Rewarding the Good

by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – July 29, 2010

The Torah section of Eikev begins (Devarim 7:12-15): “And it will be because of your listening to these ordinances, and your observing and performing them; then the L-rd your G-d will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.  He will love you, He will bless you and He will multiply you, and He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land; your grain, your wine, and your oil; the offspring of your cattle and the herds of your flock; on the land that He swore to your forefathers to give to you.  You will be the most blessed of all the peoples; there will be no infertile male or infertile female among you or among your animals.  G-d will remove from you every illness; and all the bad maladies of Egypt that you knew, He will not put them upon you.”

The aforementioned promises of good fortune in the event that we abide by G-d’s commandments seem to fly in the face of the Sages’ axiom: “There is no reward for [fulfilling] a commandment in this world” (Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 142b).  In fact, Maimonides elaborates on this apparent paradox in his Mishne Torah.

In the beginning of chapter 9 of his Mishne Torah, Maimonides asks: “Since it is known that reward for commandments and the good that we merit for observing the path of G-d set out in the Torah is the life of the world to come … what is this that is written in the entire Torah ‘If you listen, you will receive such and such, and, if you do not listen, such will happen to you,’ and all those things are in this world, such as satiation, hunger, war and peace?”  Why if the reward for abiding by G-d’s Torah is a happy life in the world to come, do we read in various sections of the Torah, as the aforementioned, that we are promised all sorts of good in this world for adhering to the Torah?

In answer to this question, Maimonides continues: “Such is the understanding of these matters: The Holy One Blessed be He bestowed upon us this Torah as a tree of life and all those who do all that is written in it and understands it fully merits thereby life in the world to come; and he merits it in accord with the magnitude of his actions and the extent of his wisdom.  And He promised us in the Torah that, if we will do it with gladness and in good spirits, and we will enjoy its wisdom regularly, He will remove from us all things that impede us from performing this, such as illness, war, hunger and the like.  And he will provide us all the good that strengthen our hands to abide by the Torah, such as satiation, peace, and wealth of silver and gold, so that we should not be busy all our days with matters that are necessary for the body, rather that we sit free to study the [Torah’s] wisdom and do the [Torah’s] commandment, in order that we can merit the life of the world to come.”

In other words, providing us with health and enough food and wealth, while preventing sickness and war, are not rewards in and of themselves for G-d’s commandments.  These are means to ensure that those who exhibit a honest desire to follow G-d’s Torah can do so.  Then, after one has engaged in the Torah’s wisdom and observed it’s edicts during his lifetime in this temporal world, he will be granted true and never-ending happiness in the everlasting world to come.

Let us all choose to adhere to G-d as He has set forth in His Torah, and may we all merit happiness while doing so in this world and everlasting joy in the world to come.