Antignos Ish Socho received (the Torah transmission) from Shimon HaTzadik. He would say: Don’t be like slaves (servants) who serve the master in order to receive reward. Rather be like slaves without any intention to receive reward. And the fear of Heaven should be upon you.
How can Antignos teach us that we should not serve G-d in order to receive reward, when the Torah is full of verses teaching us to do Mitzvoth “in order that it should be good for you and in order that your days will be extended…”. We also learn (Bava Bathra 10b) that one who pledges “This money is for charity in order that my (sick) son should live” is considered a completely righteous person (“tzadik gamur”). So why are we taught here to serve G-d without intention to receive reward?
Furthermore, where do we EVER find a slave working without any intention to receive reward? The second half of the Mishna presents a non-existent example as the desired behaviour! It would have sufficed to simply teach that one should not serve in order to get reward.
Finally, why does it conclude with the language of “the fear of HEAVEN” rather than (the more obvious) “fear of G-d”?
(I would add another question, which our coming explanation will deal with: This conclusion , exhorting us to have the fear of Heaven upon us, could have been tacked on to almost ANY Mishnah! It is something that can and should be taught anywhere. What is it doing as the conclusion of THIS Mishnah specifically?)
The foundation of serving G-d is to serve from love (“ahavah”). One who serves for the purpose of acquiring his own reward is not performing service in its fundamental way. He is certainly considered a completely righteous person, since G-d’s will is that good should accrue to the Jewish people. And one who does a Mitzvah in order to acquire the World to Come, or some other reward, is accomplishing something that G-d wants to happen, and as such is fulfilling His will. But he has not attained the superior level of serving G-d purely from love.
(The language of the Maharal is that while he is a “tzadik gamur” with no inadequacy, he also has no superiority of “chasiduth.” As we have noted before, we once again we find the distinction between a “tzadik” from the word “tzedek,” which implies full compliance with what is required, and “chasid” from the word “chesed,” implying more than simply what is required.)
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 19a) quotes the verse “He is desirous of His Mitzvoth” to which Rebbi Eliezer extracts the implication that it is the Mitzvoth themselves which he desires and not the REWARD of the Mitzvoth, as we are taught…(quoting our Mishna). We see that the ideal motivation is the performance of the Mitzvah itself, rather than to receive the reward. (This would be akin to a musician’s pefomrnace being motivated by the music itself, rather than the applause he will receive from the audience.) And it is about such a person that David Hamelech teaches us “Ashrei ha’ish,” he is a strong and validated person.
(The word “ashrei” is a very misunderstood word, probably emanating from an incorrect use of the word “meushar” in modern Hebrew. I will use the opportunity of its appearance in this section to clarify it usage. The root of the word is “l’asher” which means to validate or give strength. Interestingly, this is its correct usage in the modern Hebrew word “ishur” which mean an authorization, certification, or validation. So “meushar” actually means strengthened or validated, and “ashrei” means one who is strong, with a stable existence. See Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch’s elaboration on this in his explanation of Tehillim.)
There is a further explanation for the verses in the Torah that seem to imply that we should do Mitzvoth “in order that it should be good…”. The word used is “L’MA’AN yitav lach…”. But the word “l’ma’an” doesn’t always mean “in order.” Sometimes it simply implies a consequential relationship. An example of this usage can be found in the Ramban’s explanation on the Torah (Devarim 29:18). So the Torah is not telling us to serve G-d IN ORDER that we should receive reward, but is rather informing us that reward is a natural consequence of our serving Him. The foundation of our service is “ahavah,” which means the motivation to give and serve. Independent of this we are being informed about reality – that reward will follow.