by HaRav Sholom Schwadron, zt'l
The Reward For Mitzvos: A Shmuess For Parshas
At the End of the Road
The medrash (Shemos Rabboh parsha 52:3, on the
posuk [Shemos 39:33]), "And they brought the
Mishkon to Moshe," quotes the posuk, "Her
garments are might and splendor and she laughs on the last
day" (Mishlei 31) and asks, "What is `on the last
day'? All the reward due to tzaddikim is prepared for
them in Olom Habo. This is the what `and she laughs on
the last day' means."
Other midroshim also interpret this posuk. On
the words "might and splendor" one of them explains, "
`Might' only refers to Torah, for their entire reward for
Torah is prepared for them in Olom Habo." And in
another medrash we find, "All the reward for [having
done] mitzvos is prepared for Olom Habo." Our
medrash here, at any rate, is speaking about the
reward of tzaddikim and "the last day" refers to man's
last day in this world.
The medrash relates the story of Rabbi Avohu who, when
he was leaving this world and saw all the bounty that awaited
him in Olom Habo, began to rejoice and say, "All this
is for Avohu! `And I said, `I toiled to waste, I used my
strength for emptiness and vanity. However, my judgment rests
with Hashem and [recompense for] my work, with my G-d.'
(Yeshayoh 49:4)." This, says the medrash, is an
example of, "and she laughs on the last day."
The medrash continues, "Another explanation is, when
does the Torah rejoice? For someone who toils over it to his
last day. Zavdi ben Levi, Rabbi Yossi ben Patrus and Rabbi
Yehoshua ben Levi each cited a posuk when they were
departing from this world. One of them read, `Every pious man
prays to You for this at an opportune time' (Tehillim
32:6), one read, `How great is the goodness that You have
hidden for those who fear You' (ibid. 31:20), and one
read, `For in Him our hearts shall rejoice' (ibid.
33:21). This shows that when tzaddikim depart from
the world, Hakodosh Boruch Hu shows them their reward
and gladdens them."
We can understand the tzaddikim who said the
pesukim, "For in Him our hearts shall rejoice" and
"How great is the goodness . . . " They glimpsed the extent
of the spiritual bounty that awaited them in Olom Habo
and they rejoiced. This can help us understand the
gemora which says, "If someone dies laughing, it is a
good omen for him (Kesuvos 103b)." This laughter is
joy over his meriting Olom Habo. Whichever of the
three said the posuk, `Every pious man prays . . . '
on his last day, is harder to understand. What is that
posuk's relevance to Olom Habo?
The Three Dangers
To answer this, we must pay close attention to the words of
the gemora (Sotah 21): " `For a mitzva is a candle and
Torah is light' (Mishlei 6:23). This can be compared
to a man who is going on his way in the black of night. He is
afraid of thorns, of potholes and of brambles, of wild
animals and of bandits; neither does he know which direction
to take. When he comes across a lighted torch, he is safe
from thorns, potholes and brambles but he is still afraid of
wild animals and bandits. When dawn breaks, he is safe from
wild animals and bandits but he still doesn't know which
direction to take. When he comes to a crossroad, he is saved
from all of them."
The Vilna Gaon zt'l, explains that, " `A mitzva is a
candle' . . . he comes across a torch . . . he is saved from
thorns and potholes . . . " refers to the attraction of
worldly desires. If a person fulfills mitzvos wholeheartedly,
he is safe from evil desires. However, "he still fears wild
animals and bandits." These refer to the harmful ideas that a
person choliloh vechas absorbs from reading newspapers
that contain alien ideas and false ideologies.
I have known people who used to return home after
tefillah on Friday night, make Kiddush and,
instead of singing zemiros Shabbos, would pick up a
newspaper, Rachmono litzlan, that was full of spurious
ideas and the like. This is worse than worldly desire. A
pothole does not move around and will only cause damage if a
person approaches it. Similarly, one will only be harmed if
one approaches a situation where desire can be aroused.
False ideas however, are like wild animals and bandits that
roam around and do damage. They cloud a person's mind with
bad ideas and sinful thoughts, Rachmono litzlan.
