Monday, August 11, 2008

Are You Doing it B/C of a Natural Inclination or to Serve Hashem?

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, in his introduction to Mesilas Yesharim, says disparagingly that "if you meditate upon the reality of the majority of the world, [you will see] that most intelligent, bright and sharp people invest most of their energy into investigating the fine points of wisdom and deep research, each person according to the inclination of his intellect and his natural inclinations." Rav Itamar Shwartz clarifies in the 4th Maamar of teh "Pirkei Avodah U'Machshava" section of the 5th Chelek of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, that this implies that people generally invest their time according to their natural inclinations, and not according to the truth.

He points out that in order to understand how to internalize the words of the Ramchal, one must first ask himself why he wants to do whatever it is that he wants to do. Is it because it is the desire of his body or because it is the desire of his neshoma? And even if it is the desire of his neshoma, there is an even higher and truer level. There is the etzem haneshoma, the essential soul, and there is the levush haneshama, the external aspects of the soul. For instance, one may want to do good things because it is the natural inclination of the soul, irrespective of whether that thing is being done in the service of Hashem or not.

One may do something because of the natural inclinations of the external aspect of the neshoma, as opposed to doing it because of the essential neshoma's desire, which is only to give nachas ruach to the Creator. Examples of this would include serving Hashem because it is enjoyable or serving Hashem because one wants to personally be privileged to be close to Hashem. There is a test to determine whether one is serving Hashem because one wants to give nachas ruach, pleasure, to Hashem or as an expression of some natural inclination of the levush haneshoma, the external aspect of the neshoma. Would you give up personal closeness to Hashem or give up the pleasure of being davek to Hashem if it were Hashem's will that you do so?

I think this is the vort in the final test of Avraham Avinu, the killing of his son Yitzchak. Avraham devoted his life to serving Hashem through the mida of Chesed, kindness and love. He loved Hashem and the desire of chesed and love is to expand and share that love. Therefore, he devoted himself to sharing his love and devotion with Hashem with others, till he had brought thousands into the service of Hashem. But there's a problem. If Avraham's whole nature was one of kindness, was he only serving Hashem because it was just an expression of his nature, in which case he might have done most of what he did even if there was no G-d? Or was he actually doing it to serve Hashem? The only way Hashem "could tell" was by telling Avraham to do something in the service of G-d that was completely and totally against his nature. In doing so with the same zrizus that he approached his other mitzvos, Avraham showed that he was indeed serving G-d in order to do G-d's will, and not his own. Thus, he revealed that not only the Akeida was done just for Hashem's sake and not his own, but also every act of Chesed was revealed to be an act of serving G-d, and not merely acting out his "natural inclinations."
May Hashem help us clarify to ourselves whether our desires are l'shem shamayim, for the sake of doing Hashem's will, or are just to express our own individual inclinations, regardless of the Ratzon Hashem. And once He helps us gain that clarity, may He assist us and cause us to do His will for the sake of giving Him nachas ruach, not not for any personal motivation!

-Dixie Yid

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Anonymous said...

This is an extremely high level. I think before one can be expected to truly sacrifice himself for Hashem one has to truly KNOW Hashem. And before one knows Hashem, one has to truly know himself...

Just like R' Weinberger said in his shiur.

Anonymous said...


This is another great post. I need to look at this Ramchal, but what is your understanding of the meanining of the disparagement in this teaching?


Anonymous said...

Isn't the lo lishmah supposed to lead to lishmah? Or does it take some deep self-analysis to make it to the next level?

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Sorry for not responding earlier. I've had a crazy day of meetings. Yowsers.

Anon 8:00:

True. One must be able to know and be honest with his own inner motivations to be able to honestly make the determination about himself. There's a Mei Hashiloach (3rd one in Parshas Devarim) and another piece from Bilvavi 5 that I would like to write up on this general topic as well when I get the chance.

As to the idea you mentioned, which is that one must know himself before he can know Hashem, this is something I also wrote about here, based on Rav Weinberger's teachings introducing the derech of "Da Es Atzmecha." But it is difficult to square this idea with the other teachings in the Bilvavi seforim, which don't put as fine a point on the status of self-knowledge as a pre-requesite for Deveikus BaShem as Rav Weinberger does. This requires clarification. IY"H, we will ask this question to Rav Shwartz when he comes to the States next month.

Anon 12:34:

I understand it basically as I wrote it. Intellectual or academic style lomdus and pilpul has limited value if it is done in the service of one's own desires for such things and not in the serve of the Ribbono Shel Olam.


I agree with you that the Shelo Lishmo can lead to the Lishmoh. But I understand this to mean that yes, it does require self-investigation to get to the next level. It's a big mistake to think that this happens automatically. Unfortunately, too many of us just keep learning without ever taking it to the next level because we just think it is supposed to come naturally. Realizing that this is not the case is one of the biggest toeles'n in the Bilvavi seforim.

-Dixie Yid

Anonymous said...

DY: I too have many such days. I appreciate your responses, they collectively illuminated that which was already within.

You wrote: "It's a big mistake to think that this happens automatically..."
This was what I was looking for.