In Torah portion Eikev, Moses continues the greatest speech ever given: his farewell address to the Jewish people, including a recap of many of the laws and instructions from earlier in the Torah. Eikev contains the second paragraph of the Shema, the central prayer of Judaism, which describes the great rewards for keeping God’s laws.
The belief that God rewards good behavior and punishes wickedness is a central tenet of Jewish faith. However, our Sages urge us to be “like a servant who serves his master not for the sake of reward” (Pirkei Avot, 1:3). Within Jewish holy texts, there is a paradoxical combination of verses which promise reward for obedience, and others that depict reward as shallow and beside the point.
So which is it? Should we follow God’s commandments for the sake of reward, or simply for the sake of serving God? Rabbi Baruch Epstein, following Hasidic teachings, explains that we have it backwards. We think about reward in terms of what it gets us. But Rabbi Epstein suggests that maybe the primary purpose of reward us is that it makes God happy to do so, just as a parent enjoys rewarding children for their growth and good deeds. In return, it should make us happy to give God pleasure.
May we all be blessed to enjoy that reward every day!