Monday, January 23, 2012

The Road to Heaven

I was driving to yeshiva this morning when I heard an ad on the radio for a certain law firm. The firm was advertising that anyone who knows of a company or institution committing fraud against the government can actually sue in the government’s name and make money on the deal, with the help of this law firm of course. The ad was flowered up with phrases such as “get justice” and “make the world a better place,” and so on.

My first thought was, “wow, anything to make a buck.” Does anyone suing a company in the government’s name really care about the principle of the matter?! Of course it’s all about the money. Or getting back at the boss you don’t like or whatever. The disingenuousness of those words really irked me.

But thinking about it further, I realized that hey, maybe it isn’t such a bad thing. So what if they have the wrong intentions? At the end of the day this can help prevent people from defrauding the government in the future. So why not?

As I thought about it more, I realized that (like all things) this idea is found in the Talmud. The Mishna tells us:

ואהבת את ה' אלהיך בכל לבבך וגו' בכל לבבך בשני יצריך ביצר טוב וביצר הרע.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart” – with all your heart: with your two inclinations; with the good inclination and the evil inclination.[1]

How does one serve God with the evil inclination? To understand this, let us look at a Midrash in Bereishit:

והנה טוב מאד: זה יצר רע. וכי יצר הרע טוב מאד? אתמהא! אלא שאלולא יצר הרע, לא בנה אדם בית, ולא נשא אשה, ולא הוליד, ולא נשא ונתן. וכן שלמה אומר: כי היא קנאת איש מרעהו.

“And behold, it was exceedingly good”[2] – this is the evil inclination. But is the evil inclination exceedingly good? How strange! Only that if not for the evil inclination, a person would not build a house, not marry a woman, not bear children, and not do business. And so said Solomon – “[all toil and all achievement] spring from one person’s envy of another.”[3][4]

The idea here is that in the overall picture of things, the ‘evil inclination’ contributes a lot to a healthy, stable society. One entrepreneur’s desire to become wealthy is a thousand more jobs; one politician’s desire for power is exactly how we the people find out what we need to about the politician he’s running against, and one law firm’s desire to make it big can prevent companies from defrauding the government.

But of course the evil inclination is the evil inclination, and all of these desires, if misappropriated, can lead one to do evil things. Instead of opening a company, one might rob a bank, instead of becoming a politician, one might move to Iraq and become a ruthless dictator, and instead of fighting crime, a law firm might choose to set their sights on getting actual criminals off the hook.

The key here is to serve God by giving in to the evil inclination. Not breaking our egos, and looking at our ‘weaknesses’ as strengths. Selfishness is a virtue. It keeps the world running. As long as we keep it in check, that is.[5]

So I keep on driving, and I reach a four-way stop sign, driving from south to north. I see that the woman in the car driving from east to west has reached her corner first, so I wait for her to go. She isn’t going. I look at her, and suddenly I realize that she is waving at me to go first. It bothered me. There were ten cars behind her. It makes no sense to do me a favor and not the people behind her. Yet people don’t think like that. People think that selflessness is good, even if someone else might lose out because it. I would call that using the good inclination to do the wrong thing.

So to sum up, just as the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to heaven is paved with bad ones. And I’m initially critical toward everything I notice, but hey, at least it produced this blog post…

[1] Berakhot 54a
[2] Genesis 1:31
[3] Ecclesiastes 4:4
[4] Gen. Rabbah 9:7
[5] See Meiri 2:16 who basically says this vort.


  1. Wow! This is some good stuff!
    But according to this, what would be considered "Leshma"?
    Because if everything really is selfish in the end of the day...

  2. Thank you :)

    My point was not to say that everything is selfish, but rather that selfishness is good. We can't ignore the other half of that Gemara - to serve him with the yetzer tov too. Clearly it isn't always about serving our own egos. Which is where lishmah comes in. I'll admit that I do think every action a person does is on some level self-serving, which is really the problem you are alluding to. But who says that self-serving and lishma are mutually exclusive? I think this is a question that needs to be answered. Maybe one day someone will irk me again and another light bulb will go on inside my head. Until then, let me know if you find the answer.

  3. Wow amazing! Had this thought a while back but never knew it was backed up. Great writing and great thoughts. Keep em coming.

  4. Hey, I just discovered the Beis Medrash, it happens to be pretty interesting. I am generally quite cynical as well and I find it hard to believe that the road to Heaven is paved with evil intentions. you may have been referring,(correct me if i'm wrong)to the concept of "Mitoch shelo lishmah bah lishmah", which means that although you do not have the proper intentions you should still continue to do this deed because eventually you may do it with the proper intentions but otherwise the ends do not necessarily justify the means.

  5. Blue - Thank you for your comment. I am referring to something more basic than מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה. The idea of מתוך is said with regard to Torah study and performing mitzvos; i.e. do them for the wrong reasons because you will end up doing them for the right reasons. The idea here is more about character traits, and the question of whether one should always be thinking about others, or focusing on one's own interests and being 'selfish'. I am submitting that being selfish can actually be a good thing, because as the Midrash says, it is the driving force of the world.

  6. Get daily ideas and methods for making THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS per day ONLINE totally FREE.


    Professional trading signals sent to your cell phone every day.

    Follow our signals right now and gain up to 270% per day.