Reward for Torah: Be Happier Without It


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Reader: On page 525, Chapter 5, Volume Two, of  “Duties of the Heart”; “Be not like servants who serve the master on condition of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master not on receiving a reward. (Avos 1:3) How do we differentiate the above from a person who serves the Lord by coming to pray to petition for the Lord’s help? Doesn’t Hashem love those who fear Him, trust in Him, and ask for His help?

If the person receives the help he requested, can’t this help be interpreted as reward?

Does this mean that when we pray to Hashem for help, we must always have in mind, and internalize our petition with the preface “I don’t want a reward, I just want Your help?


Thank you for clearing up my confusion.



Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: The obvious truth that serving God out of love must include our requests from Him in Tefilah (prayer) demands that we first distinguish God’s “reward” from our “requests”.

Antignos, the author of this quote, says, “Do not serve God as a servant seeking reward, but as a servant who does not seek reward…and let the fear of heaven be upon you”. The “reward” discussed here is in reference to Torah fulfillment. Antignos intends on alerting man to his proper relationship with God: he should serve God  (follow Torah) out of a love, and for no other motive. In contrast, our “requests” refer to those personal matters that are not mitzvos, commands. So “reward” refers to the reward of mitzvos, whereas “requests” refer to personal matters. We now understand that while we do not seek reward for Torah fulfillment, this does not contradict the other realm of life where we must seek personal assistance from God on our path to perfection.


A Rabbi once said, “A true servant of God, is a servant to one’s self”. This means that Judaism targets the best life for man. We are not sacrificing, or doing anything “for” God with all our most mitzvos. He does not need man. With Torah, we are doing something for ourselves.

Antignos wishes to correct a fault in our thinking. Many people – perhaps due to faulty education – seek something in return for all activities they would prefer not to do. However, no reward is needed when an adult is asked to enjoy a barbecued steak, or a child is asked to swim in the ocean…no inducement is required. If someone seeks reward for Torah observance, Antignos alerts this person to a fundamental error in his relationship with God. He views the Torah lifestyle as inconvenient, or even painful and useless. This explains why he concludes, “…and let the fear of heaven be upon you”. Antignos is teaching a primary lesson…

Which one of us would argue with a doctor who tells us, that in order to live, we must take 12 pills daily: not 11, and not 13? Realizing the decade or so of schooling it takes to be a doctor, based on the intricacies of the human body, we accept his prescription, and follow it to a tee. He knows better. Well…that is Antignos final lesson: “let the fear of heaven be upon you.” This means to say, “realize that God commanded this on you”. Accept your ignorance concerning why you should observe, and recognize that this Torah is a plan of the infinitely wise Creator. With such an attitude, we will treasure God’s laws, and not serve Him for some imagined good. If you follow a doctor, you should certainly follow God who knows more. Eventually, our ignorant Torah performance based simply on God’s authority, must eventually be replaced with a clear understanding of each law’s perfection. Then we will arrive at fulfilling His law based on a love of the good we now realize.

Torah study is the greatest mitzvah, for a few reasons. First, but not primarily, without study, any mitzvah is simply a rote act, with no expression by us that we agree with its underlying “idea”. We are simply moving our bodies, but don’t know why. But study is not so much a good thing because it ‘qualifies’ a mitzvah as a meaningful act, as much as it is to comprehend God’s greatness.

Studying for itself or “lishmah”, outweighs all other mitzvos. Why is this?

When we study, and realize profound truths; we are enlightened by those ideas. Our soul is transformed once again to a greater appreciation of God’s wisdom. Our highest element – our Tzelem Elohim (soul) – is now benefiting. Mitzvos, then, are simply a barometer of our convictions. So when I finally understand why Shabbos is so vital as a “demonstration to the nations that a Creator exists, created, and rested”, I now fulfill Shabbos differently: as an expression of my commitment to enlightening other humans to God’s existence, and His role as Creator”. The underlying truth I have realized through Talmudic study is the greatest mitzvah, since here, my soul is more attached to God, the source of all reality. But I must also follow through in this new conviction, with action: mitzvah.

Someone functioning on this level does not do so out of any other motive. He does so because he wishes to live in line with truth. He does not wish to lie to himself, or avoid what on the surface seems like a restrictive lifestyle. Taking 12 pills daily also “restricts” our activity…but towards a greater good of an enduring, physical life. The Torah offers even more: eternal, spiritual life in the pleasure of God’s wisdom.


If while reading this, you don’t identify with the phrase “enjoyment of study”, then you have just benefited greatly! You now realize that you have not uncovered the one experience God desires for you, and which, can offer you delight on a daily basis, with little energy, and a remarkable amount of tranquility and excitement.

But reaching this enjoyment will take a little time, and an adjustment of your emotional makeup.

When you first commence serious Torah study with Talmudic scholar, you will feel pain. But, you must recognize this pain as “missing your usual pleasures” and not the “pain of study”. Study is not painful. This is always the first hurdle. Many people feel frustrated when they start to spend time studying, because their energies that normally flow to other activities, are currently finding no outlet. This is only “perceived” as pain, and typically associated as “pain of study”.  This is why kids hate school: they are frustrated by not being on the basketball court, and identify the frustrating action of Torah, as “painful”.

To enjoy wisdom, we must become immersed in study, break loose of those emotional attachments, until we too finally enjoy study for its own sake…not for any reward. Our old attachments will be released, now replaced with our full attention to study. 

If we are serving God with the hopes of reward, then we are not enjoying what He intends: Torah study as the end goal. The way to correct this problem is to first “have the fear of heaven upon us” – to recognize that God does in fact knows better; He desired the good for us, and we must accept this at first out of a fear of His infinite wisdom. Eventually, we will come to study from a love of the involvement.  


This very Mishna in Avos itself should serve as a sampling of the ideas of Torah. In one statement Antignos relates the problem, and the solution. The problem: man seeks something “for” serving God. Meaning, he does not yet understand the joy of wisdom.  The solution: “let the fear of God be upon you.” Accepting Torah study based on God’s authority, regardless of the initial pain, will eventuate in an unparalleled enjoyment. For when we are not engaging our souls, as we work, lounge, travel and engage in other activities…the central part of our being is “on hold”. We are spiritually dead. We cannot possibly be happy when our central element is uninvolved.


To conclude, seeking reward for study is akin to seeking reward for winning the lottery. Once we reach the level where study is enjoyable, and we all can reach it, then no reward is sought. And even when we arrive at that life, our requests in prayer are not a contradiction, since we are seeking only that which can facilitate this new Torah lifestyle, and God will certainly grant you that which is in line with His will.