Last week’s parsha Va’eschanan ends, “You are to guard the commandments and the statutes and the laws that I am commanding you today, to fulfill.” (Devarim 7:11) Rashi clarifies on that last bit, “today, to fulfill” means, “And tomorrow in the World to Come you will receive the reward for them.” From this it’s pretty clear the reward for mitzvahs isn’t something we get here, it’s alllllll waiting for us after we die.
I don’t know about you, but the promise of justice and fulfillment only coming in the after life has always struck me as a bill of good scam by religion. Something you have no way of disproving, but just incase you’d better do it or suffer the consequences for all eternity.
However, in spite of this, some of the most amazing people are devoted and “tapped into” a religious life. They can be wise, calm, inspiring, and whole, who for lack of a better term, just seem to be blessed. Is it their devotion to the mitzvahs? Or is it something else? But then this week’s parsha Eikev offers an insight. Despite the notion of reward being only in the after life, throughout Eikev, it lists what seems to be tangible, worldly reward for doing the mitzvahs.
He will love you and bless you and multiply you, He will bless the fruit of your belly, the fruit fo your soil, your grain, your wine, your olive oil… You will be blessed more than all the peoples… (Devarim 7:13-14)
And it goes on… no sterile men or women, no illness, God will consume your enemies and more! So what gives? Do we get reward in this life or not?
It’s Not What You Do, But How You Do It
It is agreed by the Rabbis of the Talmud that you don’t get reward for mitzvahs in this world. However if the mitzvahs are done in a certain way, then for doing them in these ways you’ll get reward here.
Acting with joy.
How many times do we think the mitzvahs we do are done as a favor to God? That He should be thanking US for our time and energy! Such a sentiment misses the point of a mitzvah completely, but none the less we often see life long observant people speeding through bentching (blessing after meals), groaning when someone asks for tzedaka, or showing up late to shul as if it were an after thought. (By the way, I’m not saying I don’t do these, I often do.) But when we realize these mitzvahs are opportunities to connect to Hashem and the more we savor them, the more it emboldens that connection, it’s a game changer and it brings brucha.
The effort you put in.
You can’t always guarantee you’re going to be joyous (even if happiness is a choice.) Some days you didn’t get enough sleep or things just aren’t going right. Though you may not be able to control the result, you can always decide to put forth an effort. Several times I’ve been in the middle of my shimoneh esrei (silent prayer) only to realize I’m half way done and didn’t focus on anything. I could write it off as “one of those days,” or I can make the decision to focus on the rest and finish strong. It’s when we decide to involve ourselves in the mitzvah that we allow it to change us rather than checking it off from a list for the day.
The beauty is in the details.
There’s trying and then there is going the extra mile. Sort of a combination of joy and effort, the beautification of a mitzvah is a celebration for everyone to see. You might have heard of payos, those curly locks of hair chassidem sport just above their side burns? There’s no mitzvah to give your fingers something to curl while you study. Payos are a beautification of the mitzvah that one shouldn’t shave that spot of the head. And I guess it became trendy. When we do a little extra with the mitzvah, taking the time to both appreciate and celebrate it, it creates a kiddish Hashem in the eyes of everyone around.
Putting yourself in a good situation.
Let’s say there are two ways to walk to work. One is a little longer, one is a little shorter. But you always go with the longer one. Why? Because when you go the shorter route you see this person…
Yes, you give tzedaka to plenty of charitable causes and that’s great. Can’t you have a break? Haven’t you done enough? Rabbis say making the choice to put yourself in a situation where you’ll have opportunities to do mitzvahs gets you reward in this world. Why? Because it encourages you to do mitzvahs you wouldn’t do otherwise. It both gets you out of your comfort zone and brings you closer to God.
It’s what you don’t do.
It’s obvious that you shouldn’t transgress the prohibitive mitzvahs (thou shalt not steal, etc). But our good ol’ yetzer hara (evil inclination) bombards us with temptation at every turn. The effort we put into to fighting those urges gives us some of the biggest reward we can receive in this world. Where in the above example you got reward for putting yourself in opportune situations to do mitzvahs, here you get reward for going out of your way to avoid a transgression. But what about when some schmuck cuts you off in traffic, or someone from work eats your lunch, or a family member makes that comment about that thing from like 4 years ago that he honestly knows nothing about but still likes to bring it up even though you’ve apologized like 6 times… I’m getting off track. In those situations where your blood boils and that person deserves a good tongue lashing, if you can stop yourself and let it go, you get TREMENDOUS reward. Some rabbis even say in those moments if you can contain yourself, pray for anything you want. It’s then of all times you may merit to get it. Or if you want to give someone else a brucha… oh man, are you gold then.
Don’t Just Do It
These aren’t the only ways to get blessing in this world. Humility, tzedaka, not being petty, honoring your parents, and honoring your spouse are among a few others. Mitzvahs are a responsibility and it’s human nature to view responsibilities as burdensome. I love writing, but the minute I close a deal and an exciting project officially becomes a job, then it magically morphs into the biggest chore in the world. But going about mitzvahs with the above mindsets are the keys to the spirit of not just performing the mitzvahs, but putting yourself wholly into them. It’s when we take Torah out of the routine and we focus on involving ourselves on deeper and joyous levels, that’s when the magic comes and we grow as people and inspire those around us.
This blog is dedicated to the refuah shlema of Mordechai ben Sarah