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Baruch Shalom HaLevi Ashlag (The RABASH)

What Beginning in Lo Lishma Means in the Work

Article No. 23, 1987/88

It is written in Pesachim (p 50), “Rabbi Yehuda said, ‘Rav said, ‘One should always engage in Torah and Mitzvot, even if Lo Lishma [not for Her name], since from Lo Lishma he comes to Lishma [for Her name].’’”

Maimonides said (Hilchot Teshuva Chapter 10, 5), “Sages said, ‘One should always engage in Torah, even if Lo Lishma, since from Lo Lishma he comes to Lishma.’ Therefore, when teaching little ones, women, and ordinary people, they are taught only to work out of fear and in order to receive reward. When they increase knowledge and gain much wisdom, they will be told that secret with ease, until they attain it and know Him and serve Him out of love.”

And in Pesachim (p 50), it is written there in the Tosfot, “In Chapter Two of Berachot it is said, ‘All who engages in Torah in Lo Lishma is better off not being born.’ And Rabbi Yehuda says, ‘There it is about one who is studying in order to brag and to annoy.’” And in Berachot, the Tosfot explains, “We should ask, for here it is about one who is studying only to annoy his friends, and there it is about one who is studying so as to be respected.”

With the above said, we can see that in general, we should make two discernments in the work of the Creator: 1) Lishma [for Her name], 2) Lo Lishma [not for Her name]. We should know what exactly is Lishma and what exactly is Lo Lishma.

In Lo Lishma, we see that we have five discernments to make:

1) As Maimonides said, he engages in Torah and Mitzvot [commandments] because the Creator commanded us, and he wishes to keep the commandments of the Creator, and this is why he engages in Torah and Mitzvot. But we should note what is the reason that commits him to keeping the commandments of the Creator. Maimonides says that we should tell him, “Because of reward and punishment.” In other words, if he keeps the commandments of the Creator, the Creator will reward him: He will have a long life, wealth and the next world. And if he doesn’t keep, he will be punished for not wanting to keep the commandments of the Creator.

However, we should make two discernments in reward and punishment: 1) As Maimonides says; 2) There is reward and punishment from pleasures of the Torah and Mitzvot. These matters, too, cannot be disclosed to beginning students in the work or to little ones and to women.

2) The second discernment in Lo Lishma, as the Tosfot says, is that he is studying Torah in order to be respected. This is worse than the first discernment that Maimonides mentions, since here he does not demand of the Creator to pay his reward and this is why he works. Rather, he wants people to respect him—whether with wealth or with honors—and this is the reason that commits him to engagement in Torah and Mitzvot. We could say that it appears as though he is keeping Torah and Mitzvot because people compel him, for otherwise the people will not reward him, and not because the Creator commanded to keep the Torah and Mitzvot. However, that, too, falls under the Lo Lishma that brings to Lishma.

The third discernment is as the Tosfot says, “One who studies Torah in order to annoy his friends.” This is worse than the previous discernments of Lo Lishma. It is said about it, “Anyone who engages in Torah in Lo Lishma is better off not being born.”

Let us explain what is Lishma, and the five discernments in Lo Lishma, and let us begin from the bottom up.

The Lo Lishma in order to annoy is the worst. It is so much so, that our sages said that one who walks on this path “is better off not being born.” We should understand why “in order to annoy” is worse than one who studies “in order to be respected.” After all, he is studying for the creatures and not for the Creator, similar to in order to annoy, which is for the creatures.

We should explain the difference between them. It is known that we were given the commandment, “love thy friend as thyself.” Rabbi Akiva said about it that it is the great rule of the Torah. It is presented in the book, The Giving of the Torah, that this is the transition of exiting self-love and into love of others, which is love of friends, and into the love of the Creator. This means that it is impossible to work Lishma before one exits self-love.

This is why we should make two distinctions concerning love of others: 1) when he has love of others; 2) when he hasn’t love of others. But there is a third distinction, which is hatredof others. In other words, he does things in order to hurt the other. This is called, “One who takes honor in one’s friend’s disgrace.” In other words, he enjoys his friend being disgraced and in torment, and derives his pleasure from it. That person is regarded as engaging in hatred of people.

With this we can distinguish between one who is studying in order to be respected and one who studies in order to annoy. The purpose is to reach Lishma, and we were given the advice by which we can reach Lishma—through love of others. Hence, although one who studies in order to be respected is not engaging in love of others, he is still not acting towards hatred of people, since those who respect him enjoy him, and this is why they respect him. Therefore, he still has a chance to reach Lishma, simply because of the doing—that he engages in Torah and Mitzvot, since the Torah and Mitzvot themselves bring him a spirit of purity so he will be able to rise in the degrees and reach the love of others and the love of the Creator.

This is why they said about it, “From Lo Lishma he comes to Lishma.” But one who is studying in order to annoy, which is an act that brings him to hatred of others, yet still wishes to be honored with his friend’s disgrace, will certainly never reach the love of the Creator, since his actions detain the exit from self-love. Thus, how will he exit self-love and come to love of the Creator?

And yet, there is one more discernment to make in Lo Lishma: by way of coercion, as written in Article No. 19, 1986/87. For example, if a person works for an orthodox person and receives a good salary from him, and the employer tells him, “I want you to keep Torah and Mitzvot. Otherwise I will not want you to work for me.”

He comes home and tells his wife that the employer wants to fire him. His wife says, “What does it mean, keeping Torah and Mitzvot because you have an orthodox employer? We don’t believe in it. Are we going to sell our conscience for money?” But when he says to his wife, “I’ve been to several other places and it’s very hard to find a job these days, so if we don’t accept the employer’s condition, we will starve.”

“Therefore,” says the husband, “We shouldn’t sacrifice ourselves for our conscience, but we know the truth, that we do not believe in Torah and Mitzvot. Instead, we will keep Torah and Mitzvot not because the Creator told us to keep Torah and Mitzvot, but because the owner of the factory instructed us, and this is why we keep Torah and Mitzvot. We don’t have to believe in the employer. So what if we keep Torah and Mitzvot? The act doesn’t blemish our conscience or suddenly makes us believers. We remain nonbelievers in the Creator even when we do those deeds.”

On the face of it, what kind of importance is there to such Torah and Mitzvot, when he explicitly says that in his views, he remains like the rest of the secular? What is the value of such deeds, according to our mind?

However, from the perspective of the law [religious law], we must force him even if he says that he doesn’t want to. It means that by that, he still keeps the commandments of the Creator, but it is called Lo Lishma. It is as Maimonides wrote (Hilchot Deot, Chapter Six), “But in matters of holiness, if he doesn’t repent in secret, he is shamed in public, and he is disgraced and cursed until he reforms.”

This means that even this manner is called Lo Lishma, since from that Lo Lishma, one also comes to Lishma, more than one who studies in order to annoy—of whom our sages said, “He is better off not being born.” And here we should interpret that by keeping Torah and Mitzvot in Lo Lishma, he isn’t doing something against the love of others. Rather, this does give pleasure to others. That is, the orthodox, who see that now he has become observant of Torah and Mitzvot, do not look at the reason, but at the act. Thus, they enjoy it. But one who studies in order to annoy acts contrary to what one should do.

By that, we explained the difference between one who studies in order to annoy, which is the worst, and one who works by coercion, who is forced to work by others, which is Lo Lishma and stands above the one who is studying in order to annoy. And although it is difficult to say so, he is keeping Torah and Mitzvot out of his will, and not by coercion, but his will is to annoy, which is only a thought and not an action. But why is one who is keeping Torah and Mitzvot by coercion, who is pressured by the public, better than one who is studying in order to annoy, if he acts not of his own free will?

Perhaps we should say that nevertheless, through the deed that he is doing, albeit coercively, the act itself has the power to bring him a good will and thought, as our sages said about the verse, “Will offer him at his will before the Lord.” And they said Arachin 21), “Will offer him” implies that he is forced, and you can say it is against his will. The Talmud says it is of his will. How is he forced? Until he says, ‘I want.’” For this reason, we can say that he is more important than one who is studying in order to annoy.

However, we should ask, “At the end of the day, he is performing the act in full, but thinks that by that he will receive honors from showing that he knows and the other doesn’t. Why is it so difficult to achieve the goal called Lishma with Lo Lishma that is in order to annoy, to the point that they said that he would be better off not being born?”

We could say that one who is studying in order to annoy must be completely immersed in the Torah and probably considers himself a complete man in the Torah. If so, he will never think about the matter of Lishma because he sees that he delves in the Torah more than his friends, who are not putting in that many hours, as well as quality. And he observes himself, that he is making greater efforts in the Torah than the friends by delving in, to know the right meaning that should be understood in the Torah, and he is not studying superficially like the others, but straining his brain. Thus, how can he think of himself as lacking? He can never come to the recognition of evil, to know that he should reach Lishma. For this reason, he is doomed. This is why they said about him, “He is better off not being born.”

And the most important in the Lo Lishma is that it brings to Lishma. It is as Maimonides said, “To receive reward and to not be punished.” The Lo Lishma that the Tosfot speaks of, which is to be respected, does things so people will see him and appreciate him. Thus, it seems as though he is keeping the commandments of people, that he is working for them, and that people will pay his reward.

But one who works with the intention of reward and punishment is working for the Creator, except he wants the Creator to pay his reward for his labor in Torah and Mitzvot. He doesn’t want people to pay his reward because he isn’t working for people to pay his reward. Rather, he is working and keeping Torah and Mitzvot because the Creator has given us Torah and Mitzvot to keep. And by that, we will receive reward for our labor in Torah and Mitzvot.

Hence, this is certainly a higher degree than the one the Tosfot speaks of, the Lo Lishma in order to be respected. This is because there he is working for people to respect him, but in reward and punishment, he is working for the Creator, which is called Lishma, meaning for the Creator, except he still wants reward for his work, and this is why it is still not considered “actual Lishma.”

However, we should note another discernment that is called Lo Lishma, as Maimonides said, though the reward and punishment are of a different form. Normally, we understand reward and punishment as being clothed in corporeal dresses, such as eating, drinking, etc.. The Zohar says that our ability to enjoy corporeal desires is only a tiny light, from what had fallen from the world of shattering, the breaking of holy sparks into the Klipot [shells], and this is all the pleasure that is in them. And the whole world chases these pleasures. When it is written that the majority of the light is clothed in Torah and Mitzvot, this is the kind of reward and punishment that he wants.

And we should always pay attention, while speaking to someone about keeping Torah and Mitzvot, we should first think which reason is suitable for that person. Everyone has his own thing that interests him, a reason for which he sees that it is worthwhile to keep Torah and Mitzvot, since by that he will receive something that is worth a great effort and toil. And he will be willing to give anything to obtain what he sees as worthwhile for him.

For this reason, we should always say to a person that which is important for him to an extent that it is worth his giving everything that he is asked for. Otherwise, without providing a reason that will make him see the profitability, he will not hear what is being said to him. Man settles for what he has and it is hard to change habits, unless he gains from it something that is important enough to give him the energy to change his ways and to start working differently than what he is accustomed to.

Hence, there are five discernments in Lo Lishma before us:

  1. By coercion;

  2. One who studies in order to annoy;

  3. One who studies in order to be respected, as mentioned in the words of the Tosfot;

  4. For reward and punishment, as in the words of Maimonides;

  5. Reward and punishment from non-corporeal things, which is something that everyone understands. But he wants reward and punishment of spiritual pleasures, as written in the “Introduction to The Book of Zohar” (Item 31), “And the final degree in this division,” in Lo Lishma, “Is that he falls passionately in love with the Creator, as one falls passionately for a corporeal love, until the object of passion remains before one’s eyes all day and all night, as the poet says, ‘When I remember Him, He does not let me sleep.’”

But with the fifth discernment in Lo Lishma, we cannot tell a person to begin in this Lo Lishma, since not every person can understand it, meaning believe that there is pleasure in the light that is clothed in Torah and Mitzvot, more than one can enjoy the pleasure that is clothed in corporeal pleasures. That is, if the light of the pleasure that is clothed in Torah and Mitzvot would be immediately apparent, it would be called “open Providence.” In that state, it would be impossible for a person to be able to work Lishma because the pleasure he would feel in Torah and Mitzvot would force him to do everything, and not because the Creator commanded to keep.

It is as he says in the “Introduction to The Study of the Ten Sefirot” (Item 43), “If, for example, the Creator were to establish open Providence with His creations in that, for instance, anyone who eats a forbidden thing would immediately choke, and anyone who performed a commandment would discover wonderful pleasures in it, similar to the finest delights in this corporeal world. Then, what fool would even think of tasting a forbidden thing, knowing that he would immediately lose his life because of it? ...Also, what fool would leave any commandment without performing it as quickly as possible, as one who cannot retire from or linger with a great corporeal pleasure that comes into his hand, without receiving it as quickly as he can?”

