Fear & Love of God, and Attaining the Afterlife


Moshe Ben-Chaim




The last Mishna in Talmud Makkos ends as follows:

“Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya said, “God desired to [bestow] merit on Israel, therefore He increased Torah and mitzvos, as it says, “God desired for the sake of its [Israel’s] righteousness; [therefore] He made Torah great and glorified”.” (Tal. Makkos, 23b)


In his commentary on this Mishna, Maimonides writes:

“It is of the fundamentals beliefs in the Torah that when man fulfills a mitzvah of the 613 mitzvos as is fitting and properly, and he does not join with that performance any Earthly [ulterior] motivation in any manner; but he performs it for its own sake, with love as I have explained to you, behold…he has merited eternal life [Olam Haba]. And on this did Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya say, “For the mitzvos, as they are numerous, it is impossible that during his life, man will not perform one of them in its true intent, and completely. And when he performs that mitzvah, his soul will live [eternally].”


Rashi comments as follows:

“In order that they receive reward with their refrain from sins, therefore God increased [mitzvos] for them. For it was not necessary to command many mitzvos and many warnings regarding [eating] despicable insects and carcasses…for there is no man who doesn’t loathe them. Rather, they were commanded so man receive reward on account of refraining from [eating] them.”



On the surface, Maimonides and Rashi appear to agree: observance of mitzvos earns us our reward. But examine their words carefully…what does each Rabbi address? There is quite a difference.




Maimonides addresses ‘any’ command – positive or negative – as he states, “when man fulfills a mitzvah of the 613 mitzvos…”  He is also addressing the attitude of the person “and he does not join with that performance any Earthly [ulterior] motivation in any manner”. Finally, he is addressing the attainment of the Afterlife.




Rashi appears to be addressing only negative commands, has he writes “refrain from sins”, and the aspect of “reward”. It is not clear if Rashi means that veering from sin earns us the Afterlife, or merely earns another matter he refers to as “reward”. It seems more plausible to suggest the latter. A safe explanation of Rashi would be that he is addressing why Rabbi Chananya felt many prohibitions were given: to insure our increased reward. Meaning, securing the Afterlife is not achieved through adhering to many mitzvos. Rashi is only addressing what “increases” our Afterlife’s reward. For example, one may obtain a ticket to a show, but how good of a seat, is another issue. Obtaining a ticket is akin to attaining the Afterlife through following fundamentals. But the better seat is attained – as Rashi says – through one’s avoidance of more sins. Rashi addresses the nature of the seat…the increase of the reward. It is unreasonable to suggest that man harbors incorrect views of God, but earns the afterlife by avoiding consumption of shrimp, pork, and other non-Kosher animals.



2 Types of Good Acts

Controlling one’s desires is far different than the intellectual activity of pondering God, His will and His laws. The Talmud teaches that Torah study is the greatest mitzvah, for this very reason. When one abstains from a sin, he is involved in controlling his desires. But this act in no way compares to man when he is engaged in intellectual pursuits. It is only when man ponders new ideas, and realizes their truths, that his soul is affected by such realization, when substantiated by an ensuing action. One who values giving tzedaka, but doesn’t actually donate, in truth does not really value it. Action must follow. But it is the newly learned and appreciated ‘concept’ that affects our soul, and improves us. Thus, Torah study is the greatest mitzvah, for it alone improves our souls.

To be clear, God created man with the potential for an Afterlife by adhering to His word. Had man simply despised insects, this abstention would not earn him reward. For in such a case, abstention is not akin to fearing God’s word. But now, as God commanded man to abstain, man is conscious of God’s will when he avoids even loathsome things. Regardless of the innate disposition not to eat such vile insects, man earns himself reward, as he is “obeying God”. God increased such commands that are so easy to follow, so man’s reward is increased. Another of God’s numerous, kind acts to us. This explains Rashi.

However, this act of refrain from sin is surpassed by intellectual pursuits, whereby we improve our souls, as Maimonides teaches…



Love & Fear of God

These two views in fact address Love of God, versus Fear of God. Rashi addresses the latter, while Maimonides addresses the former. The Torah commands us in both, as Maimonides discusses in his Mishne Torah, Laws of Torah Fundamentals 2:2. But it is important to note that although both are commands, Maimonides concludes that law by stating “In accordance with these matters, I explain great principles from the acts of the Master of the Universe, in order that there be an opening [commencing point] for one who understands, to love Hashem. As the wise men have stated on this matter of Love of God, “for due to this you will recognize Who spoke and created the universe”.” He isolates Love of God without mentioning Fear. It appears he is indicating Love as the preferred state.

