Pirkei Avot teaches us, “Ben Hei-hei said, ‘According to the effort is the reward’” (5:27). Rav Hirsch explains Ben Hei-hei’s statement to mean that, “It is not the quantitative measure of the moral and spiritual goals you have actually achieved that constitute the true worth of a life’s course. It is the measure of earnest striving, of devoted endeavor, of sacrifices made and privation endured, all for the realization of good purposes that determine the true worth of both man and his life” (Commentary on Pirkei Avot 5:27). Indeed, the harder we work in our pursuits of spiritual and material success, the more effort we expend in our undaunted attempts to realize our missions in life, the greater, fuller and deeper will be the rewards we enjoy, and our pasha demonstrates this very lesson.
Parshat Mishpatim enumerates mitzvot dealing primarily with Nezikei Adam, the laws of bodily damage, and Nezikei Mammon, the laws of property damage. However, towards the end of our parsha, we learn, “Moshe arose, and Yehoshua his servant; and Moshe ascended the Mountain of God. And to the elders he said, ‘Wait for us here until we return to you’” (Shemot 24:13-4). According to the Midrash HaGadol, the elders took umbrage to Moshe’s command not to ascend the Mountain with him, saying, “If we are not worthy of entering the inner-sanctum (of God’s Cloud which rests atop the Mountain) why were we requested to come here?!’” The Midrash goes on to illustrate the elders’ point, saying, “This can be compared to a person who brings up another to the top of a roof, and then cuts the ladder from under him!” So, why were the elders not allowed to ascend to the top of the Mountain and share in the celestial rewards Moshe would enjoy? The Midrash Tanchuma Yashan offers an explanation: “When Moshe and Aharon said to the elders in Egypt, ‘Come with us to Pharaoh,’ the elders of Israel immediately accepted [this charge] upon themselves and went with them. However, as they were walking