Lesson 1 – What is the reward for observing the commandments?
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein
The Conservative Yeshiva
1. HE WHO PERFORMS ONE PRECEPT IS WELL REWARDED, HIS DAYS ARE PROLONGED, AND HE INHERITS THE LAND,
- BUT HE WHO DOES NOT PERFORM ONE PRECEPT, GOOD IS NOT DONE TO HIM, HIS DAYS ARE NOT PROLONGED, AND HE DOES NOT INHERIT THE LAND.
But a contradiction is shown: These are the things the fruit of which man eats in this world, while the principal remains for him for the future world. Viz., honoring one’s parents, the practice of loving deeds, hospitality to wayfarers, and making peace between man and his neighbor; and the study of the Torah surpasses them all.
Said Rab Judah: This is its meaning: HE WHO PERFORMS ONE PRECEPT in addition to his [equally balanced] merits IS WELL REWARDED, and he is as though he had fulfilled the whole Torah. Hence it follows that for these others [one is rewarded] even for a single one!
Said R. Shemaiah: That teaches that if there is an equal balance, it tips the scale.
1 . [Kushiyah]
Yet is it a fact that he who performs one precept in addition to his [equally balanced] merits is rewarded?
But the following contradicts it: He whose good deeds outnumber his iniquities is punished, and is as though he had burnt the whole Torah, not leaving even a single letter; while he whose iniquities outnumber his good deeds is rewarded, and is as though he had fulfilled the whole Torah, not omitting even a single letter!
Said Abaye: Our Mishnah means that a festive day and an evil day are prepared for him,
3. [Mahloket with Abaye]
Raba said: This latter agrees with R. Jacob, who said: There is no reward for precepts in this world.
3a. For it was taught: R. Jacob said: There is not a single precept in the Torah whose reward is [stated] at its side which is not dependent on the resurrection of the dead.
[Thus:] in connection with honoring parents it is written, “that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee.” (Deut. 5:16)
In reference to the mitzvah of shewing away the mother bird, it is written, “that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days.” (Deut. 22:7)
Now, if one’s father said to him, Ascend to the loft and bring me young birds, and he ascends to the loft, dismisses the dam and takes the young, and on his return falls and is killed where is this man’s happiness and where is this man’s prolonging of days? But in order that it may be well with thee, means on the day that is wholly good; and in order that thy days may be long, on the day that is wholly long.
4. [Kushiyah on the story]
Yet perhaps there was no such happening?
R. Jacob saw an actual occurrence.
Then perhaps he was meditating upon a transgression?
The Holy One, blessed be He, does not combine an evil thought with an [evil] act.
Yet perhaps he was meditating idolatry, and it is written, “that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart?” (Ezekiel 14:5)
9. [The Gemara accepts the kushiyah and then proves from it Rabbi Yaakov’s position]
That too was precisely his point: should you think that precepts are rewarded in this world, why did the [fulfillment of these] precepts not shield him from being led to [such] meditation?
10. [Kushiyah on the story]
Yet R. Eleazar said: Those who are engaged in performing a mitzvah are never harmed?
There, when they are going [to fulfil the mitzvah], it is different.
But R. Eleazar said: Those who are engaged on a precept are never harmed, either when going or returning?
It was a rickety ladder, so that injury was likely, and where injury is likely one must not rely on a miracle, for it is written, “and Samuel said: How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me.” (1 Samuel 16:2)
R. Joseph said: Had Aher interpreted this verse as R. Jacob, his daughter’s son, he would not have sinned.
Now, what happened with Aher?
Some say, he saw something of this nature.
17. [Another answer]
Others say, he saw the tongue of Huzpith the Interpreter dragged along by a swine. The mouth that uttered pearls licks the dust! he exclaimed. [Thereupon] he went forth and sinned.