Intentions are Important
In Judaism, we live in a world of intentions. What does that mean?
One example is that if, when removing a pot of soup from a warming tray on the Sabbath, I have the intention before I take it off to put it back, I am permitted to replace it on the warming tray but if I do not have that intention, it is forbidden to replace it on the warming tray.
Another example is if I have the intention of saying a prayer or learning something for the benefit of another person's health or as a benefit to someone's eternal soul, the benefit of that good deed goes to that person (and not to me). This is the idea in Judaism behind giving charity on behalf of a loved one who has passed away...the charity is a merit for another soul.
The primary intention that a Jewish person often chooses is to perform actions that are pleasing to the Creator (because they emulate the Creator's characteristics or because the Creator commanded us to perform the action). Why do things that please the Creator? The urge to want to do the Will of the Creator comes from understanding that the Creator is bestowing everything at every moment, and, when we are in touch with the love that is coming to us, it is natural to desire to return the love and do His Will. By having the intention to do things that please the Creator (and thereby express love for the Creator), we have the Creator's Will in mind at all times.
Our intentions also distinguish our actions from acts animals also perform. The intent with which one does an action can in fact change the essence of the act. Some might get caught up with all of the fine details and forget about what he is really doing. If a person would stop and think "I am doing this action as a kindness (chesed)", he has already uplifted what he has done and fulfilled a positive commandment in the Torah.
Let us understand this a little bit better through a story related by Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Shwadron
“Some time ago one of my young children got sick and I was concerned about my other children in the house that they should not catch what he had so I decided to bring them to my mothers house for a couple of days. On my way over I met up with Harav Isaac Sher “Gut murgin R’ Shalom” (yiddish for good morning) I returned his greeting and he asked me “where are you going?” So I told him that my son was sick and that I was bringing the rest of the children to my mother’s house until it went away. R’ Isaac was silent for a moment and said “So therefore what?” I did not understand what he wanted from me, he really wanted to know my inner reasons that pushed me to bring my children to my mother’s house… He added “ Why and for what purpose?” So I explained to him again my concern. Thereby he explained what he meant “ Does that mean to say that an adult animal takes care of the younger animals, you see of course animals also have an instinct to take care for their own children for the most part, but you, you are going to do a chesed with a Jewish child that happens to be your own.” It’s as simple as that I was going to do chesed. Later that day my wife was carrying two buckets of water from the well and I went to help her saying to myself “ I am going to help a Jewish lady who happens to be my wife.” I went half a year like this saying each time I am hereby going to do a chesed and all my deeds shed the light of what R’ Isaac taught me."
There was another story with the Chofetz Chaim. In Radin where he lived, a pharmacist there was completely irreligious and lost all connection to Judaism. One time the Chofetz Chaim went into him and started praising him about how much he will be rewarded in the World to Come for saving peoples lives and for doing chesed all day, because without these medications people would surely die. The pharmacist responded “You know this is just my job I do it for money” The Chofetz Chaim told him “Even so, you have to accept the money to be able to live, but just think about what you are doing and have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah of saving one’s life!” The Chofetz Chaim left and the man began doing so and after some time he began to think to himself “Is this the only mitzvah? I remember learning about Tefillin as a child” and slowly, but surely he returned to the faith with complete sincerity as a scrupulous Jew in all of the mitzvos.
Intentions and how they connect us to the Creator and His Will can perhaps be better understood through the six constant mitzvahs that Judaism gives us. Some of the material below is taken with permission from the first of ten Ahavas Yisroel Teleconference given by Tziporah Harris of Aish HaTorah. The first class is recorded and can be heard at 712-432 0899 access code 1093172#
1. At the pinnacle of a triangle is the constant mitzvah to know that the Creator is One, that everything in life (blessings, ordeals, pleasure and pain)comes from One source for one ultimate beneficial purpose - the fulfillment of the Creator's loving vision for the world for all eternity.
2. At the base of this triangle is the constant mitzvah knowing that there is a Creator, that there is an Infinite Creator, Sustain,er and Supervisor of the Universe and that the Creator supervises every detail in it, including me and every aspect of our lives. The Creator is all powerful, all knowing and all loving. For a breakdown of this constant mitzvah into the building blocks of faith and trust, please visit:
Faith and Trust Page at Jewish People Unite
Six Constant Mitzvahs by Rabbi Noah Weinberg
With the Creator as One at the top and knowing there is a Creator as the base, how do we use the six constant mitzvahs of Judaism to go upward?
On the left side of the triangle are two constant mitzvahs:
3. Love of the Creator, where we understand that the Creator loves us more than we can comprehend, that He has blessed us more than we would ever deserve, and that everything that He does is an expression of His ultimate compassion for us, and
4. Awe and fear of the Creator, where we understand that our life is lived before the Ultimate audience: the Creator. Our choices matter and have real consequences individually, communally, and globally.
On the right side of the triangle are two constant mitzvahs. they are stated in the negative because we must resist certain thoughts that would keep us from reaching the triangle pinnacle of understanding that the Creator is One:
5. There is no other power - there is no person, life circumstance or result that I am trying to bring about that can affect my ultimate worth, well-being, success or the fulfillment of my purpose in life other than the Creator. We put forth effort but success is from the Creator, and
6. Don't follow after the desires of our heart and the perceptions of your eyes - our inclination toward lower self thoughts and perceptions provides us with a constant opportunity to choose: the only real perspective worth listening to is the Creator's. His Infinite wisdom is constantly available if we didn't allow our familiar, comfortable, lower self-thoughts and feelings to get in the way.
It is fair to say that these six constant mitzvahs can be part of our day at every moment...we can elect to be guided by these on a deep, intentional level and choose our actions based on these mitzvahs, actions that will be pleasing to the Creator.
For example, we know that it is pleasing to the Creator for the Jewish people to have love between us, "What is hateful to you do not do unto others."
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