For the Sake of Heaven

Avot (2:12) | Ricki Bornstein | 14 years ago

Based on an essay by HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein shlita

R’ Yosi says “…and let all your actions be directed for the sake of heaven.”

Avot 2:12

Seemingly, even before Adam’s punishment, he was placed in the Garden to work, cultivate and develop the world, thus teaching us that constructive labour is an ideal that an ordinary people ought to engage themselves with. This ethic can be understood from both the perspective of the cheftzah (an imperfect world that requires improvement through human effort) and that of the gavra (expressed though g’millut chassadim, helping each other). Whilst both of these views have been stressed by various schools of thought, other contrasts can be drawn beyond the narrow scope of indolence and work: How do we want to spend our lives? How do we want to earn a living? How do we balance professional ambitions with vigilant Talmud Torah and a narrow sense of avodat Hashem (confined to the four cubits of Shulchan Aruch)?

However, even within our analysis of avodat Hashem, two categories exist: davar mitzvah, that which we have specifically been commanded to perform, and service through davar reshut, the broad area of choice within one’s life.

Davar Mitzvah: Limited and Unlimited

Many mitzvot that we are obligated to perform have been clearly delineated: adding to them would be of no substance; in fact may be considered problematic. If one were to eat two k’zatim of matza instead of one, (according to most authorities) he has achieved naught, whereas if one decided to live in a sukkah for two weeks instead of one week, he has transgressed the prohibition of ba’al tossif (adding to mitzvot). However, some mitzvot - and these are amongst our most critical mitzvot - are not limited in any quantitative sense, and may therefore be viewed as laying claim to the totality of our being. These mitzvot are obligations of the heart and mind (to love, fear and cling to Hashem). Since these mitzvot do not require any particular activity, they need not interfere or conflict with any other facet of life, and therefore do not come to negate the value of work or other human pursuits.

Davar Reshut: All for the sake of heaven

Founded on the ideal of “be’chol derachecha de’ehu” – “In all your ways know Him” (Mishlei 3:6), a person should orientate his life so to be able to serve G-d through every activity. Whilst stemming from the narrowly defined halachic responsibilities, ultimate totality of avodat Hashem grows on the much larger branches of davar reshut. Rambam (Shemona Perakim, 8) made this point when discussing the celebrated statement, “Hakol bidei shamayim chutz m’yirat Shamayim” - all is in the hands of heaven except for the very fear of Heaven itself. Following Rabbeinu Bachya, he claims that whilst one indeed does only control his yir’at shamayim, the term yir’at shamayim encompasses the entire range of human activity. Hence, whatever a person does or negates expresses his yir’at shamayim or lack thereof.

A person must direct every single of one his deeds solely towards attaining knowledge of G-d. His sitting down, his standing up, and his speech should all be directed towards this goal…Even when he sleeps, if he sleeps with intention of resting his mind and body so that he does not become sick – for he is unable to serve the Lord when he is sick – his sleep shall become a service of\ G-d. Concerning this, Chazal commanded (Avot ) “…*and let all your actions be directed for the sake of heaven.*”… (Hilchot De’ot 3:2-3)

The totality of a person’s existence must be orientated towards his relationship with G-d, towards avodat Hashem.


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