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Cheshvan, 5762

3. Good Intentions, Good Deeds


Written by the rabbi

Dedicated to the speedy recovery of
Asher Ishaayahu Ben Rivka

לשיעור זה בעברית: 3. המעשה הרצוי ומימוש הרצון

An interesting story concerning the conversion of the King of the Khazars appears at the beginning of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi's classic work, "the Kuzari." The Khazar king has a dream, and in his dream a divine messenger speaks to him, saying: "Your intentions are desirable in the eyes of God, but your deeds are not." The king experiences this dream a number of times, and, as a result, he begins to fulfill the precepts of his people's religion, to the point where he even serves in their temple and offers up sacrifices with full devotion.

Yet, despite the king's adamancy in fulfilling the commandments of the Khazarian religion, the heavenly messenger returns to him each night, saying, "Your intentions are desirable, but your actions are not."
All of this causes the king to search and investigate other faiths and philosophies. Eventually he converts to Judaism and with him a large number of his people, the Khazarians.

The question, "What is desirable action?" is a question which every individual asks himself. Each of us harbors good intentions. Each one of us possesses a desire to be upright. The question is, how? How do we realize these good intentions? How do we materialize our great aspirations?
A thinking person cannot escape this essential question: Who am I? What is my purpose? Is there some purpose for which I have been created? Am I fulfilling it? For what purpose were man and the universe created? Such questions often arise in times of crisis. In such times, man asks himself, "What is the meaning of all of this?" These sorts of questions can also arise in cases where an individual lacks absolutely nothing. A person may have everything he needs and more, but the abundance itself begins to disgust him. He feels discontented, and a thirst for meaning in life awakens within him. As a result, he begins to search for himself. He begins to search for his own inner essence. At this stage, his intentions have become desirable, yet he remains unenlightened as to the desired behavior, the proper path.

Good intention alone is not enough! If one does not know how to perform the proper deeds, it is possible, despite all good intentions, to cause great damage. Even in the course pursuing good, it is possible to perform appalling deeds. For example, all idol worship is carried out with pure intention. The intentions are good, but the actions are the opposite of the intentions.
Good intentions, then, are not enough. The deeds must also be desirable. Indeed, one who wishes to perform deeds which will find favor in God's eyes understands that he himself, following his own human intellect and emotion, is not able to discover what the desirable actions are in God's eyes. God's ways are entirely different than our ways, and his thoughts are far above our thoughts. Without divine guidance and direction, one cannot know how to serve God. One cannot hope to know what those actions are that are desirable in His eyes. Therefore, the Khazar king began to search and investigate, with the hope of finding somebody who would be able to show him the deeds that are desirable before God.

Initially he went to a philosopher. He figured that of all people the philosopher must certainly be familiar with what it is that God wants of His creatures. Yet, the philosopher was not able to provide the king with answer to his question. An inner voice - an angel - had told the king to search for the desired action, and the philosopher was not able to aid him in his search. Philosophical speculation is very interesting, yet it does not recognize that there are some actions that are more desirable in the God's eyes than others. The deep inner feeling of the Khazar king told him that the philosopher's intellectual faculty was not strong enough to grasp something beyond reason. It therefore became necessary for him to tun to the bearers of God's word in the world. This, then, will be the focus of our next discussion.


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