Maimonides seems to focus our goal on “Love of God”. Fear of God is a command, but perhaps this is not where man is to end his journey as his final objective. The true objective is a higher plain of existence, where we are not simply awestruck with God, but where we move towards a positive relationship with Him. This is called Love of God, meaning, the state of one’s soul where he or she is enamored with His creations and Torah. Fear of God is a response to this knowledge, whereas Love of God describes man in the process of attaining greater knowledge. When man’s mind is active, his soul is growing in its intensity of Love of God, and man is excelling. Fear of God is a reflective but stagnant status. Furthermore, Fear is not something we can positively generate. It is a “response” to something…to Knowledge of God. Also, Fear is dependent on our Knowledge and Love of God.

We then see that fear is both stagnant, dependent, and not something positive we can at once create. Fear depends on Love, which depends on Knowledge of God. In contrast, Love of God, or study, is a positive search where the mind is in the preferred, active state of probing thought. Certainly, as Maimonides commenced this section in 1:6, he describes the command to “Know God”. I feel this command again accentuates the greater level of Love of God over Fear of God. Love of God is synonymous with greater knowledge of God, as Maimonides states, “in accordance with the knowledge, is one’s love of God” (Laws of Repentance, 10:10)



All or Nothing

Now that we have come this far, let us investigate how man actually earns his share in the World to Come, the Afterlife. For this must be of greater importance than anything whatsoever that concerns our temporal stay on Earth. The Rabbis too desired to focus man on this truth that we are here but for a brief moment: “Rabbi Jacob said, “This world is equated to an entry chamber before the next world; fix [prepare] yourself in the entry chamber so you might enter the banquet hall, the Afterlife”.” (Ethics, 4:16) It is clear; our primary existence is not on Earth, and also true: we forfeit the eternal life, if we don’t “fix” ourselves here.

At burials we recite the Tzidduk HaDin (Confirmation of God’s Justice): “Man, if a year he is, or one thousand years he lives, of what benefit is it to him? He is as one who never existed. Blessed is the true Judge who kills and revives.”

How is a life of 1000 years null and void?! Is there no benefit to all the good the deceased performed for his family, friends? All the good life he or she had is noting? The answer is a deafening “Yes”. This statement teaches that anything that comes to an end is worthless. It matters none whether a person lives 1000 years, since after that time, he does no longer exist. The only thing of value is that which endures. If you thought you would die tonight, with no further existence, would that leave an empty feeling in your stomach? Wouldn’t you immediately feel “What was my life for?” You sense this as true. That is why the verse above ends with “Blessed is the true Judge who kills and revives.” We are taught that a life is of value, since God revives us in the next world.

It is therefore vital that we engage only in matters that contribute to our greater portion, as Rashi describes, and more so, to that which enables our very entrance to the next world, as Maimonides describes. Both are required: Fear and Love of God. That is why both are commandments. But we must examine these commandments to understand their roles in our lives. King Solomon wrote, “Fear of God is the beginning of knowledge…” (Prov. 1:7) This indicates that Fear is a prerequisite, while Knowledge is the goal. And, “in accordance with the [level of] knowledge, is the Love of God”.

I would just note at this point, that we must not fear the Afterlife. Typically, the human being fears the unknown. Therefore, we must counter our frail disposition of fear, with the knowledge that God’s acts are all for man’s good. We see this in all areas of history, and in God’s design of man; pleasant emotions, delicious foods, and interrelations with others. We see this most in the enjoyment experienced in studying His wisdom. For with all other pursuits, we experience frustration: plane delays, poor weather, loss of wealth and health, etc. But in study, there is no physical exertion, or pain. Even when we realize we made a mistake, that too is learning! God wants us to have the good; these are Rabbi Chananya’s words. So the next world, which is a world of wisdom, will be of the greatest good, and most pleasurable. We must remain true to what our minds know, and that is that God desires our good.



Attaining the Afterlife

Maimonides addresses a more fundamental issue. He interprets Rabbi Chananya as explaining “how” man attains the Afterlife. This is a deep idea. Maimonides teaches that if one performs any mitzvah – Tzedaka for example – for an incorrect motive, then he does not attain the Afterlife. Why is this so? How does man attain the Afterlife, and what is Maimonides’ reasoning? Let’s read his words again:


“It is of the fundamentals beliefs in the Torah that when man fulfills a mitzvah of the 613 mitzvos as is fitting and properly, and he does not join with that performance any Earthly [ulterior] motivation in any manner; but he performs it for its own sake, with love as I have explained to you, behold…he has merited eternal life [Olam Haba]. And on this did Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya say, “For the mitzvos, as they are numerous, it is impossible that during his life, man will not perform one of them in its true intent, and completely. And when he performs that mitzvah, his soul will live [eternally].”


It is when man endorses by performance, God’s commands in their true intent, that man is in line with God’s will. At this moment, man’s soul mirrors those eternal truths contained in the mitzvos. Somehow, this human value of a mitzvah’s true ideal gives life to our souls, and thereby, earns for us an eternity, the Afterlife. I don’t know the mechanics, but this is what Maimonides teaches. The soul exists in man. It has a potential, but it can go un-actualized, and will then expire with his Earthly death. But, if we study the commands, and seek to grasp the underlying values and truths in each one, our soul then partakes of those eternal truths, rendering itself eternal.


The True Reward

In his tenth chapter of the Commentary on the Mishna on Talmud Sanhedrin, Maimonides describes five groups of Torah observers, characterized by their imagined, conflicting and erroneous views of the “reward” received for our Torah adherence, and the evil meted out for its rejection. Many assume our reward is sensual, or involves rejoining our departed family members. Maimonides single’s out a common flaw: all these Torah observant Jews “pain” themselves with performance of mitzvos, since they would rather be doing something else, like travel, earning more money, and other temporal activities. They all assume there is “something else” which is the “reward”. So they are tolerantly observant. Here is their flaw.

Maimonides teaches here, what he initially refers to as a core idea. There is nothing better than the involvement in the Torah’s ideas. To suggest to someone that you will reward him or her if they win one billion dollars is ludicrous. The billion dollars itself is the desired object! They would not be motivated by something extraneous. Similarly, all those Jews who seek something extraneous to Torah wisdom as a reward harbor an incorrect view of Torah. Had they truly understood the joy of the process of study and the realization of knowledge, they would not perform mitzvos or study except for the very act itself, with no ulterior motive. A person does not climb a mountain for the view, just so someone gives him a reward. It is the view itself that compelled this climber to such exertion. And when he sees that vista after weeks of hiking, he wants nothing else but to enjoy that vision. One who has reached the perfection of the human species is alike. He too studies and performs mitzvahs, for he sees nothing else in life that is more intriguing. Newton, Einstein and others would go for weeks in study, as it was the most captivating experience. You could not lure them outside their labs with any other concern. As Maimonides says here, “one seeks the truth for the truth”. He has no other motive. God designed us to enjoy knowledge of Him and His creations more than any other enjoyment. There is no “reward” as the masses think. God gave us a great pleasure here, the Torah. And in Torah is what we engage in the Afterlife, if we prepare ourselves here.


Maimonides contrasts the pleasure of a king’s rule, to that of a child playing with a ball. The child knows nothing of the joy the king experiences when he successfully rules. We are as the child, immersed in physical pleasures. We have no idea of the metaphysical pleasure we will experience in the next world, but it far surpasses any temporal enjoyment here. Maimonides quotes the Rabbis in Ethics describing the righteous in the next world as “wearing their crowns on their heads and enjoying the splendor of God”. “Crowns” refers to their level of intellectual perfection, which earned them this eternal repose of endless wisdom.


We learn a vital lesson. In order to earn the world to come, we must examine whether our view of that reward, is anything other than an intellectual pursuit. For if we pain ourselves with mitzvos, not knowing their true worth, all for some imagined good…we do not raise our souls to the level to earn the next world. In this case, we imagine it is something, which it is not. And following any imagination cannot lead to anything real.

If however, we abandon unproved assumptions about the reward of the next world, and we study our wise Rabbis and Maimonides, we will open our minds to a truth that will impact our temporal Earthly lives, and our eternal lives.


Maimonides is actually saving your life. He is unveiling the fallacy of all assumed views of reward and punishment. He quotes our Rabbis in Ethics of the Fathers. He explains the unanimous view of our greatest educators: We die. The Afterlife is a reality. We must prepare for it. It can be enjoyable beyond compare. But the only way to earn it is by removing all false motivations for Torah observance, and devoting ourselves to study for no other reason than to uncover new truths. As we proceed, we will start to see great new insights. We will be amazed. We will find greater satisfaction in study, than in any other pursuit. If this sounds odd, it shows you how far from this you might be. But at the same time, if those light-years ahead of us held this as true, isn’t it worth your while to investigate it? Take a look at any child. “Why” is their favorite word…since questioning is naturally our favorite activity. It is the blame of faulty schools and Yeshivos that turns learning into a nightmare of tests, instead of a refinement of thinking and the appreciation of thought. If a child were able to develop as intended, he would be as thrilled to learn, as he is to play. In fact, a “plaything” is how King David referred to learning.


If we chase after the Afterlife as some imagined, greater thing than Torah, this reveals an incorrect view of Torah. Wee will obtain neither Torah, nor this imagined, non-existent thing.

However, if we study our great Rabbis, and comprehend their words, we will realize that the Torah is the end, not a means. There is nothing greater. There is no imagined “reward”. The reward IS Torah. If we pursue the wisdom in Torah with no ulterior motive, but only to learn more about God…we will merit seeing this wisdom in this life, enjoying life thoroughly and we will thereby inherit the next world. For the next world is a continuation of one’s joy in a life of wisdom. Therefore, we must live for THIS life – Torah study for its beauty – if we desire the next life.


“Prepare yourself here so you might receive the next world” can be interpreted as “Enjoy yourself most here, so you inherit and enjoy the next life”.


I urge everyone to study all the sources quoted herein.