Reward for the Commands
Rabbi Bernard Fox

Reader: Rabbi Fox, Deut, 8-18: "When You build a house you should make a fence for your roof." You wrote
in the article that "No material reward is received for doing commandments." How about the Shema where we are promised if we follow the mitzvoth we will receive rain in its proper time and wheat and wine, etc. Isn't this all part of reward and punishment? I'm sure you know the Shema better than I do. Can you please respond?
Rabbi Fox: Maimonides deals with precisely this question in chapter 9 of Hilchot Teshuva. He expresses the question almost exactly as you have. He explains that although these promises are made by the Torah, they are not intended to represent the reward for observing mitzvot or the punishment for disregarding the Torah. Instead, Hashem promises us that if we devote ourselves to the observance of the commandments, then all of the material impediments and distractions that could get in the way of observance will be removed. Conversely, if we disregard the commandments, then we will be deprived of the material blessings that we misused. I hope this is helpful.
Reader: Thank you for your response. However don’t we have a concept of reward and punishment in this world which is the physical? Is this just the Rambam's position or do we have other Rabbis who hold this way. Even in last weeks Parsha we have Kan Tzipor (driving away the mother bird before taking her eggs) with the reward of a long life. We obviously have it also by honoring thy father and mother. A long life to me in this world sounds to me like the physical. We also have a rule of "Mitoch shelo lishma bo lishma" (although one does not start Torah observance for its own sake, he eventually gets there.) It is a lower level, but isn’t this statement referring to reward of the physical? Please explain.
Rabbi Fox: It is difficult to assert that no one maintains that there is reward in this world. Even an extensive search of the literature would not preclude the possibility that some authority maintains otherwise. Rambam dealt with the issue extensively and comprehensively. So, he is a useful source for clarifying these issues.

The Talmud does state in Kiddushin 39b and other places that there is no reward for mitzvot in this world.

You are correct in noting that there are passages in the Torah that seem to contradict this thesis. You mention two passages that make the identical promise - long life and a good life. Our Sages interpreted the promise of a long life as a reference to the world to come. However, the promise of a good life is understood as a promise in regard to this world. In addition, the first mishne in Tractate Pe'ah tells us that there mitzvot in which a person "eats the fruits" of these mitzvot in this world and "the principle reward" is preserved for the world to come. This implies that there is a reward in this world.

Rambam discusses this apparent contradiction in his commentary on the mishne in Pe'ah. How can the mishne assert that there is a reward in this world in contradiction to the assertions in the Talmud that there is no reward for mitzvot in this world?

Rambam responds that all mitzvot can be divided into two categories - those between man and his Creator and those between man and his fellow man. Based on this distinction, he responds that although Hashem does not reward us in this world, we do accrue a benefit in this world through observing mitzvot between man and his fellow man. We build a just and compassionate society. We benefit by improving the society that we live in.

Rambam would probably argue that this answer is reflected in the wording of the mishne. Fruit is a product. The observance of the mitzvah has a product. We benefit in this world from the society we have helped to build. The principal or fundamental reward refers to the reward in the world to come.

You may wonder how Rambam accounts for the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird. This does not seem to be a mitzvah between man and his fellow man. However, in the Guide for the Perplexed, he explains that this mitzvah encourages compassion. So, he can easily apply his reasoning to this mitzvah. By developing compassion within human beings, all of humanity is benefited in this world. But this is not a reward providentially provided by Hashem.

I hope this is helpful.

Reader: Thank you very much.You are teriffi! I did look over the Rambam in Teshuva Chapter 7,1. It was a real eye opener. I will also go over the sources you listed below. Thanks again.
Howard Salamon