Responsibility, Reward, and Responsibility

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In Parshas Eikev, we come across an important concept regarding how HaShem pays reward.

The Bobover Ruv points out that there’s a stirah in the text. First, HaShem tells us that we’ll be brought to a land of abundant wealth and then we will do mitzvos. Then, we are told we have to be careful to do the mitzvos in order to be given abundant wealth.

What’s going on here?

Rashi makes an important clarification we need to understand: in the second passage, when we do “light” mitzvos we are rewarded abundantly. This is such as keeping yontif, basic things.

So there’s an important component we have here, and equation of sorts:

  1. Do a light mitzvah.
  2. Be rewarded with wealth.
  3. Bentch Hashem for that wealth and turn to do more mitzvos that are deeper. 

The concept is simple. HaShem wants to see if we can handle little. So he gives us small mitzvos to do. If we are faithful, we complete them, and he rewards us with an elevated status that enables us to do bigger and more challenging mitzvos. If we are faithful there, the system continues. The more we step in avodas HaShem, the more He blesses us with wealth, physical and spiritual. 

In regard to doing the mitzvos, we typically see it as a 1+1=2, but that’s not necessary the case. 

It is definitely true that when you seek to do a mitzvah, it is imperative that you do the mitzvah to its completion. 

There are those that argue it’s better to start the work or continue the work even if you don’t finish it, and they’re right – it says so in Pirkei Avos. 

However, Rashi points out an aggadic Midrash says that Moshe is not credited for bringing Yosef’s bones out of mitzrayim – it is given to bnei yisroel. Why is this? Because they are the ones who completed the mitzvah, even though it was Moshe who began the work. 

So we see several overlapping ideas here, all which are valid:

  1. One should always begin a mitzvah. Beginning the mitzvah with the intent to complete it, even if you don’t, Hashem treats you as if you did complete it and reward is paid on this account. 
  2. One should always complete a mitzvah, even if they didn’t begin it, because then their name will be the one associated with that mitzvah and the reward will be paid on this account. 
  3. One should always seek to do whatever work they can, every mitzvah, whether whole or not, big or small, even just the middle of it, because that is like we see in scenario one – where Hashem treats you as if you did the whole mitzvah. 

How do we do this?

  1. Seek out to complete every mitzvah you start. If you complete it, you get your name attached to it. If not, you are rewarded for the intention of completing it.
  2. Aim to complete any other mitzvah you have the opportunity to participate in. If you complete it, you get your name attached to it. If not, you are rewarded for the intention of completing it.

Thus, we see how great HaShem’s abundant love for us is.

  1. We attempt to do a mitzvah. As long as we sincerely tried, HaShem pays us for it. 
  2. When we complete the mitzvos, HaShem enables us to do more mitzvos via a means of spiritual and physical wealth. 
  3. And the cycle continues. Even when we fail, as long as we intended to succeed and did the hishtadlus to succeed, it is recorded for payment as if we actually succeeded. 

Now one could argue that if HaShem is going to pay anyways, why’s it important to complete the mitzvah? There’s the idea of l’chatchila and b’devied. After the fact, if we couldn’t finish it, HaShem still pays dividend. But if we successfully finished it, our name become associated with that mitzvah which results in even greater reward, as well as legacy reward. It’s a whole new level. 

Of course, the simple way to start is a system of rewards and payments. Then one will get to doing it not for skar, but because of ahavah. Then, the final level: doing it to love HaShem and enjoying the reward because that itself shows HaShem reward as well. That’s the ideal stage to reach.

A word of caution.

Chazal teach us that if we follow gashmius, it will lead us astray. We will abandon Torah, become fat on the land, and be exiled. So shouldn’t we avoid this whole bracha cycle then?

The Bobover Ruv comments that there are two main approaches to how to handle the situation: Shammai and Hillel.

Shammai went the way of asceticism. Avoid the physical, pursue only the spiritual.

Hillel chose to take the physical and elevate it to the spiritual. 

M’ikar HaDin, we generally hold by Hillel on everything. In Yiddishkeit today, however, there’s an interesting scenario we see. There was definitely a period of Shammai among the Gedolim, but lately, as Rebbe Benzion Twerski pointed out in his Three Weeks shiur on fleishiks, there’s a move to be more like Hillel. Even though there are many that feel we need to pull away from the gashmius because it can be a poison, our Gedolim seem to differ on this approach. 

It’s interesting to see this because it seems that there are many who are lost in gashmius. For sure this is not okay. So one could suspect that the Gedolim would go toward asceticism. However, they see that it’s not the right path. The Baal Shem Tov taught a way to elevate gashmius. We need the right kevanah. 

And thus, we need to find a method of holistic integration.

So, we need to recognize that there are dangers of indulgence. Don’t do it because of the physical. In that way, identify with Shammai and how he would save for Shabbos. But, if you can, go farther and higher and follow Hillel, who took the physical, recognized the intent of the sitra achra, and chose to elevate the item to a state of kedusha and avodas HaShem, just like how we elevate the Sabel in a Shtreimel or the Beaver in a weekday hat.

Some live to eat. Others live to eat. A yid eats to bentch HaShem.

R’ Rafi Shenk

This is the power of a yid – we can elevate the lowest to the highest with intent to do the mitzvah, and even better, the physical completion of the mitzvah.