September 19, 2004

Love and Fear

העובד מאהבה
עוסק בתורה ובמצוות והולך בנתיבות החוכמה
לא מפני דבר שבעולם
ולא מפני יראת הרעה
ולא כדי לירש הטובה
אלא עושה אמת מפני שהוא אמת

Ha`oved me’ahava
`Oseq batora uvamisvot v’holekh bintivot hahokhma
Lo’ mipney davar sheba`olam
V’lo’ mipney yir’at hara`a
V’lo’ k’dey lirash hatova
Ele’ `ose emet mipney shehu’ emet

One who serves out of love
Practices Torah and commandments and walks in the ways of wisdom
Not because of some thing that is in the world
And not because of fear of evil
And not in order to inherit something good
But does truth because it is truth

Maimonides, Hilkhot Tshuva Chapter 10

UPDATE: What is the connection between love and doing the right thing just because it’s right? Love is identification. When you love someone, you feel like that person is part of you. You do the right thing because you love the world: The world is your tribe.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at September 19, 2004 12:23 PM
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If the connection between love and doing the right thing for sake of righteousness alone is identification, then doing the right thing seems to be a sort of egoism: You do the right thing because you identify it as part of you, not solely because it is right. If righteousness is "not because of some thing that is in the world", then I don't see why it can be done for everything that is in the world. Any specific "thing" is not a justified motivation, but the whole gestalt is different enough to be justified motivation?

I don't know the context of Maimonides's comment, but it seems to me that he's saying that "the right thing" is done only because it is the right thing, and not because it has good effects on the world (though it might, and one hopes it does). The "love" mentioned then would be "love of truth", which makes the last line tie in nicely with the first. This is not quite the same, in my mind, as love of "what is true"; I could quite dislike my situation ("what is true"), but still love to do the right thing ("truth") despite having no reward (or even despite being punished). "What is" (the world) would then be distinguishable from "what is true" ("You should do X" is not something which is part of the world, or at least it isn't part of the world in the way that, say, my state or my family ("tribes") are; I will never have empirical knowledge of "You should do X", but I can easily have empirical knowledge of my family and my state). So, "love of the world" (love of all that is) would be different from "love of truth" (since what "is" may be contradictory, as in the case of what "is" dishonestly).

Posted by: Daniel at September 19, 2004 10:43 PM Permalink

The context of this quote is repentance. In particular, he contrasts two kinds of repentance: repentance from fear (tshuva miyir’a) and repentance from love (tshuva me’ahava). (Sorry, I should have mentioned this, it was what I was thinking when I titled this post.) Repentance from fear is motivated by divine punishment. Repentance from love is inspired by a desire to do the right thing because it is right. The word `olam, which I translate here as: world, is often translated as: universe, because it is usually meant to refer to everything without exception (including the past and future).

The way I see true love, doing something out of love is indeed a kind of egoism, though to keep the word meaningful, I would rather define egoism as self-love that doesn’t include another. It is for this reason that truly loving anybody will lead naturally to loving the whole world: once you break down the barriers of egoism, love will flow freely where it will.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at September 20, 2004 01:46 PM Permalink

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