Serving G-d Without Seeking Reward
On the verse that states, “Speak to the Children of Israel and let them take for Me an offering [terumah]” (Exodus 25:2), the book Ismach Moshe (p.36) asks why the offering given by the Children of Israel is called a terumah.
We shall attempt to expand on the meaning of this concept, and in so doing we will deal with the following questions:
1. Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, reveal the secrets of Creation to the Children of Israel? Why did He give them the Torah that He so jealously kept in Heaven for 974 generations before Creation (Shabbat 88b), and which was “His delight every day” (Proverbs 8:30; see Bereshith Rabba 1:1)?
2. Why was G-d not content with giving us a smaller number of mitzvot that were meant to better us? Would not a more limited number of Divine precepts have been enough for us to recognize the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He? Why 613 commandments? Would the determined performance of mitzvot not have been enough to merit a reward in the World to Come? What interest would the Children of Israel have in knowing what happens in the upper and lower worlds? Do the weighty secrets of the Torah really interest them?
3. We know that Hashem is pleased when Jews carry out mitzvot, so we may ask just what pleasure G-d derives from our mitzvot, even when they are performed to perfection. On the contrary, since the performance of mitzvot prolongs a person’s life and his principle reward is reserved for the World to Come (Peah 1:1), should he not take pleasure in conforming to his Master’s will? G-d therefore demonstrates His favor to people by giving them the opportunity of filling their lives with mitzvot and good deeds. It is therefore people who should experience pleasure by carrying them out.
Antigonus of Socho, the disciple of Shimon HaTzaddik, said: “Do not be like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward, but rather be like servants who serve their master without the intent of receiving a reward” (Perkei Avoth 1:3). Contrary to a servant, the free Jew serves his Creator because he loves Him and derives pleasure in conforming to His will. G-d takes pleasure in seeing that we devote ourselves to Him and serve Him without awaiting reward. However if a person experiences suffering, he should not rebel against G-d, for he knows that “the L-RD punishes the one He loves” (Proverbs 3:12) and that “the L-RD desired to oppress him” (Isaiah 53:10).
As we saw, the terumah (offering) elevates man. The terumah (%/&9; or %9&; /) embodies the Torah (%9&;) that was given in 40 (/) days (Baal HaTurim, Menachot 99b). The Torah distances a person from the evil inclination (Perkei Avoth 6:2) and enables him to serve G-d without seeking reward. The verse therefore states vayikhu li (“and let them take for Me”), to give Me pleasure. Through the Torah, a person sanctifies his 365 sinews and 248 limbs, which correspond to the 613 Divine commandments (see Makot 23b). If Hashem had given us a more limited number of mitzvot, only a portion of a person’s body could have been sanctified.
As we know, man was created on the sixth day in order that everything be ready for Shabbat (Sanhedrin 38a). To understand what is happening around him, he needs to understand the Torah that was conceived by the Holy One, blessed be He, before the creation of the world (see Shabbat 88b). Thus a person cannot exist without the 613 mitzvot that are connected to his body and soul, for as we saw (Bereshith Rabba 1:8), Hashem conceived of the creation of the Jewish people and the Torah before Creation. He created the world only for the Torah, “the first of His works” (Proverbs 8:22) as well as for the Jewish people, “the first fruit” of His crop (Jeremiah 2:3).
The Jewish people and the Torah thus embody the same concept. Jews are guarantors for one another (zeh bazeh – Shavuot 39a), connected to the Torah, and Hashem is found among them. As we have seen, zeh bazeh has same numerical value (26) as the Name of G-d. Therefore G-d gave the entire Torah to the Children of Israel in order that they might sanctify themselves and engage in its study – just as they had done before the creation of the world – for as long as they were solely connected to G-d’s thought.
As a result, the Children of Israel placed na’aseh (“we will do”) before nishma (“we will hear” – i.e., “we will learn”), because they already knew the Torah before coming into this world. Since they wanted to vanquish the evil inclination, they said, “We will do and we will hear” the entire Torah to please our Creator. Rashi therefore wrote: “ ‘Let them take for Me a terumah’ – for the sake of My Name,” for man should engage in Torah study without awaiting reward. The terumah contributes to leromem (elevating) man, and the Torah enables him to serve Hashem for the sake of His Name only.
However if such is the case, why does the verse stipulate vayikhu li (“and let them take for Me”) rather than veyitnu li (“and let them give Me”)? It is because G-d asks man to “take” the mitzvot and to perform them exclusively for G-d’s sake, without awaiting reward. The Torah that a person diligently studies will find favor in His eyes. Man strives in certain ways, and his Torah strives for him in other ways (Sanhedrin 99b). He will come to studying lishmah (literally “for His Name”), without aiming at any personal gain.
The verse that follows, “And this is the terumah that you shall take of them” (Exodus 25:3) means that the mitzvot a person performs with devotion sanctifies and grants him favor in G-d’s eyes.
G-d revealed the secrets of Creation to the Children of Israel because, as we saw, Creation primarily depends on the Torah, as it is written: “If not for My covenant [the Torah], I would not have appointed days and nights, the decrees of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33:25). Therefore the world cannot survive without the Torah (Pesachim 68b). Only the Children of Israel can sustain the world by their diligent Torah study and the connection that they establish between the upper and lower worlds. Hashem will thus share the pleasure that they find in studying His Torah.