When doing a mitzvah which is an act of kindness such as charity or helping someone, what is the proper intention?

To focus on the recipient? Or perhaps I should be thinking I am doing a command of Hashem, and the act and the recipient are inconsequential artifacts. So just as I shake a Lulav when Hashem says to, I also give money to person Hashem says to. Or perhaps there is some type of combination intention?

I would prefer sourced answers, but definitive arguments are acceptable as well.

A couple of the issues at hand that have me wondering:

I feel the Yerushalmi in Pe'ah 1 1 that says 'just as He is a rachum and chanun, so too you should be a rachum and chanun' compounds the issue more than solves it, because as it turns out, when I am not being a rachum, I am acting out of concern for Hashem's commandment, but once I reach a level of being that rachum, my sole concern is the recipient. So now the epitome of observance is the fact that I am completely ignoring the fact that the act I am doing is Hashem's command, being that I am focused solely on the recipient. This seems odd to me, but please feel free to explain these words, or others in a different light.

And before answering 'it's both!', let me point out why I think it is not. Part of the issue here is an old question I've had. Did Avraham Avinu do chessed with passers by before he recognized Hashem? Or was it a practice he began afterwards when he realized what a good ploy it was to get people to actively bless Hashem? Think about this, when he confronted them and said 'either bless Hashem, or pay for the food' what would happen to his reward for his chessed if they paid up? Seems like he didn't care as much about the niceness aspect as he did about the religious experience. And while the chessed he did can be described as having brought people under the wings of Hashem, and nothing to do with the food etc, that still leaves me wondering what is the underlying thought process for our chessed that we are supposed to do.

  • AFAIK, there is no direct Torah commandment to perform chessed. Chesed is a quality or trait which is the result of performing other concrete activities.
    – DanF
    Aug 25, 2015 at 17:57
  • @DanF Prika uteina. Hashavas aveida. Halvaas ha'ani.
    – user6591
    Aug 25, 2015 at 17:59
  • You may have misread or misunderstood what I said. There is no direct commandment. I.e. there is nothing that says "Do chessed". Your list includes activities that cause chessed.
    – DanF
    Aug 25, 2015 at 18:04
  • 2
    @DanF Where is the word "Tefillin" found in the Torah?
    – Double AA
    Aug 25, 2015 at 18:14
  • 1
    @DanF Is it relevant?
    – Daniel
    Aug 25, 2015 at 18:22

1 Answer 1


from chovos halevavos shaar bitachon ch.4

If the one who trusts in G-d has a wife, relatives, friends, enemies, let him trust in G-d to be saved from them.

He should strive to fulfill his duties to them, to do their wishes, to be wholehearted with them. He should refrain from causing any harm to them, try to promote what is good for them. He should deal faithfully towards them in all matters, and teach them the ways that will be beneficial for them in their religious matters and the secular ways [which will benefit them] in the service of the Creator, as written (Vayikra 19:18) "you shall love your neighbor as yourself..", and "do not hate your brother in your heart" (ibid). Do not do this out of hope for future benefits from them or to pay them back for past benefits. Nor should you do this out of love of being honored or praised by them, or out of desire to rule over them - but rather with the sole motive to fulfill the commandment of the Creator, and to guard His covenant and precepts over them.

The person, whose motive in fulfilling their wishes is one of the [reprehensible] motives we mentioned above, will not obtain what he wants from them in this world. He will tire himself for nothing, and will lose his reward in the afterlife. But if his sole motive is to serve G-d, the Al-mighty will help them to make a return to him in this world, and G-d will place his praise in their mouths and they will hold him in high esteem, and he will reach the great reward in the Olam Haba (afterlife), as the Al-mighty said to Shlomo "also what you did not ask, I will give you, also wealth and honor" (Melachim 3:13).

  • The reason I haven't upvoted this is because he is writing to have intentions of serving God as opposed to personal selfish intentions. He doesn't directly address what the Godly intentions are, which was my question.
    – user6591
    Aug 28, 2015 at 14:38
  • @user6591 what do you mean then by "To focus on the recipient?" Godly intentions are "to serve God" as explained there and at length in the 3rd gate of the book
    – ray
    Aug 28, 2015 at 14:55
  • When someone tells you to love someone, when loving that third party, are you intentions actually love to the recipient, or love for the one who gave the command? How about when Hashem gives the command? What does He want your intention to be? That is my question.
    – user6591
    Aug 28, 2015 at 15:44
  • @user6591 as far as i understand, from 3rd gate of chovos halevavos, the primary intention of everything is to try to find favor in God's eyes. like a servant who has only one goal - to try to please His master.
    – ray
    Aug 29, 2015 at 20:14
  • I hear that. And probably going to upvote this soon, just because it's kind of on track, my hesitancy again is only because it's not explicitly exactly what I'm looking for.
    – user6591
    Aug 30, 2015 at 1:06

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .