June 28, 2012
Parashat Chukat: No act of kindness goes unrewarded
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra, my sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, and Shifra bat Chaim Alter, the refuah shlaimah of Yosef Shmuel ben Miriam, Yehonatan Binyamin Halevy ben Golda Friedel, and Moshe Reuven ben Chaya, and in honor of the joyous birth of a baby girl to my children, Devorah and Zevie Burger.
We are all familiar with the popular sardonic quote: “No good deed goes unpunished.” It has been attributed to several well-known individuals including the British playwright, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), the American banker and philanthropist, Andrew Mellon (1855-1937), and the Academy Award winning Jewish Austro-Hungarian born American filmmaker, artist, and journalist, Billy Wilder (1906-2002). In essence this wry quote means that no mater how positively envisioned, a would-be good deed will more often than not have negative ramificaJudaism, however, takes a decidedly different stance to even positive thoughts, let alone the performance of actual exemplary deeds:
The Holy One Blessed be He accounts positive thoughts (machshava tovah) as if they had achieved complete fruition (Tosefta, Masechet Peah, Lieberman ed., I:4)
Positive thoughts are combined with actual actions [thereby enhancing the depth and meaning of the action] (Talmud Yerushalmi, Peah, Chapter I)
Good intention is combined with deed, for it is said: “Then they that feared the L-rd spoke one with another: and the L-rd hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that feared the L-rd, and that thought upon His name.” [Sefer Malachi 3:16] Now, what is the meaning of “that thought upon His name?” — Said R. Assi: “Even if one [merely] thinks of performing a commandment but is forcibly prevented [from doing so,] the Torah ascribes it to him as though he has performed it.” (Talmud Bavli, Kiddushin 40a, translation, Soncino Talmud, with my emendations)