by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths
Somehow, in originally posting this, I lost half the post, the answer! It's now here.
A reader sent this question:
Say a bully hurts a little boy. I retaliate because I care for the little boy. Somebody else retaliates because they hate bullies, or that particular bully.
Is both okay? I feel that one is motivated by love whereas the other is motivated by hate. And in the long run, one should always be motivated by love.
Another, more personal example: I used to get resentful when my husband didn't help around the house. That anger would fuel me to clean more than I would normally clean -out of spite! Time went by, I worked on myself. Now I want him to go and learn, work, etc. I realize the value of the woman being in charge of -thus taking care of the details of the house. So now I do housework out of love. Does that make sense?
But my question is; both motives get the job done. But is there repercussions in the long run?
Great question! And, if you don't mind, removing personal details I'd like to use the question and answer for a future blog post.
I'm going to answer you both from chassidus/kabbalah, and from the practical.
Pirke Avos teaches us that a mitzvah done for the wrong reasons will eventually lead to it being done for the right reasons. Your personal story is a direct life example of that. From the perspective of actions are what count, or stating it in a deeper fashion, within this physical world the kavana, the focus or intention is irrelevant without the physical action, your statement is accurate. The action counted, and even if one has the correct intent but doesn't perform the action, for example if one meditated upon all the proper mystical kavanot and yichudim on Passover matzah, but didn't actually eat any matzah, then the intention is useless.
However, Tanya (chapters 38 & 39) teaches us that the intention is key to the mitzvah being elevated beyond the reach of this physical world. That without proper intention, the essence of the mitzvah flops around like a wounded bird, never having the 'wings' to reach its possible level.
So while intent without the action is like wings without a bird, a mitzvah without the proper intent is like a bird without wings. It's still it a bird, it's alive and has it's essence. It's just not getting very high.
Fortunately, there's a malach specifically assigned to warehouse and shepherd these limited mitzvot. In the future, when one does teshuvah or when one performs the mitzvah with the proper intention, the previously improperly intentioned mitzvah (of the same type) are able to be elevated together with the properly intentioned mitzvah.
On a little bit towards the practical. When Pirke Avos discusses the wrong intentions, and this is discussed in Tanya also, they discuss things such as learning Torah for the sake of becoming a judge to make a living, rather than for it's own sake. Some emotions and activities have a tendency to be somewhat neutral, and therefore moving the motivation from the negative to positive is reasonably possible. Other emotions have such high negativity that their potential for good is very narrow, and unlikely (but not impossible) to turn.
In your first example, the first person is motivated out of love, and takes strong defensive actions. The anger induced is focused on protection, and therefore will likely stay in check. The second person is motivated by hate, and the anger induced is focused on punishment. It is much more likely to slip "out of control", and the actions taken against the bully may exceed a reasonable response.
In your second example, the cleaning was fueled by spite. Resentment was building, and the potential for a cleaning or messing event to become a trigger for sharing the resentment was high, with the possibility of beginning to damage the marital relationship. Now the cleaning is fueled out of love, and seeing your husband utilize the excellent conditions you've prepared builds the relationship.
So, yes, from the spiritual and physical aspects, the intention makes a difference.
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא