Toil and Reward: From Effort to Victory

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Never give up, and always try your best – this is the fundamental lesson we can learn from the Torah and Chazal about the value of effort. No matter how challenging the task may seem, we must persevere and put in a sincere effort, for that is what truly matters in the eyes of G-d 

As it states in Shemot 39:33:

וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן אֶל-מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הָאֹהֶל וְאֶת-כָּל-כֵּלָיו

“And they brought the Mishkon unto Moses, the tent, and all its furnishings…”

Rashi  explains:

ויביאו את המשכן וגו’. שֶׁלֹּא הָיוּ יְכוֹלִין לַהֲקִימוֹ; וּלְפִי שֶׁלֹּא עָשָׂה מֹשֶׁה שׁוּם מְלָאכָה בַמִּשְׁכָּן, הִנִּיחַ לוֹ הַקָּבָּ”ה הֲקָמָתוֹ, שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה יָכוֹל לַהֲקִימוֹ שׁוּם אָדָם מֵחֲמַת כֹּבֶד הַקְּרָשִׁים, שֶׁאֵין כֹּחַ בָּאָדָם לְזָקְפָן, וּמֹשֶׁה הֶעֱמִידוֹ; אָמַר מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי הַקָּבָּ”ה אֵיךְ אֶפְשָׁר הֲקָמָתוֹ עַ”יְ אָדָם? אָמַר לוֹ עֲסֹק אַתָּה בְּיָדְךָ, וְנִרְאֶה כִּמְקִימוֹ וְהוּא נִזְקָף וְקָם מֵאֵלָיו, וְזֶהוּ שֶׁנֶּ’ הוּקַם הַמִּשְׁכָּן (שמות מ’) – הוּקַם מֵאֵלָיו; מִדְרַשׁ רַ’ תַנְחוּמָא

They brought the mishkon, etc. — for they were unable to erect it. Because Moshe did no work whatsoever in the mishkon  G-d left it for him to erect, for no man was able to erect it because of the weight of the planks for no man had the strength to stand them up, but Moshe stood them up. [Actually, Moshe himself could also not do it but…] Moshe said to G-d: How is it possible for man to erect it? [Whereupon] He answered him: “You busy yourself with your hand”! It appeared as if he (Moshe) had erected it but it had stood upright of its own. This is what is meant by what is said: “The mishkon was erected” — it was erected of its own. From the Midrash of Rabbi Tanchuma.

When G-d instructed Moses to assemble the Mishkon, Moses protested that it was too heavy for him as well. G-d told him, “Make the effort. Appear as though you are trying to erect it.” Moses made the effort, and miraculously, the Mishkon assembled itself. Since Moses put in the effort, he received recognition for erecting it.

We can learn a profound insight about spirituality from this. It teaches us that regardless of a task’s difficulty, we must make the effort…

The notion of receiving an “A” for effort is typically seen as faint praise. In reality, one likely earned a poor grade like a “D”, nearly failing, but at least received an “A” for putting in effort. This is how secular pursuits work. However, regarding mitzvot, G-d simply requires that we make a sincere effort. Whether the task is ultimately accomplished successfully or not is frequently beyond our control and depends on G-d’s will. G-d values and rewards our diligent efforts.

As the Talmud  (Berachos 28b) states:that after  a study  session  we say a prayer that includes  the phrase:

אני עָמְלִ וְהֵם עָמְלִים, אֲנַחְנוּ עָמְלִים וּמְקַבְּלִים שָׂכָר, וְהֵם עָמְלִים וְאֵינָם מְקַבְּלִים שָׂכָר

“I toil and they toil. We toil and receive reward, and they toil and do not receive reward.”

בִּיצִיאָתוֹ מַהוּ אוֹמֵר? “מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלקי שֶׁשָּׂמְתָּ חֶלְקִי מִיּוֹשְׁבֵי בֵּית הַמִּדְרָשׁ וְלֹא שָׂמְתָּ חֶלְקִי מִיּוֹשְׁבֵי קְרָנוֹת. שֶׁאֲנִי מַשְׁכִּים וְהֵם מַשְׁכִּימִים, אֲנִי מַשְׁכִּים לְדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה וְהֵם מַשְׁכִּימִים לִדְבָרִים בְּטֵלִים, אֲנִי עָמֵל וְהֵם עֲמֵלִים, אֲנִי עָמֵל וּמְקַבֵּל שָׂכָר וְהֵם עֲמֵלִים וְאֵינָם מְקַבְּלִים שָׂכָר

“Upon his exit from the Study Hall, what did he say? ‘I give thanks before You, Lord my G-d, that You have placed my portion among those who sit in the study hall, and did not place my portion among those who sit idly on street corners……… I toil and they toil. I toil and receive reward, and they toil and do not receive reward…….”