It follows that then there would be no possibility for choice, since the great pleasures that are clothed in Torah and Mitzvot are great lights. This is why this pleasure is concealed. Conversely, in corporeality, the pleasure in each act is revealed, which makes us crave any place where we see that there is some pleasure. And the body doesn’t tell whether it is forbidden or permitted. Because of it, there is the matter of choice and the matter of reward and punishment.

It follows that while speaking to someone about taking on the burden of Torah and Mitzvot, one should thoughtfully consider which type of Lo Lishma to tell him, since, as said above, each one should be given the Lo Lishma that suits his character, so he will see that this Lo Lishma is worth taking upon himself the Torah and Mitzvot. For example, the first discernment (by coercion) is suitable for everyone. In other words, if one can force another, in coercion, it makes no difference whether the other understands or doesn’t understand. In any case, it is called “coercion,” meaning that one can do it even if he understands one hundred percent that he is right, but he has no choice. This is called “coercion.” But with the other forms of Lo Lishma, each one has a different character, and it’s important to say what is acceptable.

We can understand the three other forms of Lo Lishma—1) in order to annoy, 2) in order to be respected, and 3) to receive corporeal reward and punishment. However, each person has a different nature, so one should pay close attention to know which type of Lo Lishma he should tell him, meaning which Lo Lishma that person can see as worth toiling for.

But with the fifth type of Lo Lishma, craving the love of the Creator because he feels pleasure in Torah and Mitzvot, this we cannot understand because it depends on the feeling. And before a person begins to taste, there is no point speaking to him. This is why it is called “the final form of Lo Lishma,” meaning that afterwards one enters the degree of Lishma.

However, we should understand that if a person reaches the degree where he craves Torah and Mitzvot in the measure that was said above, “When I remember Him, He does not let me sleep,” why is this still considered Lo Lishma? Indeed, it is because the pleasure in Torah and Mitzvot is what compels him to keep the Torah and Mitzvot. Lishma means that the greatness of the Creator, because He is great and ruling, causes him to keep Torah and Mitzvot. Thus, it is not the pleasure that is the reason that compels him, but the Creator is the reason that makes him keep Torah and Mitzvot.

The discernment of Lishma is described in the “Introduction to The Book of Zohar” (Item 32), “The work in Torah and Mitzvot Lishma, in order to bestow and to not receive reward, and he becomes worthy of receiving the five parts of the soul called NRNHY.”

However, according to the rule that man is a small world, comprised of seventy nations, he is comprised of Israel, too. Thus, we said that there are five discernments in Lo Lishma, that there are people who belong to a special type of Lo Lishma, but we should also say that all these types of Lo Lishma exist within one person, but come one at a time. Sometimes, the “in order to annoy” acts in a person. Sometimes, he is working with the Lo Lishma in order to be respected, and sometimes he is using the Lo Lishma by coercion, as Maimonides said, “He is shamed in public, disgraced, and cursed until he reforms.”

In other words, when a person comes to pray in the synagogue or comes to study Torah so that the friends will not despise him, since everyone will despise him in their hearts although no one will tell him, “Why aren’t you coming to the Torah lessons at the synagogue?” But he will know that for certain, everyone is looking at him as inferior. Thus, the disgrace that he will feel makes him come to the synagogue. It follows that the cause of Lo Lishma that forces him is the coercion, as Maimonides says.

It is easier to use this Lo Lishma as an effective Lo Lishma, since Lo Lishma that is connected to suffering—the disgrace—gives more energy to overcome the obstructions that he has. Therefore, at times when a person is in the lowest decline, the Lo Lishma of shame can still act in him. It is considered coercion because of the shame, meaning the shame—which is the suffering—forces him to do things even though the body disagrees.

And sometimes a person strengthens himself with the Lo Lishma of reward and punishment, as Maimonides said. And sometimes he has reward and punishment from finding meaning in the work, while if he doesn’t keep the Torah and Mitzvot he lacks the meaning, and this is the final Lo Lishma.

Reward and punishment of pleasure in the work: when he engages in Torah and Mitzvot, he feels pleasure. And if he doesn’t keep Torah and Mitzvot, he suffers. It is like a person who is feeling the taste of a meal and this is the reason that he goes to the meal, since he wants the pleasure of the food. It follows that the pleasure of the food is the cause for going to the meal.

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