The following are things whose profits one enjoys in this world while the capital is given to them in the world to come: parental respect, acts of kindness, bringing about peace between one person and another
- and the study of Torah is equal to them all.
There is a principal in the Gemara that there is no reward in this world for the fulfilment of a Mitzvah (Kiddushin 39b). The above Mishnah seems to directly contradict that principal. What unique element links these acts together and elevates them beyond the realm of this fundamental notion?
A story is told of some students of the Chofetz Chaim who approached their Rebbe. They were very poor and had come to offer a desperate solution. “We are willing to forego on a small amount of the reward for our Mitzvot in the next world. Let Hashem give some reward in this world to alleviate our difficult predicament.”
The Chofetz Chaim answered them with a parable. When one is buying an \$8 item, one would be expected to receive change for a \$10 bill. For a \$7 item, one could break a \$20. To give a \$50 bill to pay for a \$2 item would raise an eyebrow. A \$100 bill for a 50 cent item one would probably be refused. Imagine trying to use a \$10,000,000 check to pay for a piece of chewing-gum. No finite currency could possibly suffice for the eternal reward of Mitzvot – an act of connection between man and Hashem.
If this is true, how is it that our Mishnah lists several acts for which there exists a reward in this world? It is possible to suggest the following solution. Every mitzvah has two basic components to it: the Mitzvah act, and the impact and repercussions of the Mitzvah performance. The act is raw and physical. It is performed with a body of flesh and bones that in many ways is no more than that of a monkey. Yet, using this G-d given tool, like throwing a pebble into a lake that creates rings of concentric circles that seem to ripple forever, the source is completely finite and yet the repercussions are infinite.
Despite this, there is no reward even for the physical act itself, because since the act is divinely ordained even the physical act is elevated to a level that is beyond world payment. This being true, the question remains: why are these acts singled out for payment in this world?
Upon closer analysis, one finds that all the Mitzvot listed seem to be bein adam l’chaveiro – relating to interpersonal relationships – except, of course, for Talmud Torah which is beyond the scope of all the others combined. One could ask, why is it that mere acts of kindness or respect are worthy of such great reward? Don’t most civilized human beings and even members of the animal kingdom treat each other with kindness, dignity and respect? Even the secular world, based on Judaic tradition, has set up systems of conflict resolution. Why then are these interpersonal Mitzvot so special? Furthermore, what is the relationship between these interpersonal Mitzvot and Talmud Torah? The answer is that the only reason that these Mitzvot bein adam l’chaveiro are unique is because “Talmud Torah k’neged kulam”. Talmud Torah is not merely an additional item on a list of acts destined for earthly reward that happens to have a greater value than the others. Torah is the ratzon Hashem, the will of G-d that becomes actualised through the performance of Mitzvot. Torah is what qualifies and shapes the interpersonal Mitzvot, more so than other Mitzvot that are only performed because of Divine will. It is only the learning of Torah that can infuse and transform these everyday acts from mundane expressions of kindness, respect and conflict resolution, into bursts of G-dliness that literally illuminate the world.
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