Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Wrong and Right Type of לא לשמה -Berachot 17a

The beginning and the end of the first amud of this last Shabbat's daf focuses on the concept of לשמה, loosely translated as doing something for the right purpose. This is a topic that I already touched upon in my previous post on the 4 Amot of Halakha. However, today's daf especially when learned with Rashi and Tosfot brings up an apparent contradiction which requires its own treatment.

The Gemara begins with a prayer that students involved in Torah learning לא לשמה, not for the right purpose, should eventually be involved in Torah learning לשמה, for the right reason. So far, so good.

Later the Gemara makes a much more shocking statement.

מרגלא בפומיה דרבא תכלית חכמה תשובה ומעשים טובים שלא יהא אדם קורא ושונה ובועט באביו ובאמו וברבו ובמי שהוא גדול ממנו בחכמה ובמנין שנאמר {תהילים קיא-י} ראשית חכמה יראת ה' שכל טוב לכל עושיהם לעושים לא נאמר אלא לעושיהם לעושים לשמה ולא לעושים שלא לשמה וכל העושה שלא לשמה נוח לו שלא נברא

A favourite saying of Raba was: The goal of wisdom is repentance and good deeds, so that a man should not study Torah and Mishnah and then despise15  his father and mother and teacher and his superior in wisdom and rank, as it says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, a good understanding have all they that do thereafter.16  It does not say, 'that do',17  but 'that do thereafter', which implies, that do them for their own sake, לשמה, and not for other motives.18  If one does them for other motives, לא לשמה, it were better that he had not been created. (

Rashi and Tosfot both point out that this categorical condemnation of people who learn Torah לא לשמה, for other motives, contradicts another Gemara in פסחים דף נ עמוד ב which contains the famous statement:

לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצות אפילו שלא לשמה שמתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה

A person should always be involved in Torah and mitzvot even not for the right motives because from doing them for the wrong motives, שלא לשמה, one will come to do them for the right motives, לשמה.

Rashi and Tosfot both answer that there are different types of לא לשמה. Sometimes one can do a mitzvah שלא לשמה and it is a positive act that could eventually lead to לשמה. At other times לא לשמה is purely negative and nothing positive could ever come out of it.

The first case of לא לשמה which is discussed in Pesachim is when one learns Torah so that he will receive honor. This is the case of 
מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה, doing it for the wrong motive can eventually lead to doing it for the right motive. The second case of לא לשמה which our Gemara in Berachot speaks about (and Taanit 7a, see הגהה on the side of Berachot 17a) is when one learns in order to annoy others or as Tosfot in Pesachim adds to beat down others and lord over them. In this case, one is using Torah as a weapon to humiliate others and no positive outcome can come from it.

Interestingly Tosfot in Pesachim (50b) adds another factor to לא לשמה. He is not ללמוד על מנת לעשות, learning Torah for the sake of doing the mitzvot. Tosfot in Sota (22b) elaborates on this. He says that since such a person is not learning Torah in order to better fulfill the mitzvot either out of love or fear, he is compounding his sins. Because now rather than sinning out of ignorance, a case of שוגג, he has full knowledge of his sins and yet he still cannot hold back from fulfilling his heart's desires.

Probably the most interesting source on this topic is from Nazir 23b. The Gemara brings an example of מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה, positive לא לשמה, from Balak the King of Moav who brought 42 sacrifices to G-d for the wrong reasons, and therefore merited that one of his descendants was Ruth the convert who sired the Davidic line of Jewish kings (and Moshiach). What is amazing about this example is that Balak was not just bringing these sacrifices for less than lofty motives. He was bringing them in order to try to convince G-d to allow Bilaam to curse the Children of Israel. Isn't this the worst possible example of using mitzvot as a weapon which can never be a positive לא לשמה? I welcome your answers to this question in the comments section of this blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment