Maybe my wife is more spiritual than I am, but she’s always encouraging me to be observant because of the World to Come, whereas I say that if I’m going to do something it’s because it will benefit us in the here and now. Would you please help clarify this for us?
In a way, you’re both right; but also both wrong. You’re both right because the Torah lifestyle is beneficial for a person both in this world and the next. But you both could improve on your concept as to why we do so. Ideally, it’s not for the benefit or reward in either, but rather we observe the Torah because it’s G‑d’s will that we do so.
There’s nothing wrong with being aware of the benefits and beauty of the Torah’s teachings and instructions in both the material and spiritual planes, and each of you should perhaps work on a more balanced appreciation of that, but the motivation behind it all should really be more about doing things for G‑d.
Your question reminds me of a story:
A man of very little means once came to the tzadik Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshil from Apta, explaining that he had no money to marry off his daughter. The rabbi asked how much he needs and how much he has. He answered that he needs 1000 rubles and has only one. The rabbi, gazing afar, thought for a minute and then told the man to return to his hometown and that all would be well, instructing him to take advantage of the first business opportunity that comes his way.
On the way home, he stopped in a tavern where there were Jewish gem dealers examining their wares at one of the tables. Curious to see such wealth, the man stood by and gasped at the beauty and value of the stones. Seeing the poor man, one of the merchants mockingly asked if he’d like to do some business. Overcoming his obvious inclination to decline by recalling the rabbi’s words, he replied, “Yes”.
With great delight, the scoffer jeered, “And just how much money do you have for the deal?” “One ruble”, he replied. At which the dealers broke out in uncontrollable laughter. The leader of the group then asserted with feigned seriousness, “You know what, I have a deal for you. I’ll sell you my portion in the world to come for your ruble”. To his astonishment, the poor man agreed, and with the cynical support of his friends, they wrote out a bill of sale which they signed with witnesses.
After a time, the gem dealer’s wife came in the tavern, and eager to let her in on the joke, he told her the whole story, accompanied by the merriment of all – except for that of his wife. “Do you mean to say that you forwent the only good thing that you have, no matter how small that portion may be? I refuse to be married to such a wicked person with no place in the world to come!” And with that she stormed out of the tavern declaring her desire to divorce.
It suddenly dawned on him what a predicament he was in, and now the jeers of the tavern were directed toward him. Realizing he had no other option, he approached the poor man requesting to tear up the “worthless” document. But the man insisted that the bill of sale was binding. The dealer then offered to buy back his world to come, first at a ridiculously low price, until he agreed to pay the pauper’s demand of 1000 rubles, which he explained he needed to marry off his poor daughter. When the merchant’s wife heard that her husband paid such a handsome sum for his word to come while also enabling a poor Jewish maiden to wed, she withdrew her intention to divorce.
After hearing about the rabbi’s role in this odd chain of events, she traveled to him in order to meet first hand the person who orchestrated this great thing. Once there, she asked the rabbi, “Was my husband’s world to come really worth so much that it generated 1000 rubles dowry for a poor Jewish girl?” To which the rabbi replied, “When he sold it, it wasn’t even worth the poor man’s ruble; but when he bought it back, it became worth even more than the 1000 rubles he paid!”