Weekly Letter: Is doing a Mitzvah for an Ulterior Motive Hypocritical?

In preparation for Rosha Hashanah – as we make an accounting of our deeds and resolutions for improving our deeds, we present a letter in which the Rebbe encourages the writer in the actual doing of the Mitzvos, even if doing so for an ulterior motive – and explains why this is not hypocritical. Also touching upon  a message for Rosh Hashanah. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.

By the Grace of’ G’d

5th of Kislev, 5725

Brooklyn, N. Y.


London NW, 11, England


Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter with the enclosure. As requested, I will remember your daughter in prayer, in accordance with the contents of your letter.  May G-d rant that you should have good news to report about this, as well as about the other matters of which you write.

Needless to say, I must take issue with you in regard to your mentioning in the letter that despite my writing to you about the need to put on tefillin, etc., you feel that doing so would be hypocritical on your part inasmuch as you would not be doing it for its own sake, but for an ulterior motive, namely for the sake of your daughter.

I can only cite what has been written in our holy books of our Torah thousands of years ago, the truth of which has been borne out through the ages. This is that although the Intention in doing a mtzvah has a very important significance, yet the essential thing is the deed itself, regardless of the intention. By way of, illustration:  Suppose that a physician prescribes a medicine for a patient and the patient has the best of intentions of taking the medicine; moreover he even goes to the trouble of ordering it from the druggist, and he places it before him, and gazes   at it lovingly, and keeps on declaring all day long that he believes in the effectiveness of the medicine. Yet, as long as he will not actually take the medicine, as prescribed by the doctor all the good intentions and professions will not be of any help. On the other hand, even if the same patient should declare that he does not believe in the effectiveness of the medicine but nevertheless ha takes it as prescribed by his physician, it will help him.

The above is true also in matters of the soul. So long as the soul does not receive its necessary benefits from the good actions of the individual in his daily life, it is not sufficient for a Jew, to profess that he is a good Jew at heart, and that he has good intentions, and so forth. This is not a matter that can be left to anyone’s choice, any more than the color of one’s eyes can be chosen. With all one’s good intentions one cannot alter the fact that his soul cannot thrive on good intentions for the essential thing is the deed.

Anyone who has even a superficial knowledge of the history of our people knows that all such movements which deviate front the path of actual fulfillment of the mitzvoth do not survive very long, no more than decades, or the maximum several centuries. Such deviating movements disappear completely because their followers either assimilated completely with the non-Jewish environment, or eventually saw the light and returned to the true Jewish way of life, the way of the Torah and mitzvoth in the daily life. Similarly those movements in our own time which encourage nonobservance are not new and cannot be an exception to the rule of our history. These movements can be traced as far back as the worshippers of the Golden Calf, who wished to be like all the idol worshippers of those days, and ever since there have been individuals  and groups which try to Imitate their non-Jewish environment.

You are quite right that I will not think too harshly of you, because this is not a personal matter between you and me, but rather between you and your Maker, the G-d and Rock of Israel, and, apparently, also a matter that has a bearing on the position of your daughter. It is only because this whole situation has been brought to my attention that I have no right to withhold from you what I know of similar situations in the light of our holy Torah. Consequently my thoughts are offered to you not with harshness but rather with sorrow. For, I am sorry that you do not follow to the full one hundred percent the path of our Torah, which is called Torat Chaim, the Law of Life, being the guide to, as well as the source of, true life, not only eternal life, but also life on this earth; and I am sorry that you do not observe fully the Divine commandments, by which Jews live.  I cannot accept your excuse that you do not have sufficient intelligence or business acumen to avoid transgressions. For, it is impossible that the Creator and Master of the whole world, Who is also the Commander of the mitzvoh, should not give everyone the ability to fulfill the Divine commands. It is truly sad to contemplate that even the misfortune which has befallen your daughter has not opened your eyes to what you have to do from now on.

May G-d grant that the above lines, which are by far too few in comparison with the importance of the subject matter, should suffice to help you correct the situation fully.

I take this opportunity to send you a copy of my general letter for Rosh Hashono of this year.  One of the central points of this letter is the tremendous ability of an individual to have an impact upon the world at large. Similarly every individual has a tremendous ability, through the Jewish spark which is in him and which remains always wholesome and unsullied, to affect and change all the other layers of his essence and being, habits and tendencies, down to his very conduct.

Hoping to hear good news from you

With blessing


The above letter is from The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).

These letters were written originally in English and were prepared for publication by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, whose responsibility it was the Rebbe’s correspondence in English and several other languages.

We thank Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, who was entrusted by his father-in-law Rabbi Mindel with his archives and who is Director of the Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), for making the Rebbe’s letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.

One Comment

Leave Comment

Comment moderation is in use. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly.