S'char Mitzvah B'hai Almo Leko
We know that Hashem went 'out of His way' to reveal to Avraham his great reward: "S'chorcha harbei me'od." Rashi tells us that part of the reason He did that was because Avrohom Avinu assumed that he had depleted his merits because of certain special favors that G-d had done for him. Nothing indicates that he was upset about it - it was just his assumption. He asked nothing from Hashem, said nothing here like "bamoh eida ki iroshena?" Avrohom Avinu was obviously not in need of this information and G-d didn't 'have' to tell him the truth. It stands to reason that the tzaddik was not about to go "off the Derech" about the using up of all his S'char, nor that he was likely to serve G-d less - or more - because of the (mistaken) assumption that he was 'working for free'. Agreed? So I can only believe that this extra information was given to him out of tremendous love - to give him some really great news to be very happy about. And we see that Hashem does many such favors for His tzaddikim, for "Sod Hashem lirei'ov ubriso l'hodiyam."
One of the things I learn from thinking about this episode with Avrohom Avinu is that a Jew's proper path is to avoid wearying oneself with the analysis or conjecture of how much reward he deserves or doesn't deserve/awaits him or does not await him after death. We are not prophets like Avrohom Avinu was, and Hashem doesn't ever inform us about S'char, anyway. But are we -chas v'shalom- handicapped without that 'essential information'? What would Avrohom Avinu tell us about that? I believe he would smile, pat us on our backs, and suggest that we mind our own business. I think we are far better off without that info. And I believe that this is one reason that Olam Haboh is not mentioned explicitly anywhere in the Torah. Our focus is obviously supposed to be on just being good, and things work best that way. "Tomim tihyeh im Hashem Elokecha" means "stop the analysis and just trust Him". S'char-assessment isn't a thing that any of us have the arrogance to believe we have any full grasp or understanding of, correct? Don't kid yourself: analysis of such a thing is not just 'innocent analysis'. Rather, it is subtle fantasy to manage and control it. A lack of proper vulnerability to G-d's judgment of how to run the show. Pretending that we can really pull the strings is not Tomim Tihyeh, at all.
And that's a very, very basic and pertinent issue in the entire relationship a Jew has with G-d. Just look at the Akeidah and see the greatest example of how Avrohom Avinu himself had that innocence and lack-of-need to figure G-d's business out! If a S'char-analyzing Jew were to get any such instruction from G-d Himself, he'd manage it to irrelevance, for sure. He'd never even make it out the door! This is clear. What have we become? We've grown far too smart for our own good.
Another thing I learn from it is that even a great man like Avrohom Avinu is pretty bad at figuring out our 'reward level'. He was wrong about it, wasn't he? So where do people like us come off getting serious at all about figuring it out? A fair question, I think. Do any of us seriously think we could fathom how G-d measures out the S'char appropriate for any deed? The answer must be, "yes we absolutely do!" if we see ourselves trying to adjust and manage it. It's a touch delusional, no? Scary, actually. Like the classic argument about knowing how many angels can actually dance on the head of a pin. Should people have such discussions? Do you see what's really going on here? When Hashem rises from the Kisei Din to sit on to the Kisei Rachamim - we'd rush to steal His chair and sit on the Kisei Din, ourselves! Dayeinu. Surely reality is complicated enough for us to focus on that we don't need such distractions from it.
No, really. Controlling G-d is whatseond-guessing S'char is all about. It's seeing Tefillah in a different way: manipulating G-d to do my will. It's very different than A"A (Avrohom Avinu) - and very different than AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), too. Sober AA's know plenty about surrender to G-d and leave His business to Him.
Understanding this can be a precious key to releasing a giant fear-monster that lurks in the closets of many religious people: a subtle but pervasive mistrust of Hashem. I see this entire topic of S'char as an issue of "Tomim Tihyeh". If we can't even manage to be Tomim and trusting of Him in the matter of how well He pays us, then what hope is there that we are gonna be trusting and Tomim with Him about anything, really? My G-d, what's going on here? If we don't loosen our grasp on the things that are clearly His business to manage, and we can't securely place them in His hands, then surely we aren't placing our lives, here-and-now, in His hands. It's a 'Gilui Milsa'. When our Bitachon-talk regarding our lives in this world becomes just a very nice speech, it's a pity.
We tend to turn religion on its head by distracting ourselves from the matters that really are in our hands (our choices and Avodah). It's more comfortable to think - no, to worry - about other things. These questions of S'char (and others like them) are gnawing at many of us. They demonstrate that we are still trying to bargain with G-d right now. Do you hear me?
Now, I do care a great deal about my future in the World to come, and I also take responsibility for my behavior. But I look at the insecurity and mistrust that worry of this kind gives rise to in my own heart, and the nuttiness of it. It's just arrogant. And I avoid analyzing any details about how much or how little S'char I'm gonna get after I die. I focus instead on trusting my
G-d to always do what's best. I can't see any problem with that.
Finally, we see that many tzaddikim would give away all the S'char for a mitzvah as a preparation for doing it. "Ich shik't arein dem S'char," one famous one would say. There are stories of both the BeSh"t and the Gr"a doing this. I do not believe that they did this because of any extremely high spiritual level, but rather because of good sense. In theory, discussion about S'char can be 'Talmud Torah' - but it carries with it a great weight of anxiety that is better off dropped and left for G-d to sort out without any 'help' from us.
Why not trust Him in this, at least?
Have a great Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah!