by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
The Mishnah says that “a mitzvah brings about a mitzvah” and that “the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah.”[i] These statements seem to say that the mitzvah we just did will bring us to another mitzvah, and that this second mitzvah is the reward we receive for having done the first mitzvah.
But there are a number of places in the Talmud where we are told that the reward for doing a mitzvah only comes in the World to Come.[ii] Surely, we are not going to be doing mitzvahs in that entirely spiritual world. So which is it? Do we get the reward of receiving the opportunity to do another mitzvah, and if so, will it be in this world, or in the next?
We see in our own lives that doing a mitzvah brings us the opportunity to do another mitzvah. It happens all the time. But, those who say that the reward is entirely in the next world also seem to be right. Everything we do will come back to us.
Also, there is another Mishnah[iii] that says that some mitzvahs are rewarded partially in this world, while others are rewarded mostly in the World to Come.
As usual, there are so many opinions. Which one is correct? As usual, somehow, all of them are true. It is not hard to see that these three sources are somehow saying the same thing, or they at least, are not contradicting one another.
But there is yet another opinion that says that the "reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah" means that the actual doing of the mitzvah is its own reward? This seems to contradict those other opinions. How can we say that this explanation is also true?
The Hebrew for “brings about” could either mean “drags” or “draws.”
If we think of it as “drags," we assume that the Mishnah teaches us that doing a mitzvah drags another mitzvah to us, so we will have the opportunity to do the second mitzvah, too. Obviously, doing the second mitzvah will “drag” a third mitzvah, and this will go on, and on. This is the literal explanation of the Mishnahs.
But, when we think that the word means that a mitzvah “draws” a mitzvah, we can see a more spiritual explanation of what happens when we do a mitzvah. When we physically do a mitzvah we draw the spiritual aspects of that mitzvah down from the entirely spiritual world, and we bring these benefits out into the lower physical world.
So, for example, when we give a poor person a coin, the first definition teaches that the mitzvah of giving that coin will actually bring another poor person to us so we can give again. From the higher, more mystical perspective, when we give the physical coin into the hand of the poor person, the spiritual essence, or nature, of charity is drawn down from the higher world into the external, lower world. Our lower world now becomes infused with the more revealed, higher aspects of Creation.
When we apply the first definition “drags,” we can understand the Talmud’s statement that the reward for a mitzvah is given only in the World to Come. It will be there that we will finally reap the full spiritual benefit from having performed all of those mitzvahs.
When we apply the second, more mystical definition of “drawing,” we begin to understand that the reward of a mitzvah is the spiritual benefit that comes to our world when we do the physical mitzvah. This elevates our lives both physically and spiritually. We begin to see the underlying spirituality that permeates all of creation. Indeed, the reward of the mitzvah comes with the mitzvah itself.
Which way of looking at it is correct? Obviously, all are true. But, if we do the mitzvahs with only its literal understanding, we will have to wait until the next world to realize the spiritual benefits of our good deeds.
[i] Pirke Avot 4:2
[ii] For instance, Gemora Kiddushin 39b
[iii] Mishnah Peah 1:1
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא