Sunday, June 21, 2009

The values assigned to good deeds

The king and the orchard maschal or parable explains why the king did not tells his workers the worth of each tree cultivated.Had we known the worth of each good deed we perform this would view mitzvah observance as the opportunity to earn reward alone and nullify the purpose for practicing the mitzvos, that of self-perfection spiritually. Note Makkos 23b of the Talmud and the 248 positive mitzvos.The self denial of true perfection which consists in doing a variety of tasks and experiences which constitutes perfection makes reasonable sense,each mitzvah in its own unique way.

The commentators quote a Midrash which explains by way of parable: A king
had a large orchard surrounding his palace. He asked his workers to tend his
orchard, and he did not tell them the worth of each tree and the wages they
would receive for tending each. The result was that all the fruit trees were
cultivated and flourished, and the palace grounds became a tapestry of beauty.
Had, however, the king told his workers the value of each tree, only the most
valuable would have been cared for. The palace grounds would have become filled
with exotic and magnificent trees, but would have lacked the harmony and
variegated beauty of a truly breathtaking landscape.
This, explain the
commentators, was G-d's intention as well. Had we been apprised of the relative
worth of each mitzvah, we would have focused on the most lucrative alone -- to
the neglect of many other worthy deeds. We would have begun to see mitzvah
observance as an opportunity to earn reward alone -- almost as if "reward" were
some kind of
currency we accrue, to be "traded in" when we arrive in the World
to Come.
This, however, is not the true concept of mitzvah observance. The
mitzvos were not given to us in order to earn us reward or free mileage. They
are to perfect ourselves, to make ourselves "whole" ("shalaim") in the
terminology of Jewish thinkers. By performing all the mitzvos, we become whole
and perfected human beings.
The Talmud tells us that the Torah contains 248
positive mitzvos corresponding to the 248 limbs of a person's body (Makkos 23b).
(The remaining 365 (out of 613) are negative commandments; correspond to the
days of the year.) The message is that each mitzvah perfects our spiritual
bodies and our characters in its own unique way.
Had we focused on a few mitzvos
-- even theoretically very important ones -- we would have denied ourselves the
true perfection which must be our aspiration.

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