Weekly daf: Is it important to have a pure mindset when serving Hashem?

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Is it important to have a pure mindset when serving Hashem?

Rabbi Shmuel Wise, Maggid Shiur at realcleardaf.com

Of course it is most ideal to have pure intentions when serving Hashem. But if our intentions are not perfect, or even selfish, the gemara taught us on 105b to do the mitzvos anyways, for “eventually the person will come to have the correct intention.”

Tosfos, in Taanis 7a, qualifies this concept when it comes to learning Torah for ulterior motives. While learning for, say, one’s own honor would fall under the scope of this principle, learning as a means of starting up with someone would not. If one was learning just to put down his fellow, we would apply what the gemara states there, that “if one who learns Torah for improper reasons, the Torah he learned becomes poison for him.”

There seems to be a glaring problem with Tosfos’s distinction, when we consider our gemara on 105b. The gemara taught us to do mitzvos – even if there is an ulterior motive – based on the example of Balak. Balak merited to have Rus (from whom David HaMelech descended) descend from him as a reward for the 42 sacrifices he brought to Hashem – in spite of the fact that Balak’s intentions were far from altruistic. Balak didn’t bring those offerings to please Hashem; he brought them in order to make Hashem receptive to carrying out Bilaam’s curses of the Jews, Hashem’s chosen people! But if “really bad” intentions poison the mitzvah, as Tosfos asserts, why would Balak’s “mitzvah,” that had such an evil intention, be worthy of any reward whatsoever? If a person learns to best someone else, then it is poison to him, and yet if Balak uses a mitzvah as an attempted holocaust, we assign value to that? It just doesn’t seem to compute.

Perhaps we need to more closely examine the statement in Taanis that one’s Torah learning can become poison for him. It’s possible that the gemara does not mean to completely condemn the Torah learning of a student who is learning just to put down his fellow. Rather, the gemara is saying that learning Torah for that reason is dangerous and learning with such ambitions can cause himself great damage, for the Torah is a potent force which can be wielded for good and for evil, as well. If a nefarious character not only acts aggressively to others, but does so believing that the Torah supports his cause, he has created a very dangerous situation indeed. However, it is impossible to deconsecrate the words of the Torah themselves, and therefore if notwithstanding the person’s evil intentions, he knowingly absorbed words of Torah, or fulfilled a mitzvah of the Torah, a positive merit (on some level) will inevitably be created to that person’s merit.

Now let’s go back to Balak. Indeed, his purpose in bringing offerings, to bring about the destruction of Am Yisrael, was the worst kind of intention. But in the final analysis, this man brought offerings to G-d, and therefore he received the merit to have the Davidic dynasty descend from him.

If Balak’s “good deed” was worthy of such a reward, we can only imagine the reward in store for doing a mitzvah for the right reasons.