If a person doesn't care much about the reward in Olam Habah, what reasons does he have for being religious (learning torah and observing the mitzvot)?

As a parable, a businessman might not care about money, but he wants to work on creating something to benefit society.

As mentioned by Mike, The Pirkey Avot already said:

Antigonus, a man of Sokho, received [the tradition] from Shimon ha-Zaddik. He used to say: Do not be like the servants who serve their master in order to receive a reward; be like servants who serve their master without expecting to receive a reward and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.

Based on that reasoning, there must be different motivations.

  • Your first sentence and last sentence seem to ask two different things. Could you clarify your question?
    – Bochur613
    Mar 12, 2014 at 14:55
  • @Bochur613 I think the OP means that the achivements of the last sentence are the reasons to be religious in the first place.
    – gt6989b
    Mar 12, 2014 at 15:13
  • There is a case to be made that one's (potential) reward in Olam Habah is not a good reason to be religious. See Avot 1:3.
    – Mike
    Mar 13, 2014 at 22:10
  • "As a parable, a businessman might not care about money, but he wants to work on creating something to benefit society." I find the parable limited. Basically everyone in the world gets up in the morning, goes to work, works all day - so that they get paid. Payment is really effective. - I think people who talk about not caring about Olam Habah, are actually saying that they don't really believe in it or feel it. If they believed in it they would be first in line. It's better than a million dollars a day. What would those same people do for a million dollars?
    – MichoelR
    Mar 20, 2023 at 16:25

6 Answers 6


I think the main fundamental drive is not about getting a reward. It is about building a relationship with the Creator of the World. The reason for doing the mitzvos is that they are an expression of His Will, and we love Him very much, like one loves his father, and obey his will not because of the reward but because we want to do something nice for Him.

Let me elaborate on this. One idea is that there is a tremendous element of hakaras hatov which is the basis for everything else. One cannot notice the kindnesses of the Creator towards himself, and it is natural to try to want to give something back, even a slight little bit. Like with your parents, you can never pay back fully what they gave you, but giving back what can be possible is the least a human being can do.

The Creator does not need us to do anything for Him, but in His mercy, He created these mitzvos to give us an opportunity to give him something back.

Another idea, is that the reward is not what it's really about at all. The argument is put forth by R' Moshe Chaim Luzzato in Daas Tevunos - if the world was about the reward, the free will (main instrument for achieving this) should have never been terminated. But we know free will at some point in the future will be abolished and the Creator will reveal Himself fully, so for Him, the purpose is in revelation, not in reward.

A teacher of mine once pointed out that people believe life is like a video game - you collect some bonus points and some demerits, at the end of the level, the demerits get subtracted from the points and one (hopefully) gets to go to the next level. That's not what it is about. Life is a relationship. Like when you take the garbage out at home, it earns you favor with your wife, but the favor is not quantifiable. You take it out to make her feel good, to do something nice for her, not because she will cook you dinner afterwards. It is much the same with the Creator, who seeks a relationship with each and every human being.

  • Very nicely put!
    – Ani Yodea
    Mar 12, 2014 at 15:33
  • what are you giving to Him? Doesn't He get absolutely nothing from our service?
    – ray
    Mar 13, 2014 at 19:12
  • @ray He gets nothing in the sense that He lacks nothing. But He created the framework of this world, instituting a rule that limits His ability to bestow goodness to what the people earn. Only because He chooses to obey by the rule you can give him something, but nothing forces Him to choose to obey the rule except His Will...
    – gt6989b
    Mar 13, 2014 at 20:43
  • sorry, dont understand. so what are you giving Him?
    – ray
    Mar 13, 2014 at 20:53
  • @ray Ability to bestow goodness onto the created world.
    – gt6989b
    Mar 13, 2014 at 20:55

Off the top of my head:

  • You will feel like your life has a purpose. You'll have a meaningful life as opposed to a "well, I happen to be here, may as well enjoy it life."
  • You don't have to feel like a victim of circumstance. Hashem controls everything in the world, and everything that happens to you. The world is not a big scary chaotic place that could eat you at any minute.
  • Torah is the instruction manual for life. Can you imagine trying to "operate" life without the instructions? We have the privilege that He who designed both us and the world will also tell us what to do so as to take care of ourselves and function properly. Science, medicine, psychology, etc. are all ways that we try to figure ourselves out so that we'll know how to take care of ourselves. Here we are getting the answers on a silver platter.
  • Much higher chance of meaningful, committed, pleasurable family life and marriage.
  • More relationship security. I'm not worried about my husband cheating on me, or comparing me to other women (in looks or other ways.)
  • A culture which lends itself to creating communities and social support systems. Unfortunately not everyone feels that they are part of a community, but this point remains true for many.
  • Better body image/relationship with self. My worth is not defined by how well defined my abs are. Life does not revolve around looks.

