Reward for a Mitzvah
By N. Shuldig
Normally we think of a reward or payment for a task performed or job done. The payment is something other than the task itself, therefore it is strange that the rabbis should tell us that the reward for doing a mitzvah is a mitzvah (perkei avot). What kind of reward or payment is this? What is with all the reward that we are promised in the next world for all of the mitzvot that we do in this world? Isn't the next world the place where we are to receive our just reward for all of our good deeds and mitzvot? Shouldn't the reward be something other than the mitzvah itself? What kind of reward for doing the mitzvah is getting the mitzvah? If we weren't commanded to do the mitzvah, we probably would not do it, so what is this business of: the reward for doing a mitzvah is a mitzvah?
Let us try to understand what the rabbis meant when they said that the reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself in view of another statement that the reward for a mitzvah can not be given in this world!
As mentioned above, when we normally think of reward for a task done, we think of doing something that normally we would never do of our own free volition. We work for some one in order to receive wages, yet the work is not the goal of our efforts, the wages are the goal. If it were not for the wages, we would possibly never do the work. To us, the connection between the task and the reward is that we do something we don't want to do in order to get something that we do want. But the thing we want is not the thing that we are doing.
When we were children, we did work in our parent's house and we received some money or some cookies or the like as a reward or payment. We grew into adults and engaged in some sort of business for the purpose of making money and even though it is possible that the work does interest us, we would most likely not engage in it for such lengths of time if it were not for the profit that we are able to make.
The concept of mitzvot is a bit different. Why? Let us explain with a short parable:
A man worked for Moses the law giver back in the time that the Jews came out of Egypt. He was Moses' valet and did every thing that Moses desired. For that purpose, Moses gave him a handsome salary and of course some fringe benefits such as a liberal vacation, a comprehensive health insurance plan and a generous pension plan. After many years in Moses' employ, the man retired.
After he retired, he would meet many people who asked him the same question: What was it like to work for such a great man as Moses the law giver? He always answered the question the same: It was very nice. Moses always paid him on time, gave him a liberal vacation, a comprehensive health insurance plan and a generous pension plan.
They responded by saying that is not what they meant. They really wanted to know what Moses was like personally, not what his employment conditions were like.
Mitzvot can be understand in a similar manner. Mitzvot are not given to us just for the purpose of doing “work” but also to enable us to have a direct connection with G-d. Mitzvot connect us with the deepest desires of G-d that He Himself desires to have a connection with lowly us in this mundane and physical world.
G-d is not physical; His Being is from the realm of the infinite and therefore transcends our abilities to fathom His essence. Never the less, we must try to understand the little that we may. Before the world (or more correctly, the worlds) were created, what existed? Only G-d! He existed without the concept the have of time and space. Time, space and soul are three created elements of our world that did not exist before G-d's creation. G-d had no need of the creation for Himself, the creation was made for the purpose of creating an environment for man to be placed into.
World after world was created, each world less spiritual and more physical until this world, the lowest world, was created. All of the upper worlds, the world of reward for mitzvot, the world of the angels, and even higher worlds were only created for the sole purpose that this world as we know it, should come into existence, but not for their own purpose. The upper more worlds were created as a support for this world, that the spiritual desires of G-d should come down and be translated into physical. G-d's desires came down and became mitzvot. Almost all mitzvot require the use of the material in the world.
Man was put into this physical world to serve G-d and through his service to develop a closeness to G-d, a closeness that is for the benefit of man. The service that man does is not necessary for G-d, if G-d desires something, He can do it Himself. Doing mitzvot is a kindness that G-d gives to man. Yet G-d gives him a reward for his actions. This reward is so great that it can not be realized in this world.
The reward of the mitzvah is the revelation of the G-dliness that is in the mitzvah. That can not be revealed in this world since this is the world of concealment; the next world is the world of revelation. It is in the next world that we shall enjoy the 'light' of the revelation of the mitzvahs that we do. That is what is mean that the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah. The revelation of even the simplest mitzvah that is done in this world is so great that it can not be appreciated since we do not possess the receptors to properly appreciate it. Even the most spiritual person amongst us can not properly appreciate that spirituality which is invested in the tiniest mitzvah. Only when we get into the next world, when the physicality of this world ceases and we are divested of our bodies can we properly appreciate the reward for the mitzvahs that we do.
Now we can understand why there is no reward in this world for mitzvahs. We possess no receptors to properly appreciate it. Only in the next world – there - when we are divested of our earthly bodies and our souls are able to exist with out the body can we really begin to receive the proper reward.
from the April 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine