I was asked the following question and wanted to know the Rav’s response. Aren’t we all really serving ourselves in the end. Since in the end of the day we can’t deny and hope to be rewarded for our actions aren’t we serving ourselves to get reward? Where do we draw the line between self serving behavior and serving only G-d? Can one be selfishly following the entire Torah?
This is a commonly asked question: How can we consider ourselves righteous if our basic intention in all the good things we do is to earn reward for the World to Come?
I think there are two basic answers:
1. The Mishnah indeed writes that one should serve Hashem as a servant who wishes to perform his Master’s wishes, rather than a servant who wishes to earn reward. Many tales are told of great people who wished to “cleanse” their service of Hashem and render it purely for the sake of His love and His service, and not for the sake of receiving reward, and this is certainly a noble aspiration.
2. In a deeper sense, it appears that the “reward” that the Torah promises for our actions is tied up inherently with the revelation of Hashem in the world, so that when we aspire for “reward” we are aspiring for nothing other than the revelation of Hashem to humanity and to His world.
The notion of reward for mitzvos, in the eyes of Chazal, is closeness to Hashem; that closeness is itself the revelation of Hashem to us, and that indeed is Hashem’s ultimate desire (that He should be revealed to His creatures). Thus, by means of our deeds we achieve both the revelation of Hashem, and our reward, which are in essence one and the same.
This is (more or less) the approach adopted by the Leshem (at length, in his Sefer Ha-De’ah), and the Ramchal also expounds (in his Kinas Hashem Tzevakos) on the idea that the reward for Mitzvos and the Mitzvah itself are not two distinct elements, but rather one and the same.
Hope this has helped a little.
Best wishes as always.