In the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Pinchos, Pinchos is recognized for his bravery in taking a stand for the Name of God and putting a stop to a shameful act a prominent figure was pursuing publicly. Rashi tells us that this recognition came to counter the public reaction following the incident. Instead of people applauding him for his courageous act, he was being ridiculed for starting up with such an important person.
This seems to be unfair. Pinchos extended himself for the sake of sanctifying the Name of Heaven, and in return, he received criticism from the public. The Chasam Sofer says that the reaction the people had was actually for Pinchos’s benefit. Because if a person derives pleasure from public recognition for his deeds, this can drastically reduce the reward he will receive from Heaven. (The Chasam Sofer bases this concept on a passage of Avos Drabbi Nosson, chapter 38, which relates how a great person can receive retribution for a slight feeling of haughtiness induced by lecturing to a large crowd.)
With this, the Chasam Sofer explains what the Medrash means when the Medrash comments (Bamidbar Rabboh 21:1) on these verses and says, “God said, ‘It is rightful that he should receive his reward.'” Because of the antagonism he suffered, he did not lose any portion of his merit by means of enjoying honor for his deed, and he was therefore deemed fully worthy of his reward from Heaven.
This concept presents a new outlook. Performing Mitzvos (good deeds) with a lack of recognition from others is the best thing for us. In fact, the Chovos Halevavos (Sha’ar Habitachon, chapter 4) advises a person to deliberately be discreet about his good deeds so that the reward should be greater.
When my uncle passed away, my aunt approached the director of the local day-school in Philadelphia to propose an initiative to start a scholarship fund for students whose parents could not afford tuition. “This is not entirely a new initiative,” said Mrs. Katz, the director. “You’ve been doing this sort of thing for a while. Years ago, your husband already approached me out of concern for kids who might be turned away because their parents could not afford tuition.” As it turned out, he would discreetly cover the tuition for these children and have Mrs. Katz inform the families that they were simply awarded scholarships. Not only was there no fanfare involved, but other than Mrs. Katz, no one had any idea that many children received a Jewish education only due to Avi Strimber’s covert sponsorship. Tuition expenses are not cheap. But yet, not only were the recipients unaware of the generosity of their benefactor, even his own wife had no inkling about his ongoing sponsorship project!
Often, we crave recognition for our deeds, and when the recognition is slow in forthcoming, we feel disappointed. In some cases, instead of praise, we are even criticized by people who lack appreciation for the fact that we extended ourselves to accomplish what we did, as happened to Pinchos.
When this happens, we might start thinking, “Why did I bother doing this in the first place?” This is a big mistake. In truth, doing a good act devoid of recognition is in our best interest. If we receive undue criticism instead of positive acknowledgement for our deed, it may be God’s way of preserving our true reward for our accomplishment. Instead of agonizing over insufficient appreciation from others, we should work on appreciating the value of deeds which are devoid of recognition. It would be a wise idea to consciously look for ways of intentionally keeping some of our good deeds concealed from everyone else. Doing a Mitzvah which absolutely no one knows about other than yourself would make good practice for internalizing this principle and training yourself to refrain from seeking out acknowledgement from others for your actions. Once you’re doing a Mitzvah, you might as well opt to ‘get the most for your money’ by concealing it from the public as much as possible.
Parshas Pinchos by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (email@example.com)