The question is the following: do mitzvot have intrinsic value, or only extrinsic value. A ramification of this is the following scenario: A person has two ways of performing an act; one of them would fulfill an optional mitzvah (see below), while the other, for technical reasons, would not. Assuming (in this thought experiment) that the positive effects of mitzvos (e.g. improving one's character traits and improving society) would be identically achieved with both acts, is there any advantage performing the act that fulfills a mitzvah.

The question comes down to whether there is intrinsic value to the mitzvot.

A corollary of this question is whether one receives divine reward for the mitzvos themselves, or only for the resultant benefits (e.g. self perfection).

What are the views of the Rishonim (medieval Jews) on the matter.

Note: I am not asking whether there is extrinsic value to the mitzvot; i.e. ta'amei hamitzvot. I am asking if there is only extrinsic value in the mitzvot. I am also not looking for the views of the Zohar. Furthermore, I am aware that one who violates a negative commandment, or neglects a positive commandment faces punishment. This would certainly be a reason to perform them. However, this is not "intrinsic value". Thus, the practical relevance of the question is to mitzvot kiyumiot (optional mitzvot).

  • Maybe I'm completely failing to understand this question, but I don't see how this is even a question.
    – Daniel
    Jul 8, 2015 at 23:31
  • @Daniel as they say in yeshivos: fier ois; elaborate.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 8, 2015 at 23:36
  • 1
    It just seems obvious to me that mitzvot have intrinsic value. You're not keeping kosher just because you think it's healthy, are you?
    – Daniel
    Jul 8, 2015 at 23:40
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    If there were no intrinsic value, why would it be a mitzvah at all?
    – Daniel
    Jul 8, 2015 at 23:48
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    @Daniel I don't really follow the OP's terms, but the only reason we do any Mitzva is bc God said so. I could see that being called intrinsic or extrinsic.
    – Double AA
    Jul 9, 2015 at 2:19

3 Answers 3


The Rambam writes in the introduction to Chelek (Shilat translation, p. 131):

ולא תהיה תכלית החכמה אלא ידיעתה בלבד. וכן אין תכלית האמת אלא שידע שהיא אמת. והמצוות אמת ולפיכך תכליתן קיומם

The purpose of knowledge should not be anything other than knowing it. Similarly, there is no purpose of truth other than knowing that it is the truth. And the mitzvos are true, and therefore their purpose is to fulfill them.

Here, the Rambam seems to be saying that, just as the purpose of wisdom is to attain the wisdom, so too the purpose of mitzvos is intrinsically justified and fulfilling them is in itself the purpose of the mitzvos.


the Sefer Haikarim 3, 28 quoting The Talmud in Nazir 23 , answers this clearly:

כי בעשיית כל מצוות ומצווה יש שתי בחינות:  האחד מצד העשות מעשה המצווה והגיעה אל הפועל השלם;  והשנית מצד כוונת העושה אותה.  והשלמות הנמשך אל המצווה איננו מצד המעשה, שהרי אמרו רבותינו ז"ל במסכת נזיר (כ"ג) גדולה עבירה לשמה ממצווה שלא לשמה. ואמרו שם: משל לשני בני אדם שצלו פסחיהם.  אחד אכלו לשם פסח, ואחד אכלו לשם אכילה גסה,  זה שאכלו לשם פסח, עליו הכתוב אומר: (הושע י"ד) וצדיקים ילכו בם,  וזה שאכלו לשם אכילה גסה, עליו הכתוב אומר: (שם) ופושעים יכשלו בם, הנה ביארו בפירוש שהמצווה בלא כוונה אינו עולה לשם מצווה. 

We see there that the main part of the mitzvah is your intention to fulfil God's will.

וכן במשפטים התוריים, יש בהם תכלית יותר נכבד מתיקון הקיבוץ המדיני, אף על פי שיראה לכאורה שאינו כן. והתכלית ההוא הנה הוא, שיתכוון בעשיית אלו המשפטים מצד מה שציווה השם יתברך, והכוונה הזאת כשתצטרף אל המעשה, תקנה ותיתן שלמות בנפש העושה, אחר שעשיית פעולתו זו אינה מצד שהיא תיקון הקיבוץ המדיני בלבד, אבל מצד אהבת השם יתברך, רצוני לומר כדי להשלים מצוותיו שציווה בהם.

You might be interested in reading the whole chapter for a broader analysis

  • Perhaps I wasn't clear enough, but this doesn't seem to answer the question. All we see is that a mitzvah with intent is superior. Thus, besides for the mitzva itself, there are advantages in doing it with kavana. Thus, it could be argued that there is extrinsic value to the mitzvos. However, the question was whether or not there is intrinsic value to the mitzvah. The Gemara is certainly no proof as (IIRC) that might be a technical exception as acila gassa is not an achila. Even the Ikkarim is no proof. All we see is that there is more value when done with kavana; not that the mitzvah alone
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 9, 2015 at 17:12
  • stripped of kavana has no value. Even if one fails to discharge one's obligation, that is not proof that the act had no value, only that it lacked the requisite value (or characteristics) to fulfill the mitzvah. Lastly, even if the act divorced of intent is useless, that still doesnt answer the question. Lets say I have a mitzva kiyumis of eating matza after already eating a kezayis. I understand that eating it without kavana is useless, but I still have the original question of whether or not there is a reason to pursue this mitzva kiyums if I could achieve identical results
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 9, 2015 at 17:14
  • e.g. remembering Mitzrayim in some other way that that doesnt fulfill the mitzvah.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 9, 2015 at 17:17
  • What does Kavana means? it means doing it because Hashem told you to. you can remember Mitzrayim in some other way, but would be doing it without kavana. Kavana is the "intrinsic value". you should read both the gemara and the whole chapter of Ikarim before suggesting you own views on them. Jul 10, 2015 at 16:11
  • I wasnt suggesting my own view on the topic. I was questioning the relevance of your answer to my question. If some other part of the chapter was vital to the answer, then consider quoting it.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 10, 2015 at 17:54

On the contrary, the sole object of the Law is to benefit us. Thus we explained the Scriptural passage, "for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day" (Deut. vi. 24). Again, "which shall hear all those statutes (ḥuḳḳim), and say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people" (ibid. iv. 6). He thus says that even every one of these "statutes" convinces all nations of the wisdom and understanding it includes. But if no reason could be found for these statutes, if they produced no advantage and removed no evil, why then should he who believes in them and follows them be wise, reasonable, and so excellent as to raise the admiration of all nations? But the truth is undoubtedly as we have said, that every one of the six hundred and thirteen precepts serves to inculcate some truth, to remove some erroneous opinion, to establish proper relations in society, to diminish evil, to train in good manners or to warn against bad habits. All this depends on three things: opinions, morals, and social conduct.

Moreh Nevukim 3:31

The Rambam teaches that the purpose of the law is to put an end to idolatry, and therefore, all the commandments are aimed at this purpose. This is done in three ways; instilling correct beliefs, instilling good moral character which is a prerequisite for forming correct beliefs, and maintaining social order so that it is possible for people to form good morals. All of this so that idolatry be removed from our hearts and minds and we can serve G-d with correct intentions.

You know from the repeated declarations in the Law that the principal purpose of the whole Law was the removal and utter destruction of idolatry, and all that is connected therewith, even its name, and everything that might lead to any such practices, e.g., acting as a consulter with familiar spirits, or as a wizard, passing children through the fire, divining, observing the clouds, enchanting, charming, or inquiring of the dead.

Moreh Nevukim 3:29

  • This is a nice source, but I dont see how it answers the question. All it shows is that there is usefulness; i.e. extrinsic purpose to the mitzvot. I wrote: "I am not asking whether there is extrinsic value to the mitzvot; i.e. ta'amei hamitzvot. I am asking if there is only extrinsic value in the mitzvot."
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 10, 2015 at 17:59
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    The rambam's answer is no. Everything is for those three purposes. He gives an exhaustive list of three purposes of the misswoth, and how these three purposes relate to the ultimate purpose. I very much condensed the sources to fit in a post. Try reading these sections in full for a better understanding.
    – ShamanSTK
    Jul 10, 2015 at 19:07
  • Seems legitimate until I do a better study of the source material. +1 in the meantime. BTW I was under the impression that this was the view of the Rambam in particular which is what prompted me to ask the question.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 10, 2015 at 19:17

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