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Pirke Avot chapter two, verse seventeen: intention

Yose the Priest, part the third:

Rabbi Yose says: Let thy fellow’s property be as dear to thee as thine own. Make thyself fit for the study of torah, for it will not be thine by inheritance. Let all thine actions be for the sake of heaven.

It is said that Hillel used to reply to any question of the where are you going sort with the response I am going to fulfill one of the commandments. The questioner would then have to ask which one, and be told that Hillel was going to get something to eat or to have a bath or to the market to buy food, or whatever. And then, of course, the questioner asks is this a commandment and Hillel tells him about the commandments concerning that aspect of life, thus of course fulfilling another commandment on the way.

It is difficult to live your life entirely for the sake of heaven. You wake up, is it in order to praise the Divine and all Creation? You work for a living, is it in order to allow you to continue fulfilling the commandments? You have a nice meal, is it to give you strength to do good in the world? You listen to excellent music, is it to inspire you to participate in the Creation? Or, you know, do you just do what you do?

I think this advice is particularly on the lines of what we call mindfulness, these days. An attempt to be consciously aware of what you are doing. Will your understanding of why you are doing what you are doing—why you stay in your job or look for a new one, why you wash the dishes or leave them until morning, why you socialize with friends or read quietly—that understanding will change, from the time you are doing it to a memory of it, and change again and again, most likely. So I think the point is not to be certain, at all times, that what you are doing is for the best of reasons. The point is to form a habit of thinking about what you are doing, rather than just doing it. And then, I would think, the temptation to act for the sake of heaven would be pretty strong, right? Which is a good thing. It’s harder to deliberately do something you know is wrong. Not that you won’t regret things later, but I would think the more you can get into the habit of asking yourself for the sake of what? the better.

Not that I have any such habit myself, but I will try. Or at least I will attempt to try. Right?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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