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Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuva 8:3 referring to Olam Haba:

וזהו השכר שאין שכר למעלה ממנו והטובה שאין אחריה טובה והיא שהתאוו לה כל הנביאים

This is the reward above which there is no higher reward and the good beyond which there can be no [other] good. This was [the good] desired by all the prophets. (Chabad.org**)

In Hilchos Teshuva 9:2 he writes:

ומפני זה נתאוו כל ישראל נביאיהם וחכמיהם לימות המשיח כדי שינוחו ממלכיות שאינן מניחות להן לעסוק בתורה ובמצות כהוגן וימצאו להם מרגוע וירבו בחכמה כדי שיזכו לחיי העולם הבא

For these reasons, all Israel, [in particular,] their prophets and their Sages, have yearned for the Messianic age so they can rest from the [oppression of] the gentile kingdoms who do not allow them to occupy themselves with Torah and mitzvot properly. They will find rest and increase their knowledge in order to merit the world to come. (Chabad.org)

Yet in Hilchos Teshuva 10:1 (the very next halacha) he writes:

אל יאמר אדם הריני עושה מצות התורה ועוסק בחכמתה כדי שאקבל כל הברכות הכתובות בה או כדי שאזכה לחיי העולם הבא ואפרוש מן העבירות שהזהירה תורה מהן כדי שאנצל מן הקללות הכתובות בתורה או כדי שלא אכרת מחיי העולם הבא אין ראוי לעבוד את ה' על הדרך הזה שהעובד על דרך זה הוא עובד מיראה ואינה מעלת הנביאים ולא מעלת החכמים ואין עובדים ה' על דרך זה אלא עמי הארץ והנשים והקטנים שמחנכין אותן לעבוד מיראה עד שתרבה דעתן ויעבדו מאהבה

A person should not say: "I will fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah and occupy myself in its wisdom in order to receive all the blessings which are contained within it or in order to merit the life of the world to come."

"[Similarly,] I will separate myself from all the sins which the Torah warned against so that I will be saved from all the curses contained in the Torah or so that [my soul] will not be cut off from the life of the world to come."

It is not fitting to serve God in this manner. A person whose service is motivated by these factors is considered one who serves out of fear. He is not on the level of the prophets or of the wise.

The only ones who serve, God in this manner are common people, women, and minors. They are trained to serve God out of fear until their knowledge increases and they serve out of love. (Chabad.org)

This appears to be a blatant contradiction. First he writes that everyone including prophets and sages desire the Messianic Era because then they will have nothing keeping them from engaging in Torah and mitzvos to attain olam haba. Yet then he writes that engaging in Torah and mitzvos in order to earn olam haba is improper, and it is not the way of the prophets and sages.

How is this to be reconciled?

Do any sources in Rabbinic Literature note this apparent contradiction?

(I have seen one source that kind of addresses this, and I can post it as an answer, but I did not find it very compelling.)


**In the original translation the word "no" does not appear. However, as without the word "no" it means the exact opposite of what is being said, I added in the word assuming it to be a simple mistake.

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I believe you must say that for Olam Haba to be your only motivation is childish. However, if your motivation is because you love Hashem and you’re also motivated by Olam Haba, that is the way of the Neviim.

  • Any evidence for this? – Alex Apr 26 '18 at 17:38
  • This is what I am deducing from the contradiction. I do not have any evidence to this. – Yehoshua Levin Apr 26 '18 at 17:54
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R. Yosef Cohen writes (Sefer Hateshuva 8:3 & 9:2) that when Rambam writes that they desired olam haba, it was not for the personal benefit of olam haba but for the sake of attaining the shleimus of knowing God.

כוונת הרמב"ם כאן ליישב שלא תהא סתירה הא שהתאוו כל הנביאים לחיי העוה"ב להא דאיתא בספרי והובא ברמב"ם פ"י ה"ד שלא יאמר אדם הריני לומד תורה בשביל שאקבל שכר לעוה"ב לזה כתב הרמב"ם שהנביאים לא התאוו לעוה"ב משום הגמול והשכר על מעשיו להנאת עצמו אלא להגיע לתכלית שבעוה"ב שהוא השלמות לדעת ולהשיג מאמיתת הקב"ה כלשון הרמב"ם בה"ב ומה זה שאמרו ונהנין מזיו השכינה שיודעים ומשיגים מאמתת הקב"ה וזה תכלית הבריאה וכלשון המסילת ישרים בתחילת ספרו שהאדם לא נברא אלא להתענג על ד' וליהנות מזיו שכינתו וכו' ויעוין להלן ציון 43 שכ"ז מבואר בדברי הרמב"ם בפיה"מ פ' חלק שהובא להלן ויעוין בבארי בשדה ציון 28 וציון 32 ובה"ד ציון 96

However, I don't really see how this is indicated in Rambam's words here.

