Jewish Thought

Do Good Intentions Count? Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The road to Gehinnom is paved with good intentions.” I heard this saying so many times that I innocently assumed its source was Talmudic or Midrashic. It isn’t. Suffice it to say, many “l’havdils” must be added before I tell you who originated this famous aphorism.

Back in 1150, St. Bernard shared his wisdom with this ambiguous statement that many understand to imply that the most efficient way to end up in purgatory is having unfulfilled intentions. What I know now is that our Sages never would have said that for a simple reason. It isn’t true. Good intentions count.

Rabbeinu Bachyei tells us, “A believer should make a personal accounting…. He should spare no effort or labor in making his achievements happen. He should at least learn about the deeds that he isn’t capable of doing. He must verbally express his longing to be able to do them. Then Hashem will judge him favorably. Still, he must look for opportunities when he can fulfill his debt to Hashem.”

You may have good intentions that don’t play out in the deeds you wish you could do. You aren’t always able to readjust reality to fit your dream. Make no mistake. You are on the road to Heaven, not to … Trying is never a waste of time. It is the essence of what you were created to be and to do.

Eli was labeled at 3. Psychotherapy, O.T., P.T. and speech therapy were very much a part of his life. He wasn’t neglected or abandoned to his fate. By the time he was 8, he was introduced to Ritalin, and later to Concerta. His life could have been a jungle of failure, confusion, frustration, profound anger and self-loathing. It wasn’t. Each of the steps taken to help him out of the jungle helped.

Still, when he was 15 he looked in the mirror and saw the truth. He would never follow his older brothers to the highprofile yeshivos that they call home. He would attend a respectable third-string yeshivah where he would emerge as the kind of young man his sisters would cross of their lists, mildly affronted by the suggestion. He faced this crossroad privately. What Eli dreaded most were routine false hopes or saccharine “acceptance.”

On the outside nothing changed. He wore the clothes and lived the life. His issue was not with Hashem or with His Torah. It was with himself. He wasn’t alone. Other boys stood in his shoes, and he watched carefully the direction their feet took them…. Some dropped out of a race that they knew they would never win. Others persevered. Some were still buying time, hoping that one day the cocoon would burst and they would emerge in brilliant splendor. 

Eli chose a different path. He learned more about the spiritual giants who were not (at least initially) brilliant iluyim and he let them become his heroes. And then he turned to Hashem.

No, his story doesn’t have what many people would call a happy ending. He didn’t turn into his older brother Michoel who is plugging away in Chevron, nor did he morph into Shimmy at Ponevez.

He became an oved Hashem, seeking to serve Hashem with all of his strength. Other people’s achievements became less and less threatening as they became less and less relevant. He was running a race against himself, and he knew that he was winning. His longing for Torah translated into learning as much as he could while at the same time looking for opportunities to serve Hashem.

Rabbeinu Bachyei says that when Hashem sees those who do whatever they can and still want more, “He judges them favorably.”

Maharal tells us (Derech HaChaim I, Intro.) that only Torah is unlimited by the factors that limit everything else. It is as real and as unfathomably deep today as it was in Rabi Akiva’s time. It is as relevant in Paris as it is in Afghanistan. Unlike Torah, mitzvos are inherently restricted by their own requirements.

When you eat a kosher meal, the experience is over after you clear the table. When you give charity, the experience ends when your contribution reaches its target. Its inner core endures, but externally when the moment is gone, it is gone forever. Human beings are inherently limited by the fact that we live in our bodies. This is true for Eli no more nor less than it is for his brothers. Do you want to have an honest relationship with the Torah’s transcendence when you still live in the world of Ami’s pizza?

You have to admit to your limitations. You are physical, with a finite mind, limited emotional capacity and given only a certain number of years. This road you need to walk involves your middos. Eli has bitachon, emunah and love of Hashem. He is on the way to the etz hachaim. And his road is very well paved with his good intentions. 

With Kind permission from Hamodia


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