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Parshat Bechukotai

By: Aviva Mansbach

This week's parsha opens with the words: "Im Bechukotai taleychu…If you follow my laws and guard my mitzvoth, I will give you rain and land and trees and field I'll give you."

The promise of rain and trees raises a question: Why does Hashem feel the need to bribe the Jewish people in order for them to follow His commandments? Why can't it just be that we do it because He says so? In an article titled A Rewarding World, Rabbi Asher Brander presents two answers to this question.

The first approach he offers is simply that Hashem created us, and He knows our nature. We often do things that we know will benefit us in the end. So to help us make the right decision about doing His commandments, He "bribed" us with reward. Like a dolphin jumping through hoops. The dolphin does it because he knows that he will get a reward for doing it.

There is a second idea, however. The reason for the reward is not simply to push us into doing the right thing. Rather it is so "we feel like partners with Hashem, not employees." Rabbi Brander presents a simple parallel. When a parent tells a child to clean his or her room, the parent might "even throw in a prize for listening." Of course, it is not that the child can refuse the prize and decide not to clean—"The child really doesn't have a choice in the matter." Why the prize then? The answer is so child doesn't feel uninvolved. Rather, the child will feel invested in the outcome.

These two very different approaches highlight two very different perspectives on our relationship with Hashem. On the one hand, the first approach suggests that we are doing something that Hashem wants us to do in order to get the reward. We are not involved. Hashem is just giving us a push. The second is saying the opposite: that we are involved and that we act as partners with Hashem.

Even though both sides are very different they both reflect something that is correct. Yes, it is true that Hashem controls everything, and does not need our help or consent, however he created a world and made us His partners in bringing Kedusha to the world.