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1 Adar II 5763 - March 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Reward For Mitzvos: A Shmuess For Parshas Pekudei

by HaRav Sholom Schwadron, zt'l

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 day."

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 behaves.

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 world.

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 yetzer's temptations.

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 Habo."

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 this.

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 a thing."

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 own."

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 day?

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 seloh!

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