Giving for the Sake of Giving
Shmot (Exodus 1:1-6:1 )
"God benefited the midwives - and the people increased and became very strong. And it was because the midwives feared God that He made them houses." (1)
Yocheved and Miriam risked their lives to save Jewish baby boys from being murdered by the Egyptians. God rewarded them by making them 'houses' - Rashi explains that they merited to be the mothers of the lines of Kohanim (Priests), Leviim and Kings. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein asks: if their main reward was these 'houses,' why does the clause, "and the people increased and became very strong" interrupt the description of their reward? Since the 'houses' were the benefit described, it would seem that they should follow immediately afterwards, and the verse should have said, "God benefited the midwives and made them houses."
He answers that their main reward was not the houses but rather the increase of the people, since their true desire and joy was the expansion of the Jewish population. Consequently after the verse states that God benefited them, it immediately mentions the resultant expansion of the Jewish people; that was their main reward, the houses were merely a secondary bonus for their great fear of God.(2)
There can be a number of different reasons why a person performs an act of kindness. It may be because he knows it is a mitzvah to do kindness; it may be because he owes this person a favor, or it may be due to numerous other possible factors. We can learn from Rabbi Feinstein's explanation that the main intention we should have when we help someone (as well as the general intent to do a mitzvah) is that they benefit from our action. Yocheved and Miriam did not care about what reward they would receive for saving Jewish lives; they merely wanted the lives to be saved. God rewarded them by enabling their actions to succeed and the Jewish people grew as a result.
Yocheved's son, Moses, inherited this same dedication to others. He saw the suffering of his people and risked his life to help them. He persuaded Pharaoh to give them a rest day so that they could observe Shabbos and he showed great concern for the sheep in his flock. It was in the merit of these actions that God spoke to him at the Burning Bush and made him leader of the Jewish people. He wanted nothing more than to release them from the crushing slavery in Egypt, and his reward was that he merited to be the one to take them out.
This lesson is relevant in many areas of our lives, but perhaps is most important with regard to our careers. Many people are fortunate to be involved in a job which involves helping others. However, it is quite easy to focus primarily on the money that they receive for providing their service. Rabbi Avraham Pam was once being treated by a dentist and he remarked at how much this dentist helped people in his profession. The dentist replied that this was a nice side-benefit to his job, implying that the main reason that he did it was to earn a living. Rabbi Pam replied that actually the money he earned was the side benefit but the main purpose should be to help people have healthy teeth.
We know that the ultimate reward for Yocheved and Miriam would be in the Next World - the consequence of their pure motives. If a person performs acts of kindness with such motivations then he can assure himself of ample benefit in the Next World. The Atler of Slobodka once noted the self-sacrifice of bakers - in that time the baker would rise very early in the morning in order to provide bread for the community. They were performing an incredible act of kindness by getting up so early in order that people would have this vital commodity. However, he commented that if the baker is doing it solely in order to earn a livelihood then he is losing his main source of reward in the Next World. Performing acts of kindness is a great thing and merits great reward, but let us not lose focus of what our intention should be - to help others. The side benefits will come, but improving the lives of our fellow Jew is ample reward in and of itself.
1. Shemos, 1:20-21.
2. Darash Moshe, Parsha Shemos.