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Be not as servants who serve the master
on condition of receiving a reward;
Be rather as servants who serve the master without condition of receiving a reward;
And let the fear of heaven be upon you.
-Antignos of Socho


Commentary [1:3]
This saying marks an important turning point in the history of Jewish belief. In the Torah, God promises material rewards—rain, good harvests, many children, victory in battle, long life—to the Jewish people if they obey him, and punishments if they do not. The Pharisees became committed to the view that the righteous would be rewarded in the “world to come.” General acceptance of this belief was, in the view of some historians, influenced by the martyring of many faithful Jews in the period of great persecution before the successful rebellion commemorated by Chanukah. (Antignos’ life may have overlapped with the start of this persecution). The martyring of the most faithful evidently appeared to be in conflict with the promises of reward in the Torah.

Why shouldn’t we rely on the rewards which are promised in the Torah? Antignos has carefully worded his saying to shift away from reliance on the earlier belief, without rejecting it outright. Implicit in this saying is the idea that we may not get the rewards in this life, so that if we are rely on them we may be disappointed and lose faith.

The later Rabbinic view became that the rewards for doing right come only—with a few important exceptions—in the afterlife. (Kid. 39b.) Antignos, however, doesn’t mention rewards in the world to come, but instead reconstructs the foundations of the bridge between ethics and spirituality. The Torah commands both love and fear of God (Deut. 10:12), and Antignos makes these feelings the fundamental motivation for good actions, rather than any reward or punishment. (Antignos, the first sage with a Greek name, may well have been influenced also by the Stoic doctrine that virtue is its own reward.)

Antignos takes not only feelings of love—which are naturally generous and unselfish—as fundamental, but also the ‘fear of heaven’. “Mora shamayim” can also be translated ‘awe of heaven’ and does not refer simply to fear of retribution in an afterlife. Rather it refers to what feel looking at the starry night—awed, humbled by our individual smallness, vulnerablity, and the brevity of life. Einstein alluded to the same feeling when he wrote:
The most beautiful experience we can have is the feeling of the mysterious; it is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and true science.

This feeling of awe also unites mankind, and is along with love of the whole and its Creator, a motivation for acting not just for the sake of self, but on the basis of moral values--values which transcend the self and the moment. This deep link between ethics and spirituality, which we encountered in the last mishnah, is one of the central features of Judaism. It contrasts to both the pagan religions which came before it, and the Greek philosophical tradition flowing from Socrates, which explicitly rejects the link between piety and ethics.


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