How does a person get into such a situation? It happens
because he lacks the light of Torah. He may have the candle
that mitzvos provide him with but he will only be safe if he
has the light of Torah. This is what the gemora means
when it says, "when dawn breaks" and daylight arrives, he is
saved from wild animals and bandits.
The posuk (Tehillim 104:20) says, "You bring darkness
on and it is night, when all the creatures of the forest
creep." Chazal tell us that, "This world is like the night."
The huge array of worldly pursuits and involvements is like
the darkness and blackness of night. "The sun shines and they
take themselves inside and go to lie inside their lairs"
(ibid. 22). When the light of Torah shines upon a
person, he is saved from harmful ideas. The next posuk
then says, "Man shall go out to his activity and to his
work, until the evening." This "evening" refers to the
evening of his life, to the time when "she laughs on the last
Our gemora in Sotah mentions a further fear
that besets a person: he doesn't know which road he is
taking. If he deviates slightly from the straight path, he
can wind up on a tortuous and roundabout path. This is
because ultimately, he is still in Olom Hazeh with its
manifold trials and tests especially those involving his
relationships with other people. If one derives honor from
another's disgrace or causes someone to blanch in public, he
loses his share in Olom Habo. Even with Torah and with
mitzvos, with the "candle" and with the "light," he must
still pay attention to his character traits and to the way he
The Vilna Gaon explains that the road to safety in this
respect lies in the gemora's conclusion: "And the path
of life lies with the rebuke of mussar," which is the
conclusion of the posuk that begins, "For a mitzva is
a candle and Torah is light." A person has to learn
mussar. All the different mussar works are
beneficial to the soul: Reishis Chochmoh, Or HaChaim,
Mesillas Yeshorim and others, and works of
chassidus too. It makes no difference which
sefer one studies and feels is bringing benefit to his
soul and improving his character. With this, he reaches the
crossroads and is saved from all the three harmful things,
from holes, from wild animals and from becoming lost.
The Final Struggle
Something else must be added though, to our understanding of
the person's arrival at the crossroads. Even once he is on
the right path, he still worries until he actually reaches
his destination safely. The gemora in Sotah
asks, "What is the crossroads?" and one opinion is that, "it
is a talmid chochom on the day of his death."
Until he dies, a person cannot be sure of himself. Chazal
tell us, "Do not believe in yourself until the day of your
death" (Ovos 2:4), even though one may already have
acquired Torah and good deeds. Rashi in Sotah explains
that on the day of his death a talmid chochom knows
"that he has not strayed, to remove Torah's yoke from
himself." Until his last day, a person must worry in case he
returns to his bad ways and goes astray in the forest of this
And even on his very last day, which the posuk
describes as, "the day when the two guards of the house
shift" (Koheles 12:3), he must be wary. Chazal tell us
that "the two guards" are the yetzer hatov and the
yetzer hora. The yetzer hora still wants to
lead a person astray, even on the last day of his life when
he has reached the end of the lifelong battle to resist the
If he repents even then, Hakodosh Boruch Hu accepts
his repentance, as the posuk says, "You reduce a
person to lowliness and You say, `Repent, people', "
(Tehillim 90:3). But then, on the day of a person's
death, the yetzer hora tries to lead him astray,
chas vesholom. It reminds him of his earlier sins --
of forbidden images Rachmono litzlan, that he might
have seen and of harmful views, chas vesholom, that he
entertained in his youth -- so that he dies in sin, chas
vesholom. The yetzer hatov fights back, trying to
get him to do teshuvoh. This is the meaning of "the
two guards . . . shift" -- in this last struggle.
The gemora (Brochos 8) refers to this conflict. It
says that the posuk, `Every pious man prays to You for
this at an opportune time, that the great rush of water
should not reach him (Tehillim 32:6),' refers to the
day of death. This is the explanation of the medrash
which said that one of the three tzaddikim who
glimpsed the pleasure of Olom Habo just before
departing from this world, repeated this posuk. Even
though throughout his life, he had merited experiencing the
spiritual satisfaction of Olom Habo, he still offered
this prayer on his last day. Until his very last moment, a
person has to pray that he merit siyata deShmaya to be
saved from the yetzer hora and attain the eternal life
of Olom Habo.
Not Payable in This World
Let us return to the first posuk that the medrash
quoted, "Her garments are might and splendor and she
laughs on the last day," commenting that "all the reward due
to tzaddikim is ready for them in Olom
Why does all their reward remain for Olom Habo?
Because Chazal tell us that, "there is no recompense for
mitzvos in this world." This means that since the reward for
a mitzva is spiritual, there is no worldly pleasure that can
do it justice. No material benefit that this world can offer
comes close to the magnitude of the spiritual satisfaction
that is the reward due for a mitzva.
I heard a wonderful explanation of this point from a certain
talmid chochom. A person goes out to the field with
his ox and the ox spends all day plowing the field for him.
In the evening, he comes back with the ox, slaps the animal
on the shoulder and says to it, "You worked so well. I'm very
pleased with you. Here is a check for a hundred dollars."
What will the ox do with the check? The ox wants straw or
fodder. That is his food; that is what will give him
satisfaction. Taking this idea further, I said that if a man
has a worker who works extremely well for him and the
employer gives him fodder as his payment, will the worker
feel compensated? This is what Chazal mean when they say,
"there is no recompense for mitzvos in this world."
The aforementioned medrash relates what happened when one of
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's disciples travelled abroad and
returned a wealthy man. The other disciples saw him and were
envious and they also wanted to travel. Rabbi Shimon learned
of this and he took them to a valley near Meron and prayed
saying, "Valley, valley, become filled with golden
dinarim." The valley began to flow with golden
dinarim in front of them. He told them, "If you want
gold, here it is. Take it for yourselves but realize that
whoever takes now, is taking from his own portion in Olom
Habo, for the payment of the reward for Torah study is
only in Olom Habo." The medrash concludes,
"This is the meaning of, `she laughs on the last day.' "
How are we to understand how the disciples of Rabbi Shimon
bar Yochai could have been jealous of another's wealth, when
we bear in mind a comment of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter's? Reb
Yisroel zt'l said, "What do I need wealth for? I thank
Hakodosh Boruch Hu that I'm not wealthy. I have a poor
neighbor who has seven children and the windows in his house
are broken and let in the wind and the cold. His wife
recently gave birth and she needs milk to drink to fortify
herself but they have no money. The children go barefoot and
they are sick because it's so cold in the house . . . In
Heaven, they would complain about me: `Do you need to be
wealthy and put your money in a bank . . . and you can't
help your neighbor?' If I were wealthy, what would I say?
Since I'm not wealthy though, I at least have some excuse for
I also lack things."
How could such men, who merited learning Torah from Rabbi
Shimon bar Yochai, be envious of money? How can one envy a
wealthy man whose property occupies him with worries all day
long -- "the more property, the more worry" (Ovos 2:7)
-- and other troubles on top of that chas vesholom
such as health and domestic problems, may Hashem protect us.
Furthermore, if the disciple who travelled abroad became the
type of wealthy man that we ordinarily think of, why did he
return to Rabbi Shimon's yeshiva? He ought to have stayed
away to tend to his property and business.
In fact though, he used his wealth to support Torah and to
benefit others. This was why he returned to the yeshiva and
it was also why the other talmidim were envious of
him. Wealth enabled him both to acquire Torah and to practice
acts of kindness towards others. They also wanted to do
Rabbi Shimon however, knew that there was more to their
complaints than this. He knew that deep down they were simply
longing to become rich. He thus told them, "If it's gold that
you want, take it, but be aware that you're taking your
reward in Olom Habo."
The Two Types of Test
The medrash brings another account, involving Rabbi Shimon
ben Chalafta, who arrived home one erev Shabbos
without any money with which to support his family. He went
outside the town and prayed and Heaven gave him a precious
stone. He took it to the moneychanger and was able to provide
for that Shabbos. His wife asked him, "Where is all this
from?" and he replied, "From means which Hakodosh Boruch
Hu has provided."
She said, "If you don't tell me where it's from, I won't eat
He started telling her as follows, "I prayed to Hashem and I
was given it from Heaven."
She said, "I won't eat a thing until you tell me that you
will return it on motzei Shabbos."
He asked her, "Why?"
She told him, "Do you want your table (in Olom Habo)
to be incomplete and your friends' tables to be whole?"
Rabbi Shimon went and told the story to Rabbeinu
Hakodosh. He told him, "Go and tell her that if your
table will be missing anything, I'll replace it from my
He went and told her. She said, "Come with me to the one who
teaches you Torah."
Rebbi told her, "Does one person see another in Olom
Habo? Each and every tzaddik has an entire world
of his own, as the posuk (Koheles 12:5) says, "For man
is going to the place of his world." It doesn't say, "of
worlds;" it says, "of his world." When he heard this,
he went and returned it.
Our teachers said, "The second miracle was greater than the
first one." As soon as he put out his hand to return it, a
mal'och came down from Heaven and took it from him.
Why? Because the reward for Torah study can only be received
in Olom Habo. This medrash also concludes with,
"This is the meaning of, `she laughs on the last day.' "
We have to understand how we pray for plentiful sustenance.
In the brochoh of Boreich oleinu, we ask Hashem
to bless all our different crops and the like. Rabbi Shimon
ben Chalafta's reward was reduced because of the support he
received for one Shabbos -- which is a mitzva to honor --
because "the reward for Torah study can only be received in
Olom Habo." How then can we, spiritually impoverished
as we are, request abundant sustenance three times each
The answer is that Shlomo Hamelech o'h said, " . . .
give me neither poverty nor wealth, allot me my fixed support
. . . lest I become satiated and I deny . . . and lest I
become impoverished and steal" (Mishlei 30:8-9). A
person can be faced with one of two types of trials, the
trial of poverty Rachmono litzlan or the trial of
wealth. We pray that we should not be tried with either of
these, because it is very hard for us to withstand any sort
of trial. Our prayers are therefore that we be allotted what
we need for our support -- as the posuk says. We pray
to Hashem to give us what we need for our day-to-day
existence, undergoing neither trials, nor disgrace -- with
kindness and mercy!
The story is told of Reb Boruch Zoldowitz z'l who
arrived in Eretz Yisroel from Russia when he was an elderly
man. He had once been a very wealthy man indeed and the
wicked Soviets confiscated all his wealth. He had supported
several yeshivos -- such as Kamenitz, Slobodka and Mir --
from the tithe that he took from his fortune. The wicked
Russians killed all the wealthy men but for some reason they
let Reb Boruch live-on condition that he leave Russia.
On his journey, Reb Boruch went in to see Reb Chaim Brisker
zt'l. Reb Chaim told him, "Know, that there are two
types of trial with which a person is tested in this world,
the trial of poverty and the trial of wealth. You, Reb
Boruch, have successfully passed the trial of wealth and now
you must pass the test of poverty. Take care to withstand it
just as successfully."
This was indeed what happened. Reb Boruch arrived in Eretz
Yisroel penniless but he had no complaints at all. This is
not the place to recount all his trials. I will just relate
the comment made by one of the wealthy men who built
apartments for bnei Torah to live in rent-free. One of
them was Reb Moshe Wittenberg z'l. The apartments that
he built are known to this day as Botei Wittenberg.
They occupy what was considered a very large area in those
times. There was another well-to-do man known as Reb A.
Broide z'l, who built the Botei Broide
neighborhood, which is smaller than Botei Wittenberg.
These men had ample wisdom as well as fortune.
Reb A. Broide said to Reb Moshe Wittenberg, "Even though you
have built more apartments for the poor and for bnei Torah
[than I have], I will still get a greater reward in
Olom Habo, because the money is worth nothing to you
Reb Moshe. It is in your nature to be generous and to fulfill
the posuk, "He gave generously to the poor"
(Tehillim 112:9). I, on the other hand, value money
very highly and I still built Botei Broide, going
against my nature. I will therefore receive greater reward
than you in Olom Habo!"
That is what the righteous wealthy men used to be like. This
is a lesson to every one of us in how to withstand our
trials. We pray to Hashem each day, asking Him not to bring
us trials or to shame. May Hashem provide each and every
member of Klal Yisroel with their needs and sustenance
and may we merit the complete redemption, omein
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