org