Performance reviews are a familiar concept to those who work for medium or large companies. Every year, employees undergo evaluations to assess their performance. However, in today’s diverse work environment, where remote work is prevalent alongside traditional office settings, it is essential to reconsider how we evaluate performance. The danger lies in biases and skewed evaluations, where individuals in the office may receive higher scores simply because they have more face time with their superiors.
At first glance, Parshat Bechukotai seems like a performance review. If we observe the Torah, we merit prosperity, peace, and flourishing in Eretz Yisrael, and if we don’t follow the Torah, G-d forbid, the opposite is true.
One of the famous difficulties puzzled by some of the greatest Rabbis through history, like Rambam, Maharsha, & Ohr Hachaim, is how we are supposed to understand this parsha in light of the conclusion of the Talmud Kiddushin 39b, שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא – There is no reward in this world, the reward for mitzvot is in Olam Haba (the world to come). How do we reconcile these seemingly contrasting ideas?
Rambam offers a profound insight in Hilchot Taaniyot (1:3), referencing the curses in this week’s parsha, he suggests that if a person in a time of national tragedy writes it off as “merely a natural phenomenon and this difficulty is merely a chance occurrence, this is a cruel conception of things, which causes them to remain attached to their wicked deeds.” they adopt a callous outlook that prevents them from examining their own behaviour.
While it is true that we cannot directly attribute specific events to rewards or consequences for our actions, each experience serves as an opportunity for introspection and personal growth. In the name of Rabbi Soloveitchik, I once heard that the appropriate response in challenging times is not to ask Lamah (why) but Lemah (for what). Rather than focusing on the cause of events, we should reflect on what we can learn from them to improve ourselves.
The events in our lives that seemingly align with blessings or curses are not definitive performance reviews. We should not interpret them as indications of our inherent goodness or shortcomings. Instead, they serve as calls for a Cheshbon hanefesh, a personal performance review. Rambam tells us that we must do this when we experience a crisis, but on the flip side, when something good happens in our lives, it is also an opportunity to go through the same exercise. Regular self-performance reviews can put us on a path of growth and resilience so that we constantly improve through good times and challenging times. Our experiences are not performance evaluations but opportunities for introspection, learning, and growth on our path to becoming better versions of ourselves.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay