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Home » B'Chukotai

Bechukotai: The Consequence of Good is Blessing

Submitted by on January 12, 2006 – 4:11 amNo Comment | 1,906 views

The Trivial Reward

He graduated with honors, received his master’s degree and was working on his dissertation when he lost interest. In an effort to motivate him, his professor said to him, “If you submit your dissertation and are granted your PhD, I will personally buy you a Game Boy.”

He was at the top of his game, competing in the Olympics and showing great promise. He was projected to win the gold medal when his coach called him in for a pep talk. “Win the gold for flag and country,” said the coach, “and I’ll give you a Hershey chocolate bar.

Do these two scenarios strike you as curious? Of course! Does a professor think that an accomplished student of philosophy can be motivated by a child’s toy? A student who contemplates Socrates and Plato should be moved by a Game Boy?

What of the athlete who spends years training to reach the peak of his game. Stretching and straining his muscles, devoting countless hours, suffering numerous injuries, all in his quest for ascendancy and fame. Will a simple chocolate bar even register as a motivating factor?

Material Blessings

If the very suggestion sounds absurd then I ask you to consider the opening verses of this week’s Torah Portion. “If you walk in my statutes and if you keep my commandments. Then I shall give you your rains… the lands shall yield her produce and the trees shall yield her fruit. And your threshing shall reach into your vintage.. and you shall eat your bread till satisfaction and you shall live in your land safely.” (1)

the consequence of good is blessing - innerstream

 

When compared to the spiritual rewards that statutes offer, the material blessing promised in the verses above seem almost trivial. The Torah statutes are channels of communication through which the mortal human connects to the divine. They are pathways of ascent through which we climb to celestial heights; they bathe us in an uplifting halo of heavenly light and envelop us in a sanctifying blanket of G-dliness.

These celestial benefits are the greatest motivation for performing the statutes. Is it not curious that the Torah employs promises that are trivial by comparison as motivation to the performance of the statutes?

The Ox and the Servant

Our sages taught that these material blessings are merely ancillary benefits, not the true reward for Mitzvah observance. The true reward awaits us only in the world to come.(2) These benefits have been compared by some to the Torah law, “Thou shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing.” (3)

The ox is amply rewarded for its work. It is given a clean stall, fresh hay and all the grainit can eat. Must the master also allow the ox to eat the grain it threshes? Yes, because forcing the ox to work with grain while preventing it from eating is cruel and therefore forbidden.

In the same vein, G-d promises material blessing as the reward for performing his statutes here on earth. We will be amply rewarded in the world to come, but as long as we are at work here in this world, we are entitled to enjoy its material blessing.

In a similar vein, Maimonides has argued that as long as we serve G-d, we deserve to be treated as well as the servants of a master are treated. (4) According to Torah law, a master is required to provide for his servants even better than he provides for himself. He must feed and clothe them and he must ensure their dignity at all times. He is also required to provide working conditions that are conducive to the work he expects from them. (5)

As long as the Jewish people serve G-d, argues Maimonides, G-d is duty bound to feed us, clothe us and provide a comfortable working environment. (6)

A Mystical Perspective

On a deeper level, one can argue that rainfall and plenty are not a reward and drought and famine are not a punishment. The blessings offered in the verses quoted above are not promises of reward; they are consequences. It is true that they depend on our level of adherence to Mitzvos, but they are the consequences of our actions, not a response to them.

Vivifying the Organs

The Jewish mystics taught that the Torah statutes are the proverbial organs and limbs of the creator’s proverbial body. The two hundred and forty-eight positive commandments correspond to the two hundred and forty-eight limbs of the human body. The three hundred and sixty-five negative commandments correspond to the three hundred and sixty-five sinews in the human body. (7)

The human body is a receptacle that contains the soul within itself. Every organ draws out the respective soul energy that is designed to vivify that particular organ. The ear draws out the hearing energy of the soul, the eye triggers the energy of sight, etc. Healthy organs are filled with vivifying life energy and grow strong, unhealthy organs fail to receive their respective energy and wither away.

In a similar sense, each Torah statute is an allegory for a proverbial divine organ. Just as the organs do, each Mitzvah draws forth a specific divine energy. The physical act of the Mitzvah is the organ itself and the divine aura it draws forth is its respective soul energy.

When we observe a Mitzvah, then the Mitzvah (which is the organ) draws forth a vivifying energy from its soul (which is G-d), and then shares it with the physical universe. When we neglect the Mitzvos, this energy is left to dwindle, causing it to ascend and return to its heavenly abode.

Filling out the Garments

The mystics taught that the universe, including the stars and the moon, the sun and the clouds, the rain and the wind, the grass and the trees, are all vestments for the G-dly energy that is drawn into the universe through our performance of Mitzvos. The creator lovingly fashioned them and tailored them according to the measure of his proverbial organs. (8)

Just as a garment conceals the body that it clothes, so too is the creator’s energy (or light, in Kabbalistic terms) concealed within these garments. Thereis a G-dly energy vested, for example, within the sun, and as the sun journeys across the skyit carries its creator within. Just as the body is not visible through the garments, though we know it to be there, so is G-d not visible through the sun, although we know him to be there.

As the divine becomes more and more present in our universe through our performance of Mitzvos, his garments are filled out. As a direct consequence the garments grow robust and fulfill their respective missions successfully. The sun shines, the rain falls, the trees grow fruit and the land offers safe shelter.

When the Jewish people grow lax in their observance, the divine energy ascends to the higher spiritual realm. As the energy recedes, the limbs wither and the garments grow slack. They operate with less energy, with less regularity, with less punctuality. The spiritual antidote to this condition is to re-draw the divine energy so that the limbs recover and once again fill out their garments.

When the Torah promises material blessing in response to observance of the statutes, it is simply stating a fact. If you want the garments to appear robust then they must be filled out with the Divine presence. To ensure that, we must maintain our commitment to the Torah and to its statutes.

Foornotes

  1. Leviticus, 33: 3-5
  2. “There is no reward in this world.” (Bab. Talmud Kidushin 39:B) “Today is to perform; tomorrow is for reward.” (Bab. Talmud Eiruvin 22:A, Avodah Zorah 50:A) In the words of the Mishnah, “Dividends are paid out in the world but the principle is reserved for the world to come.” (Peah Ch. 1)
  3. Deuteronomy, 25:4
  4. Leviticus, 25: 55
  5. Maimonidies laws of Avadim ch. 1 and ch. 9(Maimonides, R. Moshe ben Maimon (Egypt) 1135-1204)
  6. Furthermore, one who hires a former prince as a servant is required by Torah law to provide the kind of benefits to which the former prince is accustomed. Jews are the children of G-d, the king of all kings. As such, we are entitled to the luxurious benefits the Torah describes in addition to our reward in the world to come.
  7. Tikunei Zohar. Tanya ch. 4 (R. Schneeur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813)
  8. “The heavens are my throne and the earth is my footstool.” (Yeshaya 66:1 ) See also Tanya Ch. 42.

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