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Rambam himself explains his view in his introduction to Perek Chelek. (The linked translation is not great, but it should do. Here is the Hebrew version.)

There he explains at length that the ultimate spiritual state is to do what is right for its own sake--to be intrinsically motivated.

Yet, even achieving this ultimate spiritual level should not be one's motive, but merely to do what is right at whatever level one is holding.

It is a subtle point, but a careful study of Rambam there will make this clear. (Rambam himself warns there that not all people will understand his point, so it certainly is not simple.) Here are two quotes, but it is a long discussion that really requires reading the entire section.

One ought not to busy oneself with God’s Torah in order to earn one’s living by it; nor should the end of studying wisdom be anything but knowing it. The truth has no other purpose than knowing that it is truth. Since the Torah is truth, the purpose of knowing it is to do it. A good man must not wonder, “If I perform these commandments, which are virtues, and if I refrain from these transgressions, which are vices which God commanded us not to do, what will I get out of it?” This is precisely what the child does when he asks, “If I read, what will you give me?” The child is answered in some such way because, when we know his limited understanding and his desire for something other than a real goal, we answer him on the level of his folly, as it is said in Proverbs 26:5: “Answer the fool according to his folly.”

...

The world to come is the ultimate end toward which all our effort ought to be devoted.

Therefore, the sage who firmly grasped the knowledge of the truth and who envisioned the final end, forsaking everything else, taught: “All Jews have a share in the world to come” (Sanhedrin 10:1).

Nevertheless, even though this is the end we seek, he who wishes to serve God out of love should not serve Him to attain the world to come. He should rather believe that wisdom exists, that this wisdom is the Torah; that the Torah was given the prophets by God the Creator; that in the Torah He taught us virtues which are the commandments and vices that are sins. In so doing, he will perfect the specifically human which resides in him and will be genuinely different from the animals. When one becomes fully human, he acquires the nature of the perfect human being; there is no external power to deny his soul eternal life. His soul thus attains the eternal life it has come to know which is the world to come, as we have explained. This is the meaning of the verse: “Be not as the horse or as the mule, which have no understanding; whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle” (Ps. 32:9). Restraints which prevent animals from acting in accordance with their nature are external ones, like the bit and the bridle. With man, the influences which restrain him are his control of self. When a man achieves human perfection it restrains him from doing those things which are called vices and which withhold perfection from him; it urges and impels him toward those things which are called virtues and which bring him to full perfection. This is what all the teaching of the sages have made clears to me about this most important matter.

  • This is a relevant point but I don’t think truly answers the question. The contradiction is that Rambam puts neviim and chachamim in both categories, so explaining that there are two categories doesn’t really resolve the contradiction. – Alex Nov 20 '18 at 20:34
  • Think of it like this: The goal of playing basketball is to get the most points and win the game. In order to play well you need to try your best to win. But a good sport should not play to win--and feel that the game is worthless if they lose. Instead, they should play for the sake of playing and enjoy every moment of every game--whether they win or lose. In a similar way, our goal should be to achieve the ultimate closeness to Hashem. Yet, we should not think that our Torah and mitzvos have no value other than bringing us to that ultimate level. Rather, every moment has intrinsic value. – Benyomin Walters Nov 22 '18 at 0:45
  • Well to rephrase the contradiction using your example: Statement 1— Everyone including the best NBA players play basketball in order to win. Statement 2 — One should not play say "I will play basketball in order to win". It is improper to play in this manner, and it is not the level of the best NBA players. Only low-class people play in this manner. – Alex Nov 22 '18 at 1:01
  • Exactly! An NBA player works very hard to win and plays to win, but at the same time, as a good sport, isn't playing to win, but for the love of the game. Being a good sport doesn't mean you don't try your hardest to win, it means that you don't see winning as the true goal. It is the goal of the game, but the game itself exists to challenge us and to have fun. – Benyomin Walters Nov 22 '18 at 15:51

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