How Righteous People Think

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Vaueschanan’s first Rashi (Deut. 3:23) says that the righteous people wish to avoid God’s kindness based on their merits, but they seek God’s kindness as a “free gift.” Why do righteous people avoid receiving benefit due to their righteousness?

Righteous people perform righteousness because it is proper, and for no other reason. If their righteousness was compelled by an ulterior motive, they were in fact not truly righteous. By definition, true righteousness is performed because the person values doing good. He seeks nothing in return. It is distasteful to a righteous person seek to “collect” on his merits. This demeans his actions and he would never think this way. Similarly, when the righteous person studies Torah, he or she does not seek something in return, but his studies themselves are all he seeks, and are all he values. This is called learning “Lishma,” for the sake of learning alone, and for no other motive. So too, his righteousness is performed without other motives. Therefore, the righteous person does not ask God for reward for his merits, but seeks God’s goodness as a free gift. In fact, he seeks God’s free gift as this is how God acts: God is just like the righteous person, a God who does good because it is good: “I will show grace unto him to whom I will show grace”  (Exod. 33:19).