- What Motivates Us?
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Reader: Are all actions motivated by an emotion? Most human
beings are driven by emotion. They have a feeling, it motivates them
into action. However, if free will is utilized, the action is not
based on an emotion - it is based on knowledge. But does this
knowledge engender an emotion that motivates the action? Or can
knowledge alone be a motivator?
- Mesora: King David writes:
- Psalms 8:4,5 - "When I see Your heavens, the works
of Your fingers, the moon and stars that You established. What is
man that You should be mindful of him, and the son of man the he
should be remembered?"
- Psalms 17:4 - "My human deeds accord with the words
of my lips."
- Psalms 18:30 - "For with You I smash a troop, with
my God I leap a wall."
- Psalms 19:8 - "The Torah of God is perfect, it
restores the soul..." (19:9) "The statutes of God are
upright, they gladden the heart..." Ibn Ezra comments,
"Torah removes doubt from the soul." And also,
"...man's wisdom reaches the heights of happiness in the
- Psalms 19:11 - "(the judgments of God) are more
desirous than gold."
- What is the process that man travels, starting from his learning,
and culminating in his action? Where do emotions play a role
- Man is designed with a natural curiosity, which we see in its
pristine and raw form in children. We naturally desire explanations
for the world around us. This yearning for answers is an intellectual
endeavor, joined in some way with our emotions. We have such a
yearning to learn due to the great amount of energy God instilled in
man's design. This energy pushes for satisfaction. We follow the
Torah's dictates, and direct our energies towards God's wisdom. We
then witness a vast sea of knowledge, which is so deep and satisfying,
"When I see Your heavens, the works of Your fingers, the moon and
stars that You established. What is man that You should be mindful of
him, and the son of man the he should be remembered?" And also,
"The statutes of God are upright, they gladden the heart..."
- As we search for truth, there is an accompanying, unsettling
feeling. We realize we don't have the answers to some problems. It
disturbs us. This unsettling feeling is emotional, it motivates and
drives our investigations. Together, the intelligence and the emotions
compliment man's search for knowledge. Suddenly, we arrive at an
explanation for that which troubled us. We feel a delight in the newly
learned idea, "Doubts are removed", (Ibn Ezra 19:8 above).
- What gives us this emotional happiness, is the appreciation of the
brilliance we see intellectually. Man is designed to perceive
enjoyment when arriving at wisdom, and this is not a learned
phenomena. What must be learned is the wisdom readily available in the
world, not man's happy reaction. If wisdom is learned, man naturally
senses a happiness incomparable with anything else, "More
desirous than gold". We learn that it is man's wisdom which
revels with a joy, "man's wisdom reaches the heights of happiness
in the world." The very act of study is the utmost enjoyment,
completely satisfying him over all else in the world.
- The emotions are in play throughout our studies, and continue in our
reaction of discovery. What follows is an enjoyment of our newly
learned ideas. The process of learning is a happy one, "The Torah
of God is perfect, it restores the soul..."
- Now that we have learned new knowledge, we wish to act in accord
with this truth, again, a natural phenomena, a behavior that need not
be learned, (Psalms 17:4) "My human deeds accord with the words
of my lips." Man desires the good for himself - a natural
phenomena. There is no breach between King David's knowledge and his
actions. His motivation to act is initiated with a discovery of truth,
and his emotions follow with a desire to do that which is right in
God's eyes. He sees the good for himself in a pure form - God's word
is the good for himself. When one sins, again he feels he has found
the good, but he is gravely misled. In this case, knowledge plays no
role, and man's estimation of the good is based on ignorance, not on
- So it is our life that we desire the good. Our actions, when
following the Torah, commence with knowledge. Our entire study and
discovery are accompanied by emotions, and so too are our actions. The
Shema Yisrael prayer commences with, "And you shall love God your
God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your
might." Rashi comments on "all your heart" as referring
to both of our inclinations, the yetzer hatov and the yetzer
harah." This means that both, our intelligence and our emotions
are to be harnessed in the service of God. The emotions - when guided
by reason and wisdom - properly provide us with attachments to correct
actions, energy, perseverance, and satisfaction in our studies and in
- Using our knowledge to learn new ideas and abandon fallacy will
steer not only our actions, but it also cultivates our trust in God's
word, (Psalms 18:30) "For with You I smash a troop, with my God I
leap a wall." The commentators say this refers to man's trust in
God. Realizing truths, King David not only became convinced of what
made sense to do under his own control, but also how God will act.
- Desiring the good naturally, and following wisdom, man arrives at a
life permeated with intelligent conviction and an emotional desire for
his own good actions. Man is also convinced intelligently of God's
actions, engendering emotional trust in Him. 'Trust in God with your
entire heart, and do not rely on your own understanding."