Today is February 23, 2019 -
God Does Not Want Us to Be Like Mice in a Skinner Box
This week in the Torah portion God says: “My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws; I am the Lord your God. You shall keep my laws and My rules…I am the Lord.” (Lev. 18:3-5) No reward for the observance of these rules is mentioned. Does God have incentives for obeying the mitzvot? Here is one suggestion from the Midrash, “The Holy One, blessed be He did not disclose to Israel the rewards of the precepts in the Torah. Had he done so, they would have seen which precept came with a large reward and would have kept it, and which precept came with a small reward, and they would not have kept it. The end result would have been that part of the Torah would have been revoked.” (Pesikta Rabbati 23) The Midrash points out what we all know. We are more likely to change our behavior if we receive positive reinforcement like mice in a Skinner box who will push a lever to obtain their food. What if we received a $10. gift card to Amazon.com or iTunes each time we followed a Divine command? Can you imagine what the morning minyan would be like with so many people attending and hurrying home to download their favorite songs? Ben Azzai says in, The Ethics of the Fathers, Perkei Avot (4:2), “S’car mitzvah, mitzvah – The reward of a mitzvah is [simply and ultimately just the] mitzvah [itself].” That reminds us that there is no immediate reward for observing the commandments. Following them connects us to God, our traditions, our inner self and the Jewish people. I hope that is a sufficient reward.