Parshat Re’eh: It’s Good to be Good

Giving to others (Pikist)

There often seems to be a self-fulfilling reward for our actions: Some mundane examples include eating, taking medication, or learning new information. In each of these actions, the benefit is mainly the action itself, including gaining nutrients, healing from illnesses, or expanding our knowledge. However, it’s not too common that we think of good in this same way. What is the reward of voluntarily helping others, giving charity, or cleaning the kitchen? When considering things of this nature, we sometimes find ourselves bargaining for a gift or a favor, essentially saying that the act itself is not valuable enough to warrant our participation. In Parshat Re’eh, the Torah offers an idea that rebuffs this perspective.

The pasuk says, “Be careful to heed all these commandments that I enjoin upon you; thus it will go well with you and with your descendants after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Devarim 12:28). Breaking down the main elements of this pasuk, we see its deeper meaning. Bnei Yisrael is warned that we should always live Hashem’s mitzvot (commandments), and unlike in most cases, it is not followed with a picture of rainbow and sunshine that befits those who live this reality.

Instead, we are explicitly told that a life of Hashem’s mitzvot, one that extends throughout future generations, is in our best interest. The reason? That’s clear, too: “for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.”

Essentially, doing good is good because doing good is good. The reward is actually the performance and embodiment of the action, not some external prize that we would be privileged to receive. The benefit of living a truly good life is that your life is imbued with goodness, and that is an end in itself.

As this connects to living mitzvot, Rav Kook writes in Mussar Avicha that when we call Hashem our King, committing ourselves to serve him through Torah and mitzvot, we are essentially saying that we serve Good and Truth (Kavod 81). Of course, Hashem is Good, Truth, and more than we can begin to imagine, as He is unbound and unlimited.

Nevertheless, Rav Kook takes our idea to a completely new plane. When we do good, we channel Hashem into our lives and experience Him in that very moment. The feeling of charitable giving or social activism, for example, is an authentic experience of our pulsating connection with Hashem. When we do good, we invite Hashem into our lives and begin to reconnect to the inherent good in each and every one of us.

“Our souls are so great that we seek to affect all of existence,” Rav Kook writes. “Our morality desires to care for all creatures, for all of existence. And therefore, this desire must be actualized through the words drawn from the Master of all existence” (Orot HaKodesh 3, p. 3)[1]

In Judaism, the good that Hashem entrusts us to bring into the world is not limited to humans, but as Rav Kook says, “we seek to affect all of existence.” Living mitzvot and Hashem’s word allows us to perform a good that extends to the grandest and minutest things we can imagine. Our words, thoughts, and actions are of infinite importance, and when we commit ourselves to actualize this good in the world, we experience the greatest reward of all: living a good life.

[1] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 117

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying International and Global Affairs at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, specifically on the weekly parsha.
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