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The word Pras is commonly translated as reward in the context of compensation however that is imprecise. Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura ZT’L ZY’A explains Pras as when an employer pays a worker when there is no obligation or expectation to receive wages. Such as a small child or spouse doing household chores.
The analogy is fascinating as it implies two lessons while one should serve G-D with no expectation anything of special. However those things that are essential for one’s existence one can rely on and expect G-D to provide.
Indeed the Bartenura asserts this attitude is the basis for serving G-D out of love. Recognizing the smallest details of one’s life come ultimately from G-D an enduring sense of gratitude should take hold throughout all of one’s consciousness motivating one to observe those commandments requiring action. At the same time one should nurture the fear of Heaven as a motivation to refrain from those activities prohibited by the commandments.
Rabbinu Yona ZT’L ZY’A makes two points first is a nuance alluded to within the text that one’s service should not be in expectation of reward does not mean or imply that there is no reward. Rather there certainly is reward however its existence should be irrelevant to one’s approach to D-vine service. Rabbinu Yona’s second point is the when reflecting on what one receives from G-D one perceives these things are expressions of kindness and not an entitlement.
Rashi ZT’L ZY’A comments that Zaddok and Bitus were Antignos’ students. They heard their teacher‘s mantra understanding there was no D-vine reward. These students’ misunderstanding prompted them to reject the authority of the Oral Law and the Rabbis and founding heretical sects known as Ziddukim and Bitusim.
The Late Slonimer Rebbe ZT’L ZY’A quotes the Noam Elimelech ZT’L ZY’A opines Antignous is teaching an attitude in D-vine service. One’s D-vine service should be focused on having one’s observance be infused with an energy and dynamism to draw one close to G-D intensifying one’s relationship with the A-mighty.
However, Rabbi Yehudah Chaim HaCohen ZT’L ZY’A in Yehuda Ya’aLeh takes a novel approach to Antignous’ exhortation that one should serve G-D without expectation of reward. The word Pras, prize has a value of 340 which relates to the physical world’s spiritual repair. The repair which leaves heaven and earth integrated in a whole. So Antignos is calling for an attitude that seeks Mitzvah observance that is focused on the fulfilling G-D’s will and only incidental effects world repair.
Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi who redacted the Mishna did not hesitate to include Antignous’ Mishna even though at first glance it seems unduly harsh and indeed historical served as a basis for erring so egregiously yet it was included as the Prophet Hoshea concludes “ . . . . [F]or the ways of the Lord are right, and the just walk in them; but the transgressors shall stumble in them.” (Hoshea 14:10). Despite the potential pitfalls Antignous’ teaching is so powerful that it is included. Once one is G-D focused one’s orientation rises beyond selfish concerns to selflessness.