Monday, July 30, 2007

"shelo lishma" in mitzvah performance for an "aino metzuveh" and amein groups

The gemara (Sota 14) writes that Hashem responded to Moshe’s request to enter Eretz Yisrael by saying “If all you want is the reward of mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz I will give them to you without your entering the Land”. The Yismach Moshe connects this response to a Midrash that Moshe involved himself with removing Yosef’s bones from Egypt only for the sake of schar mitzvah – midah k’neged midah, just as Moshe began the journey from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael by focusing on schar, this in the end prevented his entering the land. (As to why Moshe was motivated by schar and not lishma, ayen sham, or maybe more on that later).

The Maharasha makes an interesting point with regard to the motivation of schar mitzvah: since Moshe was not yet obligated to do any of the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, there was nothing wrong with being motivated by schar to want to become obligated by entering the Land. Our wariness for performance “al menas l’kabel pras” extends only to someone who has an obligation and discharges it solely to receive reward; someone who has no obligation but wants to undertake greater obligations faces no such test of having proper intentions.

Apropos of the latest round of discussions (here, here) of amein/tefilah groups, I wonder why when it comes to women performing mitzvos or learning Torah there is an immediate suspicion of improper motive. Could one not argue based on the Maharasha that any cheshbonos of “al menas” apply only to someone who is already metzuveh; for someone who wants to undertake an extra obligation there is much less of a burden to insure and insist that motives be “lishma”.


  1. "I wonder why when it comes to women performing mitzvos or learning Torah there is an immediate suspicion of improper motive."

    It's probably because there are so many women outside of Orthodox Judaism who have bad motivations in their push for these kinds of things.

  2. But as I wrote, who cares what the motivations are as long as they want to do more mitzvos, and by the same token, who cares what other aveiros they may do outside the context of wanting to do certain mitzvos? Why is the label "Orthodox" relevant?

  3. RHS in his essay on women's tefilah groups (and concluding le-issur) mentions (among many other things) the concept that any new institution needs to be done lishma. He quotes -- I believe from the Rav -- the pshat that R'Gamlilel asked who can write the bracha of velamalshinim and only Shmuel ha-katan could. Clearly they were capable of writing the bracha. The pshat is that when undertaking something like that, one has to be be certain that the motives are proper (and tying back to your case, this clearly was not a case of a metzuveh). Only Shmuel ha-katan, who we know from pirkei avos would regularly say binpol oivecha al tismach would be appropriate for the task. It's been a while since I read and I forget what else there may tie into your question but mareh makon ani lecha.

  4. R' Kook says the same pshat you cite but places the focus on the need to make sure personal vengance did not intrude on the motives for the bracha (which is distinct from the more global issue of lishma). The Brisker Rav also answers the same kashe by explaining that you needed someone who was ra'uy for nevuah to be metakein the bracha; Shmuel haKatan the gemara (Sanhedrin ?) tells us was ra'uy but his dor wasn't.

    To ban WTG solely on that basis seems to make "derush" into halachic precedent. Even the Maharasha is only discussing whether the mitzvah has full schar, not whether a mitzvah should be avoided.

  5. Since you raise the halachic issue of WTG, let me just point to R' Frimer's comprehensive article on the topic
    wherein he discusses the Rav's position at length and the issue of lishma does not come up (nor apprently was it mentioned by RHS in his original teshuvah on the topic).

    In order to avoid getting sidetracked I should not have used tefillah groups as an example. The same issue of lishma could be raised with regards to a women's bais medrash program, which RYBS was apparently comfortable with - see footnote #285 in Frimer's article where he writes, "We note in this regard that R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik verbalized on many occasions his belief that-public policy issues aside-the women's energies were being misdirected in their battle for prayer groups. These intellectual and spiritual energies could be more properly, profitably and permanently invested in Torah scholarship...Indeed, the Rav actively supported women's involvement in all areas of Torah study, and he himself inaugurated the Talmud program at Stern College for Women."

    Perhaps I am overly cynical, but I find it unreasonable to assume that *every* girl who opens a gemara in Stern fulfills the lofty intention of learning lishma.

  6. anon12:54 PM


    I agree with your analysis -- and didnt mean to take the discussion offtrack from lishma generally (and specifically in the context of talmud torah) -- to WTG. Just wanted to note in the sticky context of WTG, issues re: kavanah were raised, and this point in RHS I though was somewhat related. But your overall point re: lishma, mitzvos, schar, and talmud torah, is a valud one.

  7. Can the principle of permitting Torah study "shelo limsha" based on the assumption that "mitoch" the ulterior motives "yavo lishma" be applied to women's learning as well?

  8. Why would you think not?