Bechukosaiy-Likkutei Sichos-The purpose of material blessing and reward

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Parshas Bechukosaiy

The purpose of material blessing and reward

(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 37 p. 79)

Parshas Bechukosaiy discusses the rewards that await the Jewish people as a result of their fulfilment of Torah and Mitzvos. It’s quite interesting that the Torah rarely discusses reward for Mitzvos, and rather simply lists the commands, and at times the punishment for its transgression, while the reward is almost never mentioned. The beginning of this Parsha is dedicated to speaking on this subject of reward. Most people, upon being asked what reward awaits them for guarding Torah and Mitzvos and spending a life of service of G-d, will reply that in the future they will receive a great spiritual reward in the Garden of Eden and the World to Come. In truth, a basic fundament of our faith, is belief in the world to come, and the afterlife, and it is thus only natural for one to respond in the above manner. Accordingly, it is most puzzling that when the Torah finally chooses to approach the subject of reward for Mitzvos, it completely ignores this spiritual reward which awaits us, and which we are required to believe in. Rather, the Torah enumerates various physical pleasures that we will receive, such as that we will have an abundance of crop, we will be satiated from small amounts of food [i.e., no need to worry about dieting] and will chase our enemies. Is this the epitome of Hashem’s reward system? Why is there no mention of the future reward, which is the main reward that awaits us? This question is furthermore emphasized in light of the Midrash which enumerates on these verses various miraculous matters that will occur in the future, when Moshiach comes, involving the physical world, as a reward for our guarding the Torah and Mitzvos. Even the Midrash makes no mention of any spiritual reward, despite the fact that it lists the miracles that will occur in that era! In this talk, the Rebbe delves into the purpose of why the Torah mentioned the rewards? Is it to motivate us to serve Hashem better, or is it to reveal a special connection between the Torah and its effect on the world? The Rebbe takes us through a journey of exploration of why a Jew should be motivated to serve G-d, and the ability for us to make the world completely unified with its Divine source, to the point that our spiritual actions create physical miracles, in a most natural manner.      


 Explorations of the Sicha:

1. Why does the Torah mention reward of the Mitzvos if we are meant to serve Hashem altruistically?

2. What natural phenomenon await us in the future era, in the times of Moshiach?

3. Why doesn’t the Torah mention any spiritual reward of Gan Eden or Olam Haba within its listings?

4. How do Mitzvos naturally effect the world?

1. The Phenomenon’s of the future era:

The verse[1] states, “Venasna Haaretz Yevula/And the earth will sprout forth produce”. The Sages in Toras Kohanim expound on this verse various phenomenon’s that will take place in the future. In the future, the world will revert back to the state it was found at the time of creation, prior to the sin of Adam. Instead of one needing to plant a seed and wait a certain amount of time until he can reap the benefits of its fruit, the earth will sprout forth produce of that seed on the same day that it is planted. There will be no delay in its growth! This is just like it was in the past, in the times of Adam Harishon, prior to the sin. Furthermore, the actual bark and wood of the tree will be edible, similar to actual fruit. Even non-fruit bearing trees will bear fruit in the future, and hence there will be no tree from which one does not receive benefit. The greatness of the future era is expounded by Chazal in various areas of text and include the following other phenomenon’s: The earth will grow loaves of bread.[2] Instead of us needing to plant a kernel, wait for the harvest, grind the kernel, mix the flour with water, and bake the bread, the earth itself will spit forth actual ready to eat loaves! A kernel of wheat will grow like a palm tree and each kernel will be the size of two kidneys of a large ox.[3]


2. The Question:

Why did the Torah and Sages feel a need to expound on the physical abundance that will be found in the world in the future era? Furthermore, why at all does the Torah need to discuss reward if Hashem desires us to serve Him without reward, altruistically, because of our true bond and love for Him. Mentioning rewards in the Torah seems to give mixed messages as to our motivations in serving G-d? Is Judaism a true relationship between the Jew and Hashem, similar to a husband and wife, in which rewards and presents should not serve the catalyst of our bond, or is it a business investment in which we work for Hashem like employees who will receive a payout when our work is done? Clearly, the approach of Judaism is the former approach, and hence the Sages[4] command “Don’t be like a servant who serves his master in exchange for reward” as doing so misses the whole focus of our relationship. This question is furthermore emphasized over the fact that in the future era we will certainly be of greater spiritual nature and will desire the true incentives of a relationship with G-d, to which physical reward will pale in comparison. The Rambam[5] states that in the future, the entire world will be involved in seeking knowledge of G-d. The Jews will be great Sages and know the secrets of the world and have comprehension of Hashem. Hence, the question begs on its own as to why Chazal needed to emphasize to us the physical rewards that we will experience in the future, and omit the main reward that we await in uniting with Hashem and basking in G-dliness! The Mefarshim on this Parsha address these questions and offer various explanations:[6]

3. First approach-The future tidings are not rewards:

Some Mefarshim[7] explain as follows: In truth, the Torah fully accepts, and preaches, the notion that one should serve G-d altruistically and be in a true relationship with Hashem that is motivated by truth, love and passion to cleave to G-d, irrelevant of any incentives or prizes offered. It is precisely for this reason that in the entire Torah no mention is made of the reward that awaits one in Gan Eden, or Olam Haba, as one must serve G-d irrelevant of the reward that awaits. Why then does the Torah contradict this notion and mention physical rewards in exchange for our service? In truth, its intent is not to give us an incentive in our service, but rather to explain that if we serve G-d properly, He will arrange that we be free of any physical troubles that prevent us from further advancing our relationship. The more time one needs to spend in providing a living for his family, and attending his other physical needs, the less amount of time he will have available to serve G-d. Thus, Hashem tells us, that if we serve Him properly, with the time we have available, He will arrange that our physical needs are blessed and taken care of in a way that allows us to spend more time in serving Him and building our relationship with Him.  

A Parable:

A certain couple is having the following dilemma: The wife nags at her husband for not spending enough time with her. He seems more dedicated to his work and other hobbies than the most important things in life, such as bonding with his partner in life. The husband in turn replies that when they spend time together, it is often used to discuss stressful topics and at times to argue over whatever burning issue one of them finds necessary to discuss. No wonder, I don’t make time to spend with you, says the Husband. I don’t enjoy our communication. I subconsciously run away to do things that I enjoy. If only our time together would be enjoyable, I would make sure it happened more often. The couple hence decided to make set times to spend together in which only enjoyable conversation and activities would be allowed. Any stressful topic, or matter of friction, would need to be left for another occasion, either earlier or later, but this time will be sacred for them to enjoy their company. After several weeks of keeping to the rules and schedule, the husband suddenly began finding more time on his hands to spend with his wife, as he truly enjoyed his new-found hobby, bonding with his partner in life. In our relationship with Hashem, we find a very similar pattern. If we use the opportunities provided to serve Hashem properly and show care in our relationship, then Hashem too will reciprocate with giving us ability to serve Him more and open the avenues for our physical needs to be catered in a less time-consuming manner. If, however, we show neglect in our relationship, then Hashem too will reciprocate in distancing Himself from us, and not provide us with the extra opportunities to bond with Him. 


4. Second approach-Some people need incentives:

The approach that the “rewards” mentioned in the Torah and Chazal are not true rewards, but rather a reciprocation of Hashem to give us more time to serve Him, is not accepted by all Mefarshim. Some Mefarshim[8] explain that the Torah is truly listing rewards to motivate us in our service. Now, although the Torah does not want us to serve G-d due to incentives, nonetheless, the Torah is also realistic to the standings of most people in their service of G-d. Many people, at least in the initial stages of their Avodas Hashem, do not truly embark in the service of Torah and Mitzvos out of yearning for a relationship, but rather due to the incentives that awaits them after the service. This follows the statement of the Rambam[9] that the service of G-d “Leshma”, not for the sake of reward, is a great service, and is not merited by even all Sages. One does not reach a stage of altruistic service until one becomes greatly advanced in his study and knowledge of G-d, and the Torah does not expect otherwise. For this reason, the Sages[10] said that one should serve Hashem even not Leshma, not altruistically, as it takes time and effort to reach an altruistic state of service. Furthermore, states the Rambam[11], educators are even encouraged to give children, and others who are in the beginning stages of religious observance, incentives to keep the Torah and Mitzvos, and describe to them the future rewards that awaits them. Now, being that there are people who need incentives, the Torah therefore lists rewards to motivate such people in their beginning service of G-d. Accordingly, we can also understand why the Torah specifically lists physical rewards, as the crowd for whom the rewards are being mentioned do not yet have comprehension or yearning for spiritual matters, and hence telling them of spiritual reward will not accomplish the purpose of motivation intended in these tidings.[12] Such people’s main comprehension is in physicality, and hence giving them physical incentives will get them on the train to begin their journey of Divine service. It is thus clearly understood why the Torah omits any mention of the spiritual reward in Gan Eden or Olam Haba, as for those who need incentives, this won’t motivate them, and for those who don’t need incentives, they should continue serving Hashem without incentives.

A Parable:

A father was experiencing trouble motivating his child to be studious and responsible about his grades. The child was simply uninterested, seeing no purpose in pushing himself to study matters that to him had no relevance and enjoyment. To the child, it was like being forced to eat a bitter medicine or bitter food, and hence who could blame him for his lack of motivation and enthusiasm? After consulting with education professionals, the father decided to offer his son a great incentive in exchange for a change in his study patterns. If he would sufficiently dedicate himself to his studies, he would earn a trip to Eretz Yisrael at the end of the year with just him and his Dad. The child’s excitement knew no bounds, and he suddenly revealed a powerful and immense urge to learn the required material, and in a short time he reached the top of his class. It was a hard and difficult push, forcing himself to swallow the “useless” information, although he did it knowing of the reward that awaited him at the end. After that year, having returned from his trip to Israel, the child continued to display his newfound commitment to his studies and revealed a very assiduous nature. The father approached his child and asked him what he felt caused the sudden change in his character, as there was no longer any added incentive for the child’s academic diligence. The child replied that the previous year’s hard work helped him reveal within himself a strong thirst and pleasure in intellectual pursuits and the acquisition of knowledge. He no longer required external motivations to learn, just as one does not need to be motivated to finish a bowl of ice cream.


5. Why do we need incentives in the future era?

The second approach gives a good rational for why the Torah tells us of rewards in the current era, prior to the coming of Moshiach. It, however, does not suffice to explain the need for Chazal to tell us of the rewards that we will experience in the future when we will all already be on a high spiritual level that is worthy of serving Hashem altruistically. Simply speaking, one can answer that these tidings help motivate us in times of Galus to desire and await the future redemption, which is itself a Mitzvah, and to motivate us to fulfill the Torah and Mitzvos that will merit us to reach this era. On a deeper perspective, however, one can explain that even in the future, such tidings will be a necessary incentive for certain individuals. There is a common misconception, that as soon as Moshiach arrives the entire world populace will transform into a perfect spiritual being on the level of Tzaddikim. In truth, there exist many stages in the future redemption, and not everyone will reach spiritual heights simultaneously. Some people will still need incentives to serve G-d and lack comprehension in the spiritual reward that awaits them, and hence require physical tidings as a motivating factor. Even in the future, people will grow in stages until they reach the state of altruistic service.

6. The question on the second approach:

It is difficult to accept the notion offered in the second approach that an entire section of the Torah is dedicated for the beginner or those lacking motivation and contains no relevance for those in advanced stages of Divine service.

7. The Rebbe’s approach-The rewards are a natural consequence of our service:

The rewards mentioned in the Torah are not just to give incentives for the beginners, or to tell us of Hashem’s reciprocation to give us more time for Avoda but is a message of the power hidden within a Jews fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvos, and the manner in which they are to be performed. The physical world can seem to be completely independent and separate from G-d and religion, following its own natural order, irrelevant of man’s actions for good or for better. In truth, however, the world is fully directed by G-d, and is given orders in accordance with the behavior of man. It has no independent will or natural order and can only do what the G-dly life force provides it. When good things happen in the world, it shows that G-d directed its occurrence due to the good actions of man, and in essence serves as a sign to man that his actions are pleasing before G-d. On a deeper level, when one is blessed with good and prosperity, it shows that his service of G-d has penetrated his entire essence, including his physical life. Just like when a matter is essential it penetrates the very core of one’s being and effects every matter of his life, so too, when man unites with the Torah to a level that it becomes his entire life and essence, it effects every matter of his life, including his physical needs. The Torah that he has fully united with, spills over not only into his spiritual aspects, such as his soul, but even to his body, and all his physical needs, thus effecting his health and prosperity. Accordingly, the rewards mentioned in the Torah are there to guide man to see where he is holding in his Avodas Hashem, and as to whether his service has fully penetrated the essence of his being.


