Beware Instant Rewards
The concept of reward and punishment is a fundamental belief in Judaism. In multiple places in the Torah, God tells us directly, in no uncertain language, that we will be rewarded for our good deeds and we will be punished for our bad ones. We are encouraged to choose well, to choose the good, to choose life. We are recounted in detail the blessings we will receive for following God’s path, including health, abundance and peace.
Conversely, we are exhorted to avoid evil, to avoid sin, to avoid ignoring God’s instructions. Ignoring God and allowing ourselves to sin leads to death, deprivation and suffering. The Torah in two places gives specific, horrifying details as to the punishments that await us should we choose poorly.
The Sfat Emet on the reading of Balak in 5635 (1875) adds an interesting caveat regarding rewards. He explains that the evil person who does do good, but does so for the reward, will in fact receive his reward – sometimes immediately. But in fact the physical reward that he receives in this world is the extent of what he receives. His motivation is selfish, ignorant and short-sighted. He has his eye on the reward and nothing else. He doesn’t understand that we don’t follow commandments merely for the reward, but rather because it is the will of God.
When we approach the commandments with the correct motivation, it is a benefit to our soul and our eternal existence beyond this physical world. The physical reward in this world is a side-benefit, almost tangential to the reward in the spiritual plane.
May we perform commandments for the right reasons and enjoy their rewards in this world and the next.
To Rabbi Haskel Lookstein. A guide, a mentsch, a role-model.