Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Ulterior motives—not necessarily a bad thing, if they lead to good deeds, but . . .

My rabbi is getting on my nerves. He’s telling us repeatedly that we earn merit for our deceased relatives and ourselves by donating to tzedakah/charity. Whatever happened to giving tzedakah just because it’s a mitzvah/commandment and/or a maaseh tov/good deed? Whatever happened to doing the right thing lishma, for its own sake? Why does it always have to be to earn brownie points from the One Upstairs?

I suppose we have the Torah to blame. Look at the second paragraph of the Sh’ma, for example: We’re promised rain in its proper season if we obey HaShem’s laws (and threatened with drought if we don’t). And, speaking of our relatives, both versions of the Aseret HaDibrot/Ten Commandments (Sh’mot Yitro, Exodus chapter 20, verse 12; and Devarim Va-etchanan, Deuteronomy chapter 5, verse 16) promise us long life for honoring our parents. The Torah certainly seems to indicate that HaShem thought we needed the carrot-and-stick approach. I guess the Jewish people have gotten used to operating on the incentive plan.


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