Rewards of Goodness

Discussion Forum

Living & Learning

Challenge Scenario

Somerset Maughm said "No good deed goes unpunished." So a "mitzvah" can sometimes also lead to resentment. You have a relative who needs financial help. How can you help them with out them ending up resenting it?


In his book Give and Take, Adam Grant says there are Givers–generous, Matchers—will give if assured of return, and Takers–who may pretend to be the other to, but are predatory. He gives some guidelines.

  1. Don’t give to takers, they will suck you dry. Recognize them by their egotism.
  2. Give consistently, but limit your time, and take care of your own business.

Do you have other guidelines for yourself?

Your Experience

When you have done generous acts for others, did it lead to your helping them more? Did it lead to their returning the favor—or “paying it forward” to others? The idea of sin leading to sin is illustrated by addiction, and also by the cycle of vencence. Have you observed either of these? Lessons?

Modern Commentary – Berkson

Mitzvah leads to mitzvah, and sin leads to sin.
For the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the punishment of a sin is a sin.  (avot 4:2)

Weigh the losses in doing the right thing against the gains,
and the gains in committing a sin against the losses.  (avot 2:1)

Mitzvah leads to Mitzvah. How does one good deed lead to another? A dramatic example of this linkage is the deeds of the “righteous gentiles” who hid Jews during the Holocaust. Very often they would first agree to hide their neighbors briefly because they couldn’t conceive of giving them up to be murdered. But once having helped them, they grew more courageous and hid neighbors for a long period of time, at the risk of their own lives. In a decent society, doing acts of kindness and being fair to others engenders trust, and encourages people to ask for your cooperation in efforts that enable you to help people further. In other words, your mitzvah will lead to doing other mitzvot, including those that benefit you. So your mitzvah leads not only to doing more mitzvot, but also to influencing others to do mitzvot.

Weigh the losses. What are the benefits and risks of acting as a mentsh—a caring, responsible person? Living as a mentsh promotes strong, loving personal relationships. Though there is no guarantee of success, as relationships take two, being selfish and devious is almost certain to destroy trust. Thus, in personal relationships, we have very strong motivation for at least appearing to be caring and to have integrity. Unscrupulous, ruthless people do sometimes get ahead in business, but at the cost of harming their relationships and reducing respect and love from others. With courage and creativity, the honest can succeed in business, as the case of Aaron Feuerstein illustrates (see 2:6b). Being ethical does not mean being naïve, and an ethical person needs to be just as shrewd a strategist as an unethical person in order to succeed.


Classic Commentaries – Goldin

One good deed leads to another good deed and one
transgression leads to another transgression.
For the reward of a good deed is another good deed
and the reward for a transgression is another transgression.  (avot 4:2)

It is a natural thing for a person who carries out one small commandment to find it easier afterward to carry out another, which in comparison with the first may be even more difficult—because by nature he has already grown accustomed to carrying out commandments. And if he carries out the commandments twice and three times . . . habit will govern him and he will carry out the commandments. . . . And if a person has committed one transgression and withdrawn from the service of the Lord, blessed be He, then he will commit another transgression when it comes his way, even if his evil impulse does not particularly desire it—because he has become victim to the evil impulse; though he may not desire very much to commit that sin, he will go on transgressing because his nature has grown accustomed to committing every abomination which the Lord hates (Rabbi Jonah).

If you carry out a minor commandment you will be rewarded by the opportunity to carry out an even greater commandment, and then you will receive a rich reward for all the commandments you carried out (Vitry).

The reward for carrying out commandments and the punishment for committing transgressions take place not in this world but in the world to come. ... If we eagerly carry out the commandments, the Holy One, blessed be He, rewards us with prosperity. . . . And along with this reward comes the pleasure of engaging in the fulfillment of still other commandments, and then we receive rich reward in the world to come. Thus the reward for carrying out the first commandment brings leisure from worldly preoccupations, and the opportunity to carry out other commandments, which win for a person the life of the world to come. But if we commit transgressions and pursue worldly vanities then the Holy One, blessed be He, withholds prosperity ... so that we do not get the leisure to carry out commandments. Moreover, evil decrees are decreed against us which compel us to transgress the words of the Torah. Thus it turns out that those transgressions which we committed by choice become the cause of still other transgressions (Aknin).

There are some who interpret this saying as follows: the reward for carrying out a commandment is the very commandment which the man carried out. What greater reward can a person seek in this world than to be inscribed as one whose actions shine in the splendor of the living God in the world to come? (Nahmias).