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Thought for the Day: Olam HaBah -- Part III of Why It Matters, What It Is, How to Get There

It was the 60s; free love, if it feels good do it, down with the establishment, don't trust the man, etc, etc, etc.  There were still cigarette ads on TV, people in movies and TV smoked, and Surgeon General's warning was given about as much attention as "Don't Text and Drive" is given today.  Even so, they didn't sell cigarettes to 10 years olds; not in my neighborhood, anyway.  That is, not unless you had a note from your dad.  My dad still smoked in those days and he would sometimes have me write the note, which he would then sign, and then I'd go off to get his smokes.

When I was 12 or so I received a chemistry set for my birthday (thanks, grandpa!).  I would often go to the local drugstore to purchase chemicals for new experiments.  At some point I decided it would be fun to make gun powder (being smart doesn't make you wise), but sulfur was a "controlled" substance.  No problem, I thought, I'll ask my Dad for a note.  One little problem, of course... Dad was likely to ask me why I needed the sulfur; not out of suspicion, just curiosity.  I surmounted that difficulty by going to the library and finding experiments one could do with sulfur.  I found an interesting, yet innocent, experiment; I got my note, got my sulfur (that sneaky druggist still called my Dad to be sure), and somehow managed not to blow myself up.

Our ultimate goal in this world is to make each moment an act of avodas HaShem.  That, in turn, means that each and every action, thought, and even desire would be entirely "lishma" -- for the sake, only for the sake, of fulfilling Ratzon HaShem.  In my humble opinion, the single greatest deterrent to reaching that goal is thinking I am already there.  There is a simple acid test for that, by the way.  If you ever get frustrated or angry, then you aren't acting lishma.  The only reason to get angry is either because I my plans got derailed, I I have to do something I don't want.  Well, sir, if it's "your" plan or something "you" don't want... then it's "lishm'cha", not "lishma".

How do you get to "lishma"?  Chazal tell us (P'sachim 50b): amar Rav Yehuda amar Rav, l'olam ya'sok adam ba'torah u'mitzvos af al pi sh'lo lishma; sh'mitoch sh'lo lishma, bah lishma.  This is often (usually, in fact) mistranslated to say, "a person should always be busy with Torah and mitzvos, even if is is [only] for ulterior motives, since from performance for ulterior motives one comes to performance for His sake alone."  What's the problem with that translation?  It makes is sound like lo lishma is for nebbichs who can't get their act together; there is still hope for those poor unfortunates.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  The translation should "always involve yourself in Torah and mitzvos, even though it is all for ulterior motives [don't be deceived], because from ..."  That is, constant performance of Torah and mitzvos sh'lo lishma is the one and only way to get to lishma.  To eschew "lo lishma" is like refusing to takes the stairs or elevator to get from the first floor to the top floor.  There is nothing noble about trying to think your way to the top floor without taking the stairs; it's just stupid.  There is nothing noble about avoiding "lo lishma" to get to "lishma"; it's just... well, you know.

Of course the "lo lishma" can be used to be self-serving (like my sulfur note); that, of course is bad and is basically avoda zara.  Using "lo lishma" to get to "lishma", however, is not only noble, it's the only way.


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