When concluding a tractate of the Talmud, we say a   similar worded prayer that includes the phrase:

אֲנַחְנוּ עָמְלִים וְהֵם עָמְלִים, אֲנַחְנוּ עָמְלִים וּמְקַבְּלִים שָׂכָר, וְהֵם עָמְלִים וְאֵינָם מְקַבְּלִים שָׂכָר

“We toil and they toil. We toil and receive reward, and they toil and do not receive reward.”

This concept may initially seem contradictory. How can someone work without receiving payment or reward?

The meaning is that for secular endeavors, rewards are directly tied to producing tangible results from one’s toil. If the work does not achieve the desired outcome, then no reward is given, despite the effort exerted. However, regarding religious/spiritual pursuits like Torah study and mitzvah observance, G-d rewards us for the effort and toil itself, regardless of whether we actualize the intended results. Our sincere striving is valued by G-d, even if we fall short of the goal. The reward is for the exertion of effort (עמל), not just the final accomplishment.

“They” refers to those engaged in non-religious labor who only receive reward commensurate with their productive output. But “we” receive reward from G-d for our diligent toil (עמל) in service of the Torah and mitzvot, even if the full tangible results remain unrealized. The effort alone is lauded and rewarded.

As the phrase states:: 

ואת עמלנו – אלו הבנים

“And our toil (ve’et amaleinu) – these are the children.”

Raising children and providing for their proper education is a matter of immense “toil” (amal). For children (and students, who are also called “children”) to grow up properly, it is necessary for tremendous toil from parents and teachers. We must invest great toil and effort in the work of education, even if we don’t see immediate tangible results. Nonetheless, we have to continue toiling diligently.

We are not always immediately successful in educating our children, but we must never stop toiling. Success measured by immediate results is not what it’s all about – the essence of education is the effort itself. Whether the physical Mishkon structure is erected or not is ultimately G-d’s concern alone. Our role is to toil with full effort, and we receive divine reward for the toil itself.

This lesson applies to something as monumental as a prolonged war effort as well. We should never say, “Our efforts don’t matter.” Every single person’s dedicated toil (amal) and sacrifice, no matter how small it may outwardly seem, is absolutely critical in marshaling the resources, production, and morale required to ultimately prevail.

The lesson is  that we are rewarded and should take pride in our sincere struggles and hard work for the cause, regardless of whether total victory seems to be delayed. However, it is that very recognition of the inherent value of our toil (amal) that should inspire us never to relent in doing our part with full conviction and perseverance.

Our maximum contributions of toil and effort, combined with placing faith in the overall united war effort, can achieve what may seem improbable or even impossible. By toiling with that dedicated spirit of perseverance, not losing hope, and making every sacrifice we can through our sincere efforts, we exponentially increase the likelihood of emerging victorious through our collective perseverance.

The Torah does not suggest that our efforts are in vain, futile, or meaningless. Rather, it teaches that we should find meaning, value and ultimate reward in the struggle and toil (amal) itself, while still maintaining hope, courage and belief that our essential contributions of effort are absolutely vital and are aiding the greater, larger noble mission.

The importance of persevering diligent effort and never giving up  is  echoed in the words of . The Talmud (Eruvin 54a)  that states explicitly: 

“לפום צערא אגרא” – “According to the effort (struggle) is the reward” – indicating that the divine rewards we receive directly correspond to the degree of effort, labor and persistence we invest.

Indeed, the Torah and its precepts fundamentally inculcate this eternal truth and demand it of us: To always try with our utmost capacities, to persevere with full effort and fortitude, and never, ever relinquish or give up – “לא להתיאש”. And   

בשם ה’ נעשה ונצליח

“In the name of the Lord we shall accomplish and succeed in our efforts.”

חזק חזק ונתחזק!

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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