Thursday, August 10, 2017

earning our own reward

V'haya eikev tishme'un es hamishpatim ha'eileh v'shamar Hashem Elokecha lecha es ha'bris v'es ha'chessed asher nishba l'avosecha.

Our parsha opens by telling us that if we observe the commandments, specifically mishpatim, then Hashem will fulfill his promise made to the avos and give us the brachos that follow.

If we are doing what we are supposed to, then shouldn't we deserve reward based on our own merits and actions, not because of the promise made to the avos?  (The Sefas Emes explains that the word v'haya, which always connotes simcha, appears here because Hashem has tremendous simcha when a person earns his own reward and doesn't receive gifts based on someone else's merit.)  Zechus avos is invoked when we have no other merits of our own to call on, not when we are doing everything right?

Maybe you can answer that question by way of another question.  Last week's parsha ends with the pasuk, "V'shamarta es ha'mitzvah v'es ha'chukim v'es ha'mishpatim..."  Meforshim are bothered by the fact that that pasuk lists off multiple categories of mitzvos -- mitzvah, chukim, mishpatim -- while the pasuk that opens our parsha refers only to the one category of mishpatim.  Why the difference?

Perhaps the point of our parsha is that even if we are not exactly doing what we are supposed to -- we are only fulfilling the logical laws of mishpatim that make sense to us, but are not on target with all the mitzvos and chukim -- nonetheless, Hashem will reward us because in addition to our own actions, we have zechus avos as well.

11 comments:

  1. your interpretation is supported by 10:13, when this time mitzvos and chukim are mentioned without mishpatim; in this case, Hashem only asks--sho'ale, 10:12--only asks that we get these other two acts together [with the avos stressed at 10:15, to take up any slack]

    but categorization cuts both ways, as when at 11:1 a fourth(!) heading appears, mishmarto, because the avos did not see 11:2-6

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  2. With all due respect, if you only do mishpatim because they make sense to you, then you are not serving God, you are doing what you think is right, and while you might be a good person, you have no shaichus to the Torah or to God. The whole point of secularism is to disregard divine commandments and develop an personal internal moral code. This is what the Reform and Reconstructionists call Judaismm without God. You think Zchus Avos helps a person like that? Maybe. But at first glance, it's very not mistavra.

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    1. >>>while you might be a good person, you have no shaichus to the Torah or to God.

      Do you have to say a l'shem yichud before running an honest business, caring for other people, etc. for it to count? M'toch she'lo lishma ba lishma.

      >>>The whole point of secularism is to disregard divine commandments

      Agreed, but someone who does good l'shem doing good without an overt consciousness of G-d is not the same as a secularist who b'shita denies any concept of Divine morality or Divine commandments. I did not have the latter in mind -- maybe I should have phrased it better.

      See the Meshech Chochma on the pasuk who explains that to someone who is immersed in a Torah lifestyle, the chukim become mishpatim=they make sense (and that's why the pasul need only refer to mishpatim). Why is that a ma'alah? L'shitascha, wouldn't it be better the less sense everything made, so we can demonstrate true bitul and show we are doing everything for G-d alone, not because it is mistaber to us?


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  3. Perhaps it's an assumption that deep down the person is truly in tune with Hashem's will, sort of like allowing a get extracted from someone beaten into saying "rotzeh ani!"

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    1. Sounds like is a Chassidic approach (the Rambam not withstanding) = assuming every good need is an expression of the Jew's incorruptible neshoma that is trying to get out.

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    2. I've been arguing with Rabbi Dovid Zucker (esteemed Rosh Kollel in Chicago, first to establish the pattern of gadlusdikeh out of town kollelim) about this for years. In his sefer, Ateres Duda'im, he keeps saying that people should do chesed because of Hashem's tzivui, and doing it because your heart impels you diminishes the mitzvah. I can't stand that, because the mitzva includes educating your heart to really care. But if you do it because you're a good person, it's still not avodas hashem. Perhaps you get schar because you did good for Hashem's briyos, but no more than a cow gets schar for being nutritious.

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  4. When Dovid HaMelech says ומשפטים בל ידעום , how is this possible? Mishpatim are logical within the realm of human understanding, and should not require הודעה. But logical Mishpatim are categorically different than Divinely-given Mishpatim. As the Malbim says on that posuk: שאף הנימוסים השכליים לא קבלו מה' ולכן ילכו במשפטים בל יחיו בהם.

    [I will grant that there could be an alternative understanding of the Malbim, were it not for his pshat in the first part of the posuk: ולכן הם נתונים תחת המערכה.]

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    1. >>>how is this possible? Mishpatim are logical within the realm of human understanding,

      Exactly what the pasuk is saying. The nations of the law get it from their seichel, but G-d did us the extra favor of giving those laws to us as part of his Torah so that we get schar v'onesh for keeping them and keep the world going (Netziv beginning of Bechukosai). Isn't that the Radak's pshat?

      What about Rambam in Shmoneh Perakim who says that when it comes to gezel and the like it is better to not have a yetzer ha'ar, i.e. to keep the laws because of an innate sense of morality, not to have a yetzer ha'ra to violate them and then not steal because G-d said so (though I grant that there may be a different way to read that Rambam).

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    2. Which apparently contradicts your thesis the way I understood it - that a person who keeps the mishpatim because he understands them merits zechus avos - even though he is not doing them because they were imposed by Hashem. As witnessed by being lackadaisical regarding other categories of mitzvot. Why? What is he doing different than a goy?

      Which brings up the Rambam which implies - in the superficial reading - that a Jew should observe the moral mitzvot precisely as would a goyishe Aristotelian. So why would one get schar for that more than a goy?

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    3. Are you asking on me or on the Rambam? It sounds like you don't like the Rambam. However he will answer your question, I say the same : )

      >>>What is he doing different than a goy?

      Who says there has to be a behavioral difference in these areas?

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    4. If there is identical behavior, and no yetzer hora to create a metzuva v'oseh, why is a Jew different than a goy? Chazal says that the difference between a goy who learns and a Jew who learns is only the gadol hametzuva v'oseh.

      Unless you want to learn the Rambam as positing that while there should be no yetzer horah to do something immoral, there is still the yetzer horah of metzuva v'oseh. Which is actually not a bad concept. Except that it borders on להכעיס.

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