D’var Torah by Rabbi Carnie Rose: May our deeds be done with selfless intent

Congregation+Bnai+Amoona.+Photo%3A+Bill+Motchan

Congregation B’nai Amoona. Photo: Bill Motchan

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, Special to the Jewish Light

One of the great privileges I have as a congregational rabbi is meeting with thoughtful, earnest adults who are interested in joining the Jewish People.

They almost always come to our meetings armed with the many books they have already devoured and dozens of deep, profound questions. Clearly, they have done their research, and they thirst for existentially satisfying answers to the religious, spiritual and intellectual queries that have likely vexed them for decades.

It is always a singular honor to encounter this kind of fervor and passion, as it reinforces for me the depth and profundity that can be gleaned through intense intentional interaction with our wise and sacred tradition.

Several weeks back, a young man met with me to discuss the possibility of studying with us for conversion. After an hour or so, he asked whether we could meet again so he could ask the one question that was troubling him most. As I sensed that it might be a complex matter, I suggested that he ask the question at this meeting to give me some time to mull over an answer in preparation for our next session.

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“Sure. … So, Rabbi, if God directly commands a person to act in a certain way, and that individual does as they are told, why is this considered a meritorious act? After all, if God spoke directly to me or to you, wouldn’t we both do precisely as God directed? Why gain a reward for an action, behavior or attitude that one has been charged by the Almighty to perform?”

This question, of course, bubbled up in my mind this week as we prepare to read Parashat Lech-Lecha in which God instructs Abram: “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

Moreover, the Torah portion goes on to teach: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name famous, and be a blessing.”

So why does Avraham Avinu, our great patriarch, receive such praise and accolade for simply following the Divine edict? What kind of test is this? And why is Abram lauded for his faithfulness and fidelity — his emunah — when his actions will ultimately accrue to his material and spiritual benefit?

I think the answer lies in a concept that is foreign to many but central to Judaism: kavanah, conscious intent. As Jews, our actions are indeed important, maybe even primary. However, actions performed with altruistic intent are of even greater delight to our Maker.

Yes, Abraham (and we his descendants) is promised great reward for his fidelity, but his actions remained pure despite the promise of copious rewards and blessings. The test of faith for Father Abraham was whether he could maintain his noble, steadfast and faith-infused focus even while receiving shefa brachot, a multitude of ancillary gifts and blessings.

Living as we do at a time that offers us so many benefits, I pray that we, like our great patriarch, can maintain our sense of acting in Godly ways not because of the rewards, but rather because we wholeheartedly yearn to experience kirvat Elohim, closeness with the Holy One of Blessing, which is truly the greatest of all blessings.

Amen and Shabbat Shalom!


Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose is the the Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association.

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