Of course, we actually have to follow the instructions in order to get the benefits : ) Just wearing a kippah and eating chulent isn't going to cut it.

-Rebbetzin HaQoton


See Tanya Chapter 36:

Yet what could be the purpose of this series of worlds and their degeneration ever lower and lower? It could not be the higher worlds. After all, as high as they could be, they are still a descent from the light of His presence. Rather, the goal must be this lowest world. But what could be gained from a lowly world?

It must be that this goal does not arise out of any need or to profit any gain. It simply was His decision that He would have pleasure when the sense of otherness is suppressed and darkness transformed into light; when the light of Havayeh, the Infinite, shines in the place of darkness and otherness throughout all of this world, shining with greater intensity and greater power—with the advantage of light that emerges from darkness—than the mere reflection of His light that shines in higher worlds.

For in those higher worlds it must shine through filters and obstructions to negate and conceal the light of the Infinite so that these worlds will not dissolve from reality. Our world, however, is capable of sustaining this light unadulterated because G‑d has given us the Torah, which is called strength and power. This is what the rabbis meant when they said that G‑d empowers the righteous to receive their reward in the Time to Come—meaning that they will not dissolve out of existence into the light of Havayeh, since it will be revealed without any filter at that time.


a created being is under duty to serve his Creator on account of gratitude for having created him.

this is explained at length in the Chovos Halevavos especially Gate #3 - Service of G-d.

there he says, that nevertheless, a person does not usually give all he has unless he gets something greater for it. This reward is that the Creator will be pleased with him as written in ch.3 and this is the greatest possible good attainable in this world.

Secondly, service of G-d induced by the Torah is only rendered as the result of hope of reward or fear of punishment; but the service urged by the understanding comes from volunteering of the soul and and its desire to strive with all its might to serve its G-d for His own sake after knowledge and comprehension (of G-d and His greatness and exaltedness - ML). For the soul will not freely give all it has, unless it is convinced that what it receives in exchange is greater than what it gives, and this [reward] is that G-d is pleased with it. (see the commentaries there)


In addition to everything said in this answer, Nefesh HaChaim Shaar 1 Perek 3 (as one example - it is hard to point to one quotable line, as it is a large theme of the Shaar) discusses that man is tied in the structure of creation, and doing mitzvos reinforces the structure of creation and brings a positive energy and influence into the world which improves the whole world:

כן בדמיון זה כביכול ברא הוא יתברך את האדם והשליטו על רבי רבוון כחות ועולמות אין מספר. ומסרם בידו שיהא הוא המדבר והמנהיג אותם עפ"י כל פרטי תנועות מעשיו ודבוריו ומחשבותיו וכל סדרי הנהגותיו הן לטוב או להיפך ח"ו, כי במעשיו ודבוריו ומחשבותיו הטובים הוא מקיים ונותן כח בכמה כחות ועולמות עליונים הקדושים, ומוסיף בהם קדושה ואור

(paraphrased) G-d made Man as the authority over the forces of the countless worlds, and according to his actions, words, and thoughts all of existence is guided, for better or for worse. With his positive actions he upholds the worlds and gives them strength, and adds sanctity and light to them

So you have a cosmic impact, and are improving and benefiting all of creation by learning Torah and doing mitzvos.

In a similar vein, in Nefesh HaChaim Shaar 4 ch. 11 he describes that Torah is the source of sustaining the world and the world would cease to exist without Torah learning:

ולזאת עיקר חיותם ואורם וקיומם של העולמות כולם על נכון. הוא רק כשאנחנו עוסקים בה כראוי.

and in Ch. 14 that learning Torah brings down a positive energy and blessing into all of existence:

ואז משתלשל ונמשך שפעת אור וברכה ממקור שרשה העליון. על כל העולמות. וגם הארץ האירה מכבודה ומתברכת. ומביא הרבה טובה ושפעת ברכה לעולם.


Here's a mashal.

A wife says to her husband "when you go out the house, please tell me"

The husband says "why should I tell you? What's in it for me?"

Not sure if anything further needs to be said, but there was never any presumption that he had to tell her for his own reward. He had to tell her because she needs to know.

"Well, I don't need it, so why should I do it?".

Again, not sure if this type of question needs an answer, but the answer is she needs it, be a mentch and do it, and don't bring reward into this.

  • I've heard this mashal in many shiurim, so I don't have a "source". Let the logic of it speak for itself, although open to q&as
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 20, 2023 at 14:31
  • For a fuller explanation, please see judaism.stackexchange.com/a/133768/31534 (as well as other answers there)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 20, 2023 at 14:44

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