Daniel D. Stuhlman

Ekev –Reward and Punishment

Parashat Ekev   August 20, 2022

Reward and Punishment

In Devarim 11:13-21 the Torah talked about reward and punishment.  The people are commanded to love the LORD, serve him with all our hearts and souls and we will be rewarded with rain and grain. The concept of reward and punishment was difficult for Rambam and psychologists such as Lawrence Kohlberg.  If one performs an action for the reward or avoids it just because of the possibility of a punishment, this is a juvenile or in Kohlberg’s language, “pre-conventional” behavior.  The best way to perform a mitzvah is for the sake of the mitzvah, not for the reward or avoidance of punishment. We don’t believe in immediate rewards and punishments.  Not performing a mitzvah could lead to transgressions on a person-to-person level.

Opening the door to believing in immediate reward and punishment leads us to ask why bad things happen to good people and the other way around material rewards for the wicked.  This is a topic for many other discussions. Sometimes we don’t even know if an event is good or bad.  For example, losing your phone. Treating your customers, family, and colleague well does not always lead to material success.

This week is the blessing of the new moon for Elul. Next Shabbat is rosh hodesh.  In a few weeks we will be observing the high holy days, a time for examining ourselves. Hopefully we have learned what happens in this world when our inaction or actions cause events.  We know that our car and appliances will wear out.  We just don’t know the moment of the breakdown. Knowing what will happen is based on experience.  We have free will to act but must decide if the consequences are for the better, or not.

Our job in the world is to constantly push our essence of “free will,” strive to do what is right, pursue justice and hope it brings us closer to the next level of Divine service.

The business lesson is that we should make only those rules that can be observed and make the organization just and better.  Reward and punishment are tools, not the moral process. Neither the customer nor team member is “always” right.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the connection between physical food (including planting and eating) and a closeness to the mitzvot?
  2. Is a reward the same as a bribe? Can people bribe God?
  3. Can one mask deficiencies in interpersonal relations with an extra-meticulous observance of mitzvoth between man and G-d?
  4. May one choose to compensate violating  of Shabbat by giving extra tzedakah?
About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.
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