By Avner Friedmann
This week’s Parshah tells us: “It shall be that if you hearken to My mitzvot that I command you this day, to love Hashem your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul; then I shall provide rain for your land in its proper time, the early rains and the late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. I shall provide grass in your field for your cattle and you shall eat and be satisfied.” In other words, the performance or neglect of the mitzvot results in physical reward or punishment.
However, if the mitzvot are the will of HaShem, Who is infinite, shouldn’t the reward for doing His will also be infinite? How could the reward for the mitzvot be given in our finite physical world? It is explained in the name of the Rambam (Maimonides) that the rewards stated in these verses do not constitute the ultimate reward of the mitzvot, which will be given in “The World to Come.”
Rather, these are “fringe benefits,” so to speak. The Torah promises that if we perform the mitzvot with joy, with all our heart and soul, then HaShem, blessed is He, removes our physical obstacles and burdens such as illness and hunger, which prevent us from studying Torah and performing mitzvot in their optimal manner. We would thus be free to learn Torah and perform the mitzvot in the best possible way, and as our sages stated: “One mitzvah brings another mitzvah in its train and the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah.” However, the True reward of the mitzvah, in and of itself, is reserved for The World to Come.
Ultimately, the purpose of all our physical achievements is not merely to derive physical pleasure. Rather, they serve as a means of coming closer to HaShem through Torah and mitzvot. However, if we pursue physical pleasures for their own sake, the result is the opposite; we become distant from HaShem, G-d forbid.
Before Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi passed away, he spread out his fingers heavenward and said: “Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known before You that I toiled with my ten fingers in the study of Torah. I did not enjoy worldly pleasures even to the extent of my little finger. May it be Your will that there be Peace in the place of my eternal rest.” A Heavenly voice called out and said: “He shall come in Peace.”
Now, we know that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi was one of the wealthiest men of his generation. Does not HaShem shower wealth upon a person for him to enjoy? If so, how is it that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi did not enjoy any of the pleasures of this world? The reason is because Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi was so close to HaShem, that he understood that all of creation exists only for the glory of HaShem and for the sanctification of His Great Name, as the verse states, “All that is called by My Name and for My glory, I created it, I formed it, I also made it.”
Is this to say that by choosing a Torah way of life we cannot enjoy the pleasures of this world? After all, we are alive and life is beautiful. However, it all depends on HOW and WHY we enjoy this world. In Truth, a Torah way of life is more fulfilling than anything the physical world has to offer, so that if a person runs after physical pleasures for their own sake, he will never achieve true satisfaction. His pleasures will only be temporary and short-lived, and he would always crave for more. The more he has, the more he desires, as our sages taught, “If a person has 100, he wants 200 etc.” In other words, a person who focuses on physical pleasures will never have true satisfaction and fulfillment.
This is the meaning of our verse, “And you shall eat and be SATISFIED.” The ultimate blessing is to be satisfied with what we have, as it states: “Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.” He experiences the goodness in everything HaShem has given him and is grateful for all the kindnesses HaShem has showered upon him.
In actuality, we only achieve true pleasure and happiness when we live in accordance to the framework and parameters HaShem set for us in His Torah. Torah teaches us how to live a truly fulfilled life in this world. About this, King Solomon, the wisest man stated: “If you find honey, eat what is enough for you, lest you become full and vomit it up.” Torah does not tell us not to enjoy life. On the contrary, since Torah is the G-d-given manual for life, given by HaShem Himself, the Source of all life, it teaches us how to benefit from the world in the optimal way. Meanwhile, the Torah also teaches us how to merit the ultimate fulfillment of The World to Come, as our sages taught: “Happy are you in this world and it shall be well for you in The World to Come.”