Question: There are certain individuals who are not necessarily Torah and Mitzvot observant, however, they are good people. Is there any value to their good heart when they do not observe the Torah and Mitzvot?
Answer: The root of this question lies in the fact that as we know, we are commanded to fulfill many Mitzvot, both positive and negative, by the Torah and from the words of our Sages. There are those individuals whose heart sways them to perform good deeds but they are not doing so because the Torah commands us to act in a decent and upstanding manner; rather, they do so because they personally see fit to act kindly and with honesty and integrity. The question is: Do they receive reward for such behavior or not.
The great Rambam (Chapter 8 of Hilchot Melachim) writes that non-Jews must observe the Seven Noachide Laws that all non-Jews are obligated to keep by Torah law. He concludes this law, as follows: “Any [non-Jew] who accepts the Seven Noachide Laws and is careful to observe them is considered a pious non-Jew and has a share in the World to Come. Nevertheless, this only applies when one accepts and observes these commandments because Hashem commanded them to do so in His Torah. However, if one performs them because of one’s individual understanding, such an individual is not considered a ‘permanent resident’ and is not considered a pious non-Jew.”
It seems from the words of the Rambam that good deeds performed by an individual have no value when they are not being done as a direct result of Hashem’s divine command.
This is especially noteworthy when we find great nations of the world who have followed etiquette and codes of conduct accepted by society and not necessarily by those divine codes of conduct prescribed by Hashem in his holy Torah and then such cultured and well-mannered nations become the most cruel and vicious among nations. For instance, after hundreds of years of notable culture, the Germans committed terrible atrocities to our nation for many years. Similarly, the French who, for centuries, were known for their etiquette and manners acted wickedly toward the Jewish nation when they chased them out of their homes several times and had them relocate to other places as well as massacring the Jewish nations throughout several blood libels. We find this among other nations as well in that sometimes, they act with kindness and justice based on understood social values, however, they eventually treat one another with great cruelty. On the other hand, the way of the Jewish nation is to behave according to the Torah’s true rules of conduct at all times from which they cannot veer right or left and thus, they have always remained merciful people sons of merciful people.
Nevertheless, we must be cognizant of the fact that there are many people who are not meticulous with regards to Torah observance but have belief of Hashem in their heart and as a result, they try to behave with integrity since they realize that Hashem wishes that people act nicely and civilly, such people will certainly receive reward for this behavior. This is especially true regarding a multitude of Jews who did not merit receiving a Torah education but nevertheless try to live their lives as fine, upstanding people because they believe in the existence of Hashem who will certainly receive reward for their actions, as the verse states, “Do good, Hashem, to the good and to those straight of heart.”
Furthermore, the Ramban (in his Sefer Sha’ar Ha’Gemul, page 290) writes that there are individuals who deny the existence of Hashem and yet they live long lives and enjoy their stay in this world. The Ramban asks: One who denies the existence of Hashem deserves no reward whatsoever! If so, why should such a person enjoy this world? The Ramban answers: “This is not a question, for the way of the Merciful One is to show mercy to one who does good and worthy deeds in this world, even if he has done so with an idolatrous intention. Blessed is the Righteous Judge who does everything in His mercy.”
This means that Hashem’s will for this world is that people treat each other nicely. Thus, if an individual treats people nicely and benefits others, Hashem will repay him for this deed although the individual is not doing so for the sake of Heaven.
Based on this, we understand that it is a sacred obligation for all of us, especially those who follow the Torah’s path always, to be good and decent to others, for Hashem does not want people to treat one another wickedly. If we do so for the sake of Heaven while following the rule “Derech Eretz (fine character and manners) precedes the Torah” because this is the will of Hashem and then supplement such behavior with Torah, Mitzvot, and good deeds, this will certainly aid us in finding favor in the eyes of Hashem and mankind.