Some people fulfill mitzvot because they want to go to Heaven. Nothing wrong with that. Heaven is a nice place. A worthy ambition. Others perform mitzvot because they believe it will elevate their soul, refine their character. Nothing wrong with that, either.
But while character refinement or getting to Heaven are fine motivations for doing mitzvot, they aren’t the real reason for doing them. A mitzvah, a commandment, is an expression of the Divine will. And when we do a mitzvah, bottom line – we are fulfilling G-d’s will. We may derive some side benefit from it – Heaven, perhaps, or character elevation – but we do mitzvot because they’re what G-d wants. Not for what we can get out of o.
From where do we learn this lesson? From a mountain.
The Torah was given on Mount Sinai. The Midrah relates that various mountains competed for the privilege of being the site of Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah. Each mountain boasted its superior features – its height, its width, its stunning snow caps. But G-d chose to give the Torah on Mount Sinai, a humble mountain with no special features.
With this choice, G-d wished to demonstrate that the Torah was not given on a particular mountain because of its qualities. In fact, these qualities were actually what disqualified the other mountains from receiving the honor. The Torah was given on Sinai because it had no special features – nothing to override the mere privilege of being the site of Matan Torah.
And the lesson we learn is that the mitzvot we perform must be for the sake of G-d alone, without mixing in any extrinsic factors. We do mitzvot to fulfill the will of G-d. Not to get to Heaven. Not to become great and pure and elevated. Not to receive any reward whatsoever, physical or spiritual.
Mount Sinai was a fitting location for receiving the Torah because its identity was completely subsumed to its main function. If it had outstanding features, we would remember the mountain for those features and not for the fact that the Torah was given on it. G-d wanted no external distractions. Just the mountain, the Jewish people, and the Torah.
True, many mitzvot do incidentally lead to elevation of soul, to a rewarding life in this world and the next. But these rewards must never be the focus of our mitzvah observance. At the forefront is our relationship with G-d, which we develop through fulfilling His commandments. Everything else is secondary.
Today when we perform mitzvot, it often feels one-sided. We do the act but we do not see or sense the spiritual impact of our deeds. That will soon change. When Moshiach comes, the cumulative impact of our deeds will finally be felt in the world at large. We will awaken to a world refined, made G-dly, made brilliant through the mitzvot that we did, all while we hardly noticed the effect we were having. Now is the time for action; later, in the time of Geulah, we will see the results of our actions.