Does a moral life equal good fortune? Do things always go right for you if you're a "religious" person?

Behold I give you this day a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you will hearken to the commandments of the L-rd your G‑d... And the curse: if you do not obey and you stray from the path that I command you today to follow the gods of others...

Do you identify with these words from the opening verses of this week's parshah? Are all righteous people blessed and all godless people cursed? Does it really work that way in the real world?

The truth is, the Talmud states categorically, "The reward for mitzvahs is not in this world at all." Ultimate accountability is reserved for the world to come. What, then, is the Torah telling us here?

Well, one answer is that it is teaching us that living a G‑dly life is itself a blessing. And that leading a life where G‑d's value system is irrelevant is in itself a curse. Virtue is its own reward and "the reward for a mitzvah is in the mitzvah itself."

Perhaps there was a time when we needed faith to believe this. Today, I honestly think it is self-evident. In our generation, we see empirically that a life dedicated to Torah values is blessed and, sadly, other lifestyles bring the opposite of blessing in their wake.

Let's examine a few areas in society today and see if we can discern some truth in these verses.

Divorce: It is now some time since the Jewish community has attained parity with the rest of the world in the divorce statistics. We, too, have passed the one-out-of-three rate, and now virtually every other marriage is ending in divorce.

However, if we look at the Torah-observant community, while there are indeed more divorces now than ever before, the rate is still below 10%. Cynics may argue that it is because among religious people there still exists a certain stigma and therefore a reluctance to divorce, so that many people remain in unhappy marriages. This may be true, to an extent, but I am convinced that there are many positive factors contributing to the higher marriage success rate among observant couples. To name a few: Religious people share common values and aspirations. Many of the things others argue about are not issues of difference among observant individuals. Religious people are far from perfect but, statistically, they are more faithful to their spouses than non-religious people. Shalom bayit (a harmonious home life) is a religious imperative; a happy family life is a social necessity in religious communities. Then there are mitzvahs which help in tangible ways. Keeping Shabbat is one mitzvah that fosters family time and togetherness in ways that would have necessitated heroic efforts to achieve otherwise. And, of course, the mikveh is a mitzvah that directly impacts on marriages, enhancing the intimate relationship immeasurably.

Violent Crime: First the bad news: unfortunately it is not unheard of for Jews to have been involved in white-collar crime. Fraud and embezzlement are not things we are proud of. Furthermore, today, even violent crimes are being perpetrated by Jewish people in a way that was always foreign to our people. Road rage now happens in Israel on a regular basis. And there have been some highly publicized cases of Jew on Jew violence in the United States.

But in the religious community, while white-collar crime is unfortunately not unknown, violent crime is a rarity. In fact, when Yigal Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, it sent such shockwaves across the world not only because he was a Jew but precisely because he was a kippah-wearing Jew!

Dennis Prager poses an interesting hypothetical question: If you were walking down a dark alley one night and saw three burly young men wearing leather jackets, sunglasses and chains around their necks you would no doubt be petrified, right? Now what if you were told that these young men had just come from a Bible class. Would you be alarmed or relieved?

Perhaps in other faiths, religious fundamentalism breeds violence. With Jews it is the opposite. (OK, I did hear of a case where a fellow in shul who didn't get an aliyah punched up the gabbai! But you must admit, that is an exception.)

Social Ills: While alcoholism, drug abuse and AIDS are not entirely unheard of, they are certainly the exception in religious circles. In the wider community, these scourges of our generation are affecting Jews in large numbers. We are, after all, totally integrated into the fabric of our society. Our degree of susceptibility depends almost entirely on the choices we make in schools and social environments.

Please don't think me smug and condescending when I go on like this about the superiority of the Torah observant lifestyle. Obviously, there are no guarantees. Every individual faces the same challenges and choices in life. Tragic choices, G‑d forbid, can be made by anyone, anywhere. If we are objective, though, we cannot dismiss the tangible evidence that our parshah does have a point: that the G‑dly way of life is not only a pathway to paradise in the hereafter, but is itself a blessing for us in the here and now.

If we want the blessings of this world for our families and ourselves, we should seriously consider a Torah lifestyle. The choice is ours.