I have seen the phrase "for the sake of Heaven" / "in Heaven's sake" / לשם שמים multiple times both in the Gemara and in discussions here on Mi Yodeya.

Examples here, here and here

I have a problem understanding this concept. Can anyone provide a concise definition ?

How can we do anything for the sake of Heaven ? We, individually, are frail, small and mortal and not very significant in the grand scheme of things, certaintly compared to Heaven, so how then can anything we do have any influence on Heaven's sake one way or the other, for good or for bad ?

  • 1
    It's worth noting that there are numerous explanations of that phrase discussed by the major commentators. In his commentary to "19 Letters" by Rav S.R. Hirsch, R' Joseph Elias compares and contrasts the various approaches in a very thorough yet clear manner.
    – Binyomin
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 20:44

4 Answers 4


You understand that “for the sake of heaven” implies to “have influence on Heaven's sake one way or the other, for good or for bad ?” You see an action undertaken for the sake of heaven meaning that the action has influence on heaven.

Consider מחלוקת לשם שמים  Wikipedia defines it as

מחלוקת לשם שמים היא מחלוקת עניינית, שהעוסקים בה חותרים להגיע לחקר האמת,

The element of shem shomyim lies in the motivation of the participants to discover the truth (and not for any other motivation)

The discussion in the gemoro in kiddushin that you quote also relates to motivation. As Sefaria translates the Gemoro

All such actions are permitted for the sake of Heaven. In other words, if one is acting out of familial affection, without any element of licentiousness, they are permitted.

This shiur quotes the Tashbetz to define leshem shomayim:

התשב"ץ מסביר ש"לשם שמים" פירושו: עשייה "כרצון הא-ל יתברך, שאדם יעסוק בתורה ובמצוות לקיים מאמר הא-ל בלבד, לא ליטול עטרה, ולא להתגאות על הבריות, אלא אדרבה יבזה עצמו כדי לקיים מאמר הא-ל"

It means according to the will of G-d. That a person should work at Torah and mitzvos with the motivation to fulfill the words of G-d and neither to take a crown or inflate oneself over other people, but rather abase onself in order to carry out the word of HaShem.

So the meaning is not connected with influencing Heaven and your question falls away.


One way to look at it, is the notion of going above and beyond, transcending the normal human existence to put Hashem and his Torah/mitzvos first.

As you mention, there are numerous examples, but perhaps we can start with one in Pirkei Avos 2:12 -

רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר, יְהִי מָמוֹן חֲבֵרְךָ חָבִיב עָלֶיךָ כְּשֶׁלָּךְ, וְהַתְקֵן עַצְמְךָ לִלְמֹד תּוֹרָה, שֶׁאֵינָהּ יְרֻשָּׁה לָךְ. וְכָל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ יִהְיוּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמָיִם:

Rabbi Yose said: Let the property of your fellow be as precious unto you as your own; Make yourself fit to study Torah for it will not be yours by inheritance; And let all your actions be for [the sake of] the name of heaven. (sefaria translation)

The Bartenura explains this mishna to mean:

וְכָל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ יִהְיוּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמָיִם. אַף בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁאַתָּה עוֹסֵק בַּאֲכִילָה וּשְׁתִיָּה וּבְדֶרֶךְ אֶרֶץ לֹא תִּתְכַּוֵּן לְהַהֲנוֹת גּוּפְךָ, אֶלָּא שֶׁתִּהְיֶה בָּרִיא לַעֲשׂוֹת רְצוֹן קוֹנְךָ:

"All of your actions should be for the sake of Heaven": even at the time that you are involved in eating and drinking and in the way of the world (derech eretz), do not have the intention to give pleasure to your body, but rather that you should be healthy [in order] to do the will of your Creator. (sefaria translation)

So we see that our lowly physical existence can be elevated if we choose to maximise our time on this earth by choosing to adopt a healthy lifestyle to best serve Hashem. In other words, the aim of this world is to act with pure motives, thereby synthesising our actions above and beyond.

Take Korach for example. He is seen as the archetype whose actions were not for the sake of Heaven (see Pirkei Avos 5:17). His whole approach is regarded as being self-serving. Unlike the type of arguments that raged between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, Korach's dispute was rooted by his own need to further his ambition. It wasn't predicated on personal growth and gaining a closer relationship with G-d. As the Bartenura asserts, Korach and his assembly sought honour and power above all else.

So when we speak about acting for the sake of heaven it means acting with no ulterior motives, endeavouring to act in a more spiritually refined way. This does not have to be regarded as something that transcends human capability, rather the aspiration in itself already is a step in the right direction. It means acting with a heightened awareness that our actions carry weight in the upper realm and our existence on this earth is to serve Hashem to the best of our ability.


Doing a mitzva lishma means that one's motivation is not coming from one's own desire and pleasure, but in response to the truth of the mitzva itself. The Ramchal, when dealing the concept of lishma, explains:

וְעִנְיָנָהּ שֶׁלֹּא יַנִּיחַ הָאָדָם מָקוֹם לַיֵּצֶר בְּמַעֲשָׂיו, אֶלָּא יִהְיוּ כָּל מַעֲשָׂיו עַל צַד הַחָכְמָה וְהַיִּרְאָה וְלֹא עַל צַד הַחֵטְא וְהַתַּאֲוָה.

Its matter is for a man to not leave any room in one's deeds for the evil inclination, but rather, that all of his deeds be from the side of wisdom and fear of G-d, and not from the side of sin and lust.

