Be’ohalei Ha’avos On Pirkei Avos


Rabbi Y. Dov KrakowskiBy  Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski

Avos 1, 3:

Antigonus of Socho received the Torah from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say: Be not like servants who minister unto their master for the sake of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve their master not upon the condition of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.

The above mishna is not an easy one to understand. While it can be explained simply, there are elements that seem to some extent undeveloped, or at best open-ended.  Antigonus tells us not to serve Hashem for the purpose of receiving remuneration, yet he doesn’t tell us what should be the purpose of our worship of the Ribbono Shel Olam. The mefarshim explain that he is telling us to worship Hashem out of love. If this is what Antigonus is telling us, why does he not say so straight out but merely infer it?  It isn’t a minor side point to what he is imparting but rather – at the very least – one of the two main concepts he is conveying (the other one being: fear of Heaven).

There is another peculiarity with the last statement in the mishna. The mishna ends by telling us “and let the fear of Heaven be upon you”. How does one go about ‘letting’ the fear of heaven to ‘be upon’ one? If Antigonus means to tell us to worship Hashem out of fear why doesn’t he articulate it explicitly?

Hegel introduced a fundamental idea to philosophy. This idea is referred to as the Master-slave dialectic. It is unclear what specifically Hegel was referring to, or if he was referring to one specific sort of relationship or multiple sorts of relationships and situations.  The basic idea is that when there are two identities or elements, neither one is a conscious entity until there is some sort of mutual awareness and relationship between the two. He explains that there will naturally be a power struggle between the two elements. This struggle will end in one of the elements subduing itself to the other. As is the case with many concepts in philosophy, the possibilities of its applications are numerous and debatable.

Hegel curtails the assumptive nature of this theory by prefacing it with the qualification that each of these two entities has the option of ignoring the other. Hegel explains however, that this would reduce the likelihood of mutual recognition, thus leaving each one in its initial unrecognized and therefore unconscious state. Hegel also curtails yet another presumptive element of this theory. He explains that if one of the two entities is so strong that it will overtake its opponent to the extent of wiping it out entirely, it will no longer gain recognition if there will no longer be a second entity to recognize the stronger entity. These prefaces fail to recognize one more issue: what happens if the two entities are utterly non-equals, but in a way that the ‘stronger’ entity has no reason to even attempt a struggle. For example: if the stronger entity created the second smaller entity and wishes for it to remain.

This is precisely the case of mankind’s relationship with the Ribbono Shel Olam. Hashem is Omnipotent. He is infinitely greater than Man, yet Hashem desires Man’s existence. Not only does the Ribbono Shel Olam desire our existence. Hashem created us, and He did so in order to endow us with His goodness. Hashem desires us to serve Him, but not for the purpose of His receiving from us. He wishes for us to serve Him in order for us to have a relationship with Him. This relationship is for our sake, so that we should have a medium through which to receive Hashem’s goodness. It is thus that there is a Master-slave relationship between us and Hashem, yet there isn’t and cannot be any power struggle between us and Hashem chalila.

Since Hashem created us with an innate and inherent master-slave relationship – only for the purpose of being good to us – we most likely will begin to worship Hashem only for the sake of receiving goodness from Hashem. Ultimately such an approach would undermine the whole Man-God relationship. Expecting to receive goodness from Hashem for worshiping him, and worshiping Him only for the sake of the reward we will receive for doing so, diminishes Hashem’s goodness into a mere act of remuneration. Compensating someone for a service they have done is not an act of kindness, but rather an obligation. Thus by doing mitzvos only for the sake of reward we will not be able to appreciate the reward since we will be convinced that we deserve it.

Antigonus is telling us exactly this point. The relationship we were created to have with Hashem is that of Lord and servant. Yet in a loving sense the Master created us so as to enable us to receive His goodness. One who can recognize such a lofty idea should automatically be filled with an awe of Hashem – thus – allowing oneself to have the fear of Heaven upon him.

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