8. The phenomenon’s of the future:

Based on the above, it still remains to be understood why only in the future times we will merit the great marvels and wonders in creation and not now in times of exile. The explanation is as follows: In order for the world to be receptive to Divine blessing, it needs to be refined and connected with its Divine source. Due to the sin of Adam, the world became tainted with impurity and sin, which serves as a blockage to receive the Divine blessings in its full potential. Likewise, prior to the coming of Moshiach, the physical world is not fully connected with its spiritual source, and thus does not receive the full influx of its Divine blessing. This is why in current times, even if a Jew’s spiritual service is perfected and touches his very essence, the physical blessings will take time to produce. A seed will take some years to produce its abundance of fruit, and so on and so forth. However, in the future, not only will the world be refined once again, but it will be united with its spiritual source, and therefore there will be no delay in the earth’s expression of the Divine blessing, and it will shoot forth fruit on the very day that its seed was planted.

An Analogy:

The school of psychology innovated the relationship between deep inner traumas of childhood and adolescence, to seemingly unrelated emotional issues we face when we are older. The method of therapy, due to this philosophy, is not to deal with the external issue, which is just a side effect of the real problem, but rather to tackle the inner trauma that is driving the issue to the surface. This, however, is not a quick fix, and may take many sessions, and repeated sessions, to finally see the results of one’s labor. A Jew’s physical experiences, and his relationship with Hashem and the Torah is very similar. Lack of physical abundance and blessing is a symptom of a spiritual lack in one’s relationship with Hashem, and if we tackle the main issue, and fix the gap of our relationship, the symptom will simply disappear. Nonetheless, being that we are in exile, even if we fix our spiritual side, it may not immediately and completely effect the symptom, and we must be patient and allow nature the time necessary to blend with its new spiritual reality.         

Lessons of the Sicha:

· It’s a fact of life! Although we wish for people to do things altruistically, we cannot expect this to happen when they first begin their service. As parents and educators, we must first and foremost ensure that the child and student has the proper motivation to perform the task or duty being asked, and once he conforms and gets used to it, we can then proceed with the deeper and altruistic philosophies.

· When things are not going well in our physical lives, in relation to health, livelihood or relationships, we need to make an accounting of our soul and check what spiritual matter needs rectification. Our spiritual life and physical experiences are closely related and mirror each other. Let’s not miss the Divine message hidden within our life troubles and challenges. At times, Hashem sends us extra troubles in our physical lives due to our lack of interest in our relationship with Him. If we decide to improve and spend quality time and investment in our relationship with Hashem, He will likewise reciprocate with alleviating us of matters that take away from this investment.

· Even if after fixing our spiritual defects we still see delay in any improvements, let us not lose faith and trust that Hashem will completely heal and rectify the situation.


[1] Bechukosaiy 26:4

[2] Kesubos 111b

[3] Shabbos 30b

[4] Pirkeiy Avos 1:3

[5] End of Hilchos Melachim

[6] See Keli Yakar 26:12 for seven approaches to this matter

[7] Abarbanel Bechukosaiy; Keli Yakar 26\12 in his first approach; Based on Rambam Teshuvah 9:1 and Pirush Hamishnayos Sanhedrin Perek Cheilek

[8] See the seven approaches in Keli Yakar ibid

[9] Teshuvah 10:2

[10] Admur Hilchos Talmud Torah 4:3; Michaber 246:20; Rambam Talmud Torah 3:5; Pesachim 50b

[11] Teshuvah ibid

[12] See 2nd approach in Keli Yakar ibid; Abarbanel ibid; Even Ezra Haazinu 32:39 that the Torah was given to everyone, and not even 1:1000 can comprehend the reward of Gan Eden and Olam Haba

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