Fear Factor

(Torah Portion Korach) Fear Factor

I recently received an intriguing question from a college student, one of the recipients of the Shabbat Message. Please allow me to share it with you.

Rabbi: I wanted to ask this question to a rabbi for the longest time….

Given the fact that we have free will to do good or evil acts, a religious and G-d fearing person will do good for fear of the Almighty. This good is based on caution and fear of the Divine policeman.

However, a person who is a non-believer can only do good for the good itself.

Thus, it seems that a non-believer’s act of goodness is more genuine and pure than one who acts based on fear and self-interest in the rewards reserved for the World to Come.

Any act of goodness is good, regardless whether dictated by self-interest or one’s dignity.

Could you give me your point of view on this? Thanks so much! Ben

Dear Ben: Your question is thought provoking and stimulating, I’ll try to do my best to clarify.

Firstly, there are two ways to serve the Almighty, one is more commonly known – serving out of fear. The other, is out of love, as we declare in the prayer of Shema – V’ahavta – and you shall love Hashem with all your heart and soul.

Fear of G-d is usually associated with the consideration of either doing or not doing something forbidden.
In terms of performing a good deed / Mitzvah, not everyone is motivated by rewards. When one elevates himself to serve G-d out of love, his knowledge of reward is irrelevant to his service.

Even one whose incentive is to serve G-d for reward is inherently serving a Higher power, for he demonstrates his belief that his reward comes from the Almighty Himself.

He who chooses not to believe, when making a personal decision of what is good or bad is ultimately serving himself, for he is the one deciding what is good and what is bad. Additionally, not always will his decision be correct.
Let’s take charity for example: One can write out a check for $10,000 to a wonderful charitable cause and it is indeed a wonderful deed, whether he is doing it altruistically or for reward. If that same act is done on a day when writing is forbidden, such as on Shabbos, then although in his mind he may feel as if it is the greatest act of selflessness and goodness, the opposite is true, since the Torah instructs us that such an action is forbidden.

Decisions concerning end of life issues regarding loved ones is another example when personal good intentions can be contrary to the Torah laws and its value of life.

A believer whether he is serving G-d out of fear, for reward or altruistically, takes the Torah and our Sages guidance and direction to act in the ultimate good way, while one who chooses not to believe lacks direction to know what is ultimately good or not.
In this week’s Portion, the Torah speaks of a disagreement that the prestigious Korach had with our leader Moshe. Korach wished to undercut and challenge Moshe’s Divinely inspired leadership, and proceeded to assert himself with self-confidence and self-assurance – even when challenged with the threat of death if proven wrong. (This indeed occurred.)

What drove Korach to dismiss and ignore the fear factor?

Our Sages tell us that Korach felt slighted when he did not receive an appointment of prestige which he deemed himself worthy of. His self-interest blinded and stymied his ability to clearly see the ramifications of his rebellious actions.

Korach’s incident teaches us that even for a believer, fear is not always a deterrent from choosing an incorrect path. And conversely one of Korach’s constituents, Ohn, was saved from death due to his wife’s quick and rational thinking which prevented her husband from participating with Korach.

G-d built into the human psyche that fear is necessary to help keep a mortal being on the straight and narrow; and that offering rewards motivates us to perform His will. This positively influences our Divinely endowed free will process when we are faced with choices.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks