Parashat Re'eh: The True Reward for Misvot
In the opening Pesukim of Parashat Re’eh, Moshe Rabbenu explains to Beneh Yisrael that they have the option to choose either "Beracha" (blessing) or "Kelala" (curse). He says that the Beracha comes if they observe the Misvot, while the Kelala results from neglecting the Misvot.
It is worth taking note of Moshe’s terminology in presenting these two options. He says, "The blessing – that you heed the commands of Hashem your G-d… And the curse – if you do not heed the commands of Hashem your G-d." Significantly, Moshe says that the Kelala will come "if" the people disobey the Torah’s laws, but when it comes to the blessing, he says that the blessing is "that you heed the commands." The implication is that whereas the curse is the result of neglecting the Misvot, the blessing is not the result of observing the Misvot, but rather the observance itself. Meaning, when we observe the Torah, that itself is the blessing.
This concept becomes clearer in light of the Rambam’s comments in Hilchot Teshuva regarding the reward for Misvot. The Rambam writes that the true reward for Misvot is given not here in our world, but rather in the next world. The only reward for Misvot in this world, the Rambam explains, is the ability to perform additional Misvot. The more we observe, the more G-d gives us the ability and wherewithal to observe. He grants us the financial security, health, energy and peace of mind that we need to focus on our religious obligations and pursue Misvot. Quite obviously, a person who is physically frail, who is beset by financial worries, or who is threatened by enemies cannot properly devote himself to Torah. Hashem rewards a person for his Misva observance by creating favorable conditions for his continued observance, by granting him peace, security and prosperity.
This is the meaning of the Pasuk: the blessing we earn by observing the Torah is "that you heed the commands" – our continued ability to devote ourselves to Torah.
Nothing in this world is capable of properly rewarding a person for even a single Misva he performs. G-d cannot reward us in this world because the blessings and joys of this world are insufficient. It is only in the next world, which offers delights and joys which we cannot even imagine, that we can receive our due reward.
It is told that once, during a period of food shortage, a man approached the Hafetz Haim and asked if he could devote his Misva of Tefillin one day as a merit for the shortage to end. The Hafetz Haim responded in the negative. The man figured that perhaps one day’s Misva of Tefillin is insufficient, so he asked if he could earmark two days of wearing Tefillin for this purpose. Once again, the Hafetz Haim declined. He explained his response by way of an analogy to a child who enters a candy store and asks to buy a five-cent piece of candy. All the child has is a $100 bill, so he asks the storekeeper to give him $99.95 change. Clearly, the storekeeper wouldn’t bother. He would rather just give the small piece of candy to the child for free than have to bother to give all that change.
Even a single Misva, the Hafetz Haim explained, is worth far, far more than all the most delicious food in the world. Performing a Misva in exchange for food – even during a time of famine – is like paying $100 (and much more) for a five-cent piece of candy. Hashem would not accept that. He is prepared to end the food shortage "for free," and will wait to pay us our rewards for the Misvot we perform until the next world, when we can receive all that we truly deserve.