Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Grateful for the Good

 A pivotal word that appears six times in chapter 6, verses 10-25 in the Book of Deuteronomy, is “TOV”-טוב-good-in various forms, as a noun and as a verb.
The one reference that struck me as particularly significant was that verse in which “tov” appears three times: 
“Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you and that you may possess the good land that the Lord your God promised on oath to your fathers.”( Deut.6,18)
The commonplace understanding of “good” in this citation and in many passages of the book of the Torah is that good behavior will be rewarded with good results-a good land, prosperity, security and peace.In other words, the classical theme of reward and punishment is again reiterated in this verse.
I would like to interpret the phrase-’do what is right and good....that it may go well (be good) with you’ differently. The Hebrew-למען ייטב לך-translated as ‘that it may go well with you’ could be translated differently to remove the ostensible difficulty in the theology of reward and punishment and provide an important insight into the nature of human moral development. By doing what is good and right, one’s becomes good, if not better than before. The consequence of moral behavior is not necessarily some material reward, but a spiritual benefit of self-improvement. 
What further reinforces this interpretation  is the comment by the JPS Commentary on verse 24 in which the author points out that the Ramban understood the clause-”for our lasting good”-לטוב לנו כל הימים- ‘to refer to the social laws which by their very nature benefit society.” 
While one can argue that the highest good is to do good for its own sake, a further convincing , perhaps pragmatic, argument for the performance of the good in our lives is the result of emerging as the better person which can bring blessing upon oneself and others and not depend on a more primitive wish for some  extraneous reward from a cosmic Power. When we think of the age old conundrum of “why bad things happen to good people” a partial answer resides in the reality that for good to outweigh the bad goodness contributes to the moral stature of each individual so that in the moral universe only the good can happen to the good.