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Pirqei Avot 1:3 – “What is my reward for this?”

BS”D

Antigonos of Sokho received from Shimon the Just. He used to say: “Do not be like servants who serve their master on condition of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve their master not on condition of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.”

Some thoughts:

This is the third verse in the first chapter of Pirqei Avot. Do not, in your service of G-D, be like one who expects to get paid for his service, which is not the relation you should establish with G-D. Instead, be like one who act out of love and devotion. If you want to have a “professional” relation to G-D, then what will be your terms? And can you expect to be treated with leniency, when you act immoral?

This quote is one who stuck to me very early, and I’m still thinking about it often, since I find that I have a hard time to do things, without expecting something in return. But when I relate to how I should act, for example in keeping the laws of the country, it is not done so much out of an expectation to receive a reward for it, but because I have a fundamental understanding that this is the best interest for all. But when it comes to the Divine Laws, then I suddenly expect that it is something that I should be rewarded for?

G-D made laws which basically are ethical, and the reward is in doing them, in letting them be the step leading us to a higher ethical behavior and a higher spiritual understanding, and thus the reward lays in keeping the commandments themselves, not in getting something in return. That is an understanding that many of us lack in our daily lives, that when we’re acting right and good, it is not for the sake of getting credit (in some way or another) for it, but for the sake of us selves and our spiritual well-being.

Who are introduced here?

Antigonos of Sokho (אנטיגנוס איש סוכו) was the disciple of Shimon HaTzaddiq, who was mentioned in the previous verse. It is not definitely sure when he lived, as is the case with most people from his time, but it must have been sometime around the third and second century BCE. Louis Ginzberg places him in the first part of the third century BCE[1], while R. Mordechai Judovits places him in the second century BCE[2].

He was one of the earliest Tannaim, who was called a “Sofer” (Scribe), and is credited for formulating one of the earliest opining views expressed against the Sadducees, namely this presented here in the third verse of the Pirqei Avot. It is not just an ethical teaching, but also a declaration of faith, namely that there is an afterlife and that we should not focus on the “payment” for our service of G-D in this world. Furthermore he combines the service out of love, with fear of G-D, pointing out that love – as well as fear – should be the motivator in our service of G-D.[3]

New Terms:

 

Sofer: The Sofer (סופר) was both a teacher and a scribe. The early Sofrim did not only write and copy Torah-scrolls and other religious texts, but were also those who interpreted and explained the laws for the people. There was a close relation between Sofrim and Pharisees, many of whom had both roles, which is also attested in the Christian writings.


[1] The Jewish Encyclopedia.

[2] “Sages of the Talmud,” Mordechai Judovits, Urim Publications.

[3] For more on this subject, read R. Ephraim Urbach’s “The Sages,” volume I, p. 400-419. Particular p. 402-406 deals with Antigonos.


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