Question & Answer With Moshe David Tokayer - Lishma & Moshiach
A Simple Jew asks:
If a person does a mitzva with the intention that his mitzva will hasten the coming of Moshiach do you think that this mitzva can be regarded as purely lishma (for the sake of Heaven)? Can he be likened to a servant serving his master for the sake of receiving a reward since there may be a somewhat selfish ulterior motive behind this desire?
Moshe David Tokayer answers:
In order to answer this question we have to first define what it means to fulfill a mitzvah "lishma". The word lishma translates literally as "for its sake." What does this mean? What does it mean to fulfill a mitzvah for the sake of the mitzvah? Rebbi Elazar b"r Tzadok explains, 'Do things (mitzvos) for the sake of the One who made them.' (Nedarim 62a) Rebbi Elazar is teaching us that lishma, then, whose literal translation is "for its sake", means for the sake of God. This is the way the Rishonim, the Rosh and the Ran understand it.
To do something for God's sake can mean because He commanded us to do it and it can also mean in order to glorify His name. This latter seems to be the understanding of the Rosh who says, "Do everything for the sake of God who made everything for His own sake."
So, when a person does a mitzvah in order to hasten the coming of Moshiach, he could be fulfilling the mitzvah lishma or not. It depends on why he wants Moshiach. If he wants Moshiach to come because then God's glory will fill the world, his mitzvos are certainly lishma - in order to glorify God. If, however, he wants Moshiach to come for selfish reasons, then his mitzvah is not lishma.
In my experience people usually have mixed motives. I think it's very rare for someone to fulfill a mitzvah only for the sake of God with absolutely no personal motive. I'm sure there are tzadikim who are on this level and fulfill mitzvos regularly with no personal ulterior motives. Regular people, though, may reach this level once in a while.
Chazal advise us that a person should always work at Torah and mitzvos even shelo lishma - even not to glorify God, because from a level of shelo lishma a person will come to lishma. The Nefesh HaChaim explains that Chazal are teaching us not to despair. In fact, Chazal are teaching us that the way to reach a level of lishma even once in a while, is by constantly and continuously learning Torah and fulfilling the mitzvos. By continuously fulfilling mitzvos even if shelo lishma, we will sometimes merit fulfilling them lishma.
Experience bears this out. A person who despairs because his mitzvos are being driven to an extent by personal motives, will not perform mitzvos with the upbeat attitude necessary to reach lishma. On the other hand, one who is in a state of gratitude towards the Ribono shel Olam for the opportunity to fulfill His mitzvos, will reach lishma every so often.