Rewards of Goodness

Most of this makes sense to me.  We are all aware that lying or cheating once is rather hard, but it becomes easier once it's been done and is now in our arsenal of actions.  Similarly, a mitzvah can lead to another mitzvah - either by yourself (because it's so rewarding to do something good that you may want to do it again and get that "rush") or by somebody else, along the lines of "pay it forward".


Real name
William Berkson

William Berkson replied 1 week 2 days ago

You bring up a good point, which is essentially that the Sages are seemingly not consistent on this, but try to have it both ways. The most striking version of this contradiction is the early mishna of Antigonos of Sokho: "Be not as servants who serve the master on condition of receiving a reward; be rather as servants who serve the master without condition of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you." (Avot 1:3) The first part seems to support the idea that "virtue is its own reward", an idea that was around in the Greek world from the Stoics—whom the Sages were well aware of after the conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. Antigonos would have been contemporary of the early Stoics, but his Greek name makes clear that in his time the Hellenistic influence was already great. 

But he also wants people to keep at the back of their minds the "fear of heaven", which seems to allude to reward and punishment. This conflict, as well as the varying conditions in which in the real world we are rewarded or punished for righteousness, is an indiction of unresolved problems in their system of ideas. Does anybody have wise ideas on how to resolve the contradiction?    

The rewards of acting with kindness and fairness—foundational Jewish values from the Prophet Micah—are most obvious when in a group where everyone has integrity, and is acting this way. This promotes strong and effective cooperation for the benefit of all in the group. In essence, the guidelines of the Sages are those which promote happy and productively cooperative groups. 


Real name
Gail A. Fisher

Gail A. Fisher replied 1 week 2 days ago

This was one of the reservations that I had in reading the text.  It presupposes that we are in an ideal world in which everybody is more concerned about the good of the whole community than for their own self-interest, and everybody is striving to resist the yetzer ha'ra and to follow the yetzer ha'tov.  If I do a mitzvah and it makes me feel good, plus I get all sorts of positive feedback from others, I am indeed inclined to do more of them.  But that's not how everybody will be.  Eventually the time could come when I develop resentment over the fact that not everybody is bearing a fair share of the burden.  Some people might not bother with mitzvot because they are too self-centered or busy, and others might be the "takers" described in your post who sit back and let themselves be carried by those who do perform the mitzvot.   (And of course I'm thinking here of mitzvot between a person and his or her fellow people, not between a person and God.)  I am passionately concerned with tikkun olam, but I'd like to think that we all are (or at least the vast majority), rather than fearing that we're surrounded by cynics and opportunists.