|Carrots, Sticks or Love? |
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Saturday, September 24, 2011
Carrots and Sticks? Motives for worship and repentance Nitzavim- Vayeilech
I wonder to what extent my son’s understanding is reflective of Torah’s own broader message. The punitive approach challenges me in two ways. It is jarring when viewed from a modern perspective that frowns on fear as a factor in personal decision making and bristles at the idea of an authority figure issuing threats. It is also out of step with my Chabad upbringing in which talk about hell or divine punishment was rare. Being the last week of the month of Elul during which I am supposed to reflect on worship and “return” to God is a good time to grapple with the motivations my tradition presents for doing so.
The Reward & Punishment Approach
Hurts me more than it hurts you
One teaching that softens this somewhat relates to the verse. “And I will hide my face from them[iv]”. “This is said in way of affection like a person whose son sinned against him and (the father) tells the teacher to hit him but he cannot bear to see the beating of his son because has mercy toward him so he hides his face[v]”.
The Right Thing for the Right Reason
Philosopher’s undue influence?
Another great scholar, Abrabanel[x] challenges Maimonides’ view on motives as being not in line with Torah and that it originates in the thoughts of non-Jewish philosophers such as Aristotle. They taught that one must do good for the sake of good. Abrabanel argues that their premise was a rejection of divine reward and punishment. As Jews who believe in reward and punishment we find rewards that are not directly related to the act that is being rewarded. It is also not the case that everything Torah forbids is inherently disgusting as can be seen from the teaching that one should not say ‘I will not eat pork because I detest it’ but rather say ‘I cannot eat it because God has forbidden it’[xi]. In other words, avoiding pork is not an essential truth, it is a subjective virtue based on God’s command[xii]. He also cites a proof from the Talmud that a person who vows to give a sum to charity on condition that his sick son will recover is considered righteous[xiii].