Intention, Action, and Responsibility/Obligation are of central importance in Judaism.
All Jews are responsible for their actions regardless of their intention. For example, if one causes harm to another but that was not one's intention, a Jew is still responsible to make reparations for the harm caused. The emphasis is always on one's action/deed's effect on "the other."
Conversely, if one's intention to do harm to another is not put into action, particularly through self-restraint, the intention has no reality. Unlike in Christianity, in Judaism for example "lusting in one's heart" is not a sin--just a part of being human. Not acting on one's yetzer hara (evil intentions) and/or sublimating it for good is what human beings learn by following G-d's Teachings/Torah.
Similarly, if one's intention to do good to another is not put into action, this too has no reality and cannot be attributed as righteousness.
Action in Creation is the key element. And there is no shirking (no pun intended) of Responsibility for one's Actions, regardless of one's Intention.
There is a different connotation of Intention which developed through Jewish Mysticism and the Chasidim. And that is "focussed thought" : in being fully cognitive of one's actions, and fully present and aware of one's actions. This is kavannah. Jews are responsible to not be careless or unthinking in word or deed. To think before we speak and act. Careless words and careless actions can easily go awry and cause harm...and a Jew is always responsible for his/her Actions.
What value is prayer without kavannah? What value is saying 100 berachot (blessings) a day? What value is reading from Torah? What value from the Brit Milah (covenant of circumcision), or the Bar Mitzvah (coming of Age as a Jewish adult) or engaging in the tasks and rituals and holidays of the Jewish faith? Judaism is not a faith that permits "going through the motions." Kavannah places us in the full meaning of the moment, brings us to full awareness of G-d and our obligations and our joy in being Jews.
To live life in full awareness of every moment is what a Jew strives for.
But we are only human. And we thank G-d for His Understanding, Compassion, and Forgiveness. Who can forgive us of our Transgressions against G-d except G-d? Thus, for our inadvertent transgressions against Him ("creating a furrow when dragging a chair" on the Sabbath, as you quote Rabbi Shimon, Jim) G-d forgives. Forgiveness is the means by which the being who has been "harmed/offended" by one's Action can consider one's Intentions. One is still fully responsible for one's actions, but one's intentions may be considered by the harmed party in regard to reparations. From this point, Jewish Law gets specific on a case by case basis with many contingencies in pursuit of Justice under HaShem. Finally, G-d does not and will not forgive us our responsibility to correct the harm or make reparations to the person injured. In Judaism, one can be forgiven by G-d for the mistakes one has done to G-d and our Covenant with Him; but for the mistakes and harm one has done to another human being, one can only be forgiven by the one harmed. And to make the matter a little more complex, in Judaism we have an obligation to be Just, and to give forgiveness where and when appropriate, acknowledging the only true understanding of the Law is "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."--[Mishlei (Proverbs) 3:17]
The spirit of the Law exceeds the letter of the Law. The following two Torah Teachings are the premise for this Truth:
"Justice, justice shall you pursue" --(Devarim[Deuteronomy] 16:20). Justice is repeated twice here to remind us that G-d's Law is a Law tempered by mercy :
"So follow the ways of the good, and keep to the paths of the just" --(Mishlei [Proverbs] 2:20).
Our Sages taught thus:
Some employees negligently broke a barrel of wine belonging to Rabbah son of Bar Hanana, and he seized their cloaks [when they failed to pay for the damage]. They went and complained to Rav. "Return their cloaks to them," he ordered. "Is that the law?" asked Rabbah. "Yes," he answered, "for it is written 'So follow the ways of the good.'" He returned the cloaks to the porters. Then they complained [to Rav]: "We are poor men, we have worked all day, and are hungry, and we have nothing." "Go and pay them," Rav ordered Rabbah. "Is that the law?" asked Rabbah. "Yes," he answered, "for it is written 'and keep to the paths of the just.'" --Talmud, Baba Metzia 83a
Thanks for your post, Chriž Feel free to share your views on the subject. I am curious to what you find "intimidating" or a "burden" ? Are you referring to living one's life with thought to how one's ... more
the "intimidating" or a "burden!" is the difficulty I shared with you about the Roman Catholic tradition of my grandmother and uncle. I have tried to examine myself to see if I am trying to take the... more