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Does it All Boil Down to Motive?

Friday, 15 November, 2019 - 10:18 am

In American criminal law, motive reigns supreme. If someone is to be found guilty of a crime, the prosecution must prove that there was intent. If the motive was innocent, then the act is not criminal, regardless of what actually occurred.

This has far-reaching implications and impacts our dialogue today.

But, what about the flip side? Is a good deed worthless if a positive motive is missing?


In this week’s parsha Vayeira, we learn about Avraham’s tactics to spread monotheism. The Torah relates that, “He called there in the name of the Lord, the G-d of the world.” The Midrash explains that Avraham would feed wayfarers at his desert crossroads. When they would offer to pay, he would insist that they thank G-d instead. Many guests did just that.

However, if the guest refused, Avraham would insist on a steep fee as payment. After all, he argued, where else can you get fine food in middle of the wilderness? Invariably, his guests would praise and thank Hashem – rather than pay an exorbitant fee.

So, essentially, Avraham coerced his guests into declaring G-d as Master of the Universe.

But, of what use is there to force someone to make an empty declaration? If their motives were not in line with their statement, is it worth anything?


Judaism sees the core of humanity as being intrinsically good. Just as a child naturally inherits the DNA of her parent, so does a human automatically possess faith in our Father in Heaven. We are indeed created in the image of G-d.

However, we can become easily distracted. When we focus on the body and coarse, earthly endeavors – we lose touch with our inner core.

To reconnect with Hashem, we don’t need to learn anew about Him. It’s in our DNA to believe. It’s more natural to seek spirituality than it is to seek material pleasure. But, we have been nurtured for so long and so intensely away from our spiritual side. That’s why it takes great devotion to find spirituality.

Sometimes, the key to finding G-d is not a journey through philosophy or emotions. Rather, all I need to do is break down the barrier that I have unknowingly erected around my soul. When my soul subsequently emerges, it already knows what to do.

This is what Avraham sought to accomplish. By forcing his guests to grapple with their own beliefs, he was simply breaking the immoral barriers that society had built. Once these walls of concealment collapsed, natural belief emerged.


Stop worrying about your motives and start doing more mitzvahs. You already believe. You just need to refocus so your actions finally are in sync with your true motives. The more you do, the more you will break down those false barriers.

A negative act might be an inauthentic deviation, requiring scrutiny for potential criminality. But, a holy act is always – at its core – driven by the most authentic element of a person.

Sometimes, however, it takes a dressing down for the real me to appear.

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