There is no room for doing so out of arrogance, or image, or benefit. One is motivated only to do it because it is right, true, and wise, and on recognises this from one's awe of Hashem. The Rambam explains in Hilchot Teshuva 10:2:

עוֹשֶׂה הָאֱמֶת מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא אֱמֶת וְסוֹף הַטּוֹבָה לָבוֹא בִּגְלָלָהּ

He does truth because it is truth, and will bring goodness

Note, neither of these commentaries preclude one's own personal enjoyment, or assume that if one wants to do it themselves, that makes it impossible to be "lishma". In fact, both bring in a higher madrega of doing it lishma, which involves doing it out of a motivation of love (Mesilat Yisharim Ch. 19, Hilchot Teshuva 10:1-2).

When one truly loves someone else, they seek with a pure heart to please that person, to do for them, benefit them, and give them whatever service they require, without wanting anything in return. It is "its own" pleasure for them, and that is what makes it lishma. The pleasure they get (if any, feelings come and go, moods come and go) is the simple pleasure of pleasing Hashem "for its own sake" i.e. it is its own reward.

Another way to put it: the motivation is the mitzva, i.e. one is doing the mitzva to please Hashem, not to please oneself. If one happens to find it very pleasing to please Hashem then that is not something to criticise, but to commend. Indeed as Rambam puts it, this is a very high level to achieve and represents a lifetime of hard work:

וּמַעֲלָה זוֹ הִיא מַעֲלָה גְּדוֹלָה מְאֹד וְאֵין כָּל חָכָם זוֹכֶה לָהּ. וְהִיא מַעֲלַת אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ שֶׁקְּרָאוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אוֹהֲבוֹ לְפִי שֶׁלֹּא עָבַד אֶלָּא מֵאַהֲבָה

This is a very high level which is not merited by every wise man. It is the level of our Patriarch, Abraham, whom God described as, "he who loved Me," for his service was only motivated by love.

Again, just because someone enjoys something, that doesn't mean they are doing it for the sake of the enjoyment. Hashem can read our hearts and can know this. He will also test us sometimes just so we can know that we indeed do do it for its own sake, rather than for our own benefit, as sometimes we will not be in the mood, we will not feel the love so strong. We might be asked to do something we otherwise find very very difficult, and do it anyway.

tl;dr: if we are genuinely motivated to serve Hashem out of pure intentions rather than selfish gain, and especially if we are on the level to be doing it out of love for Him and a desire to please Him, then we are definitionally doing it for its own sake, even if we have some pure and commendable pleasure in pleasing our Creator this way. This is a very high level indeed, and is just right.


Relatedly, I suggest that we reexamine the meaning of Lishma. Ask anyone why they are doing a Mitzva. The general response is Lishma. Ask them again: OK - you are doing that Mitzva, Lishma - why are you doing that mitzva, Lishma? A few individuals might say: I am doing it Lishma, Lishma. Ask them again: why are you doing that Mitzva Lishma, Lishma?

In truth, it's an infinite regress. The 'answer' proposes an explanation, but the mechanism proposed needs as much of an explanation as the original fact to be explained. Eventually he or she will admit perforce that the reason I am doing this Mitzva Lishma, Lishma, Lishma to the hundredth degree is because I choose/desire to do so.

Paradox? There is no contradiction between self and Lishma. לֶךְ־לְךָ֛/go for you.

Rashi Genesis 12:1: לך לך. לַהֲנָאָתְךָ וּלְטוֹבָתְךָ, literally, go for thyself — for your own benefit, for your own good ..

Was Abraham not a Lishma-nick? Would Avraham have passed the first of his great tests if he told God that he did not want to go out for himself, but solely "Lishma" (in the erroneous sense of how the term is used)? Should he have said : forget the benefit to me, God! I have nothing to do with this!? I doubt it. The command was Go for Thyself - a paradigm for future mitzvot too. Lishma connotes a partnership - to self-actualize through God's commandments. Not to deny/obliterate self. Something along the lines of: I do this Mitzva because God commands so (for the ultimate purpose of my self realization).

Ramchal, Daat Tevunot: Chapter 14 – היסוד הראשון שעליו עומד כל הבנין הוא, שרצה הרצון העליון שיהיה האדם משלים את עצמו The first foundation upon which the entire construct stands is, that the Heavenly Will wanted that man should complete himself ...

I suppose it is possible to argue that lech lecha doesn't really mean lecha lecha or that it does not apply to other mitzvot and that the Ramchal is talking about mankind's self actualizing via the negation and destruction of any sense of self, but none of these possibilities are satisfying to say the least.

There is nothing selfish about self realization. The opposite is true. The true perfection of self is the ultimate purpose of the cosmos. Selfish is when one does something bad, or something good for all the wrong reasons. And sometimes this act counts as a lower level Mitzva. One can learn Torah to be the smartest person on the block. He or she may be fulfilling a Mitzva but selfishness is in play. When one however learns Torah because God commands us to be a perfected human being - that is sublime.

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    There is a concept that etz hadaat tov v'ra means that "daat is good and bad". Daat introduces the ego i.e. self consciousness. This is good and bad. Bad because it leads to yeitzer hara and selfishness, but good because now there is an "I" for Hashem to be in a relationship with. If everyone was a perfect altruistic giver, it would be frustrating (to say the least) because everyone would want to give, but nobody wants anything... Does this fit with what you write?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Jan 22 at 16:00
  • @ Rabbi Kaii. Excellent point.
    – GratefulD
    Commented Jan 22 at 16:05
  • @ Rabbi Kaii - yes. How does one do so on this site? Thx.
    – GratefulD
    Commented Jan 23 at 12:53

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