Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Yeshaya Liebowitz is over my head

Let me complain to you about Yeshaya Liebowitz for a moment. Oh, I know he's from the biggest geniuses, and I am not, but that's exactly the problem: In my smallness, I'm having difficulty understanding one of his central ideas.

He says, if I am right, that we should do Mitzvoth for the sake of doing Mitzvoth, and that those of us who imagine that we get anything concrete from their performance, such as God's favor, are kidding ourselves. In fact, the very point of doing Mitzvoth, he says, is that we get nothing, for if we got anything we'd be doing the Mitzvoth for ourselves, and not for God.

He also says (and this is almost a quote) that when your religiosity expresses your personal values, your morals, or your conscious, the religious act you perform is an act of rebellion against God.

I can agree with him on the part about how Mitzvoth-performing can't possibly sway or influence God, but don't we always get some reward at some point, in some sense? That feeling of satisfaction is a reward, isn't it? Self-righteousness is a reward. And so is the admiration of your wife and neighbors.

And while it might be true that the performance of a religious act motivated by anything other that a no-strings-attached desire to serve the One Above is an act of idolatry, we humans aren't capable of such a thing.

If we do anything, anything at all, its because we're expecting some sort of payout. That payout might be something as inchoate as a feeling, and for the non-mentally stable even a negative or painful feeling will suffice. But the point is we humans don't get out of bed unless there's something in it for us. So how can Leibowitz be taken seriously when he demands that we do otherwise when it comes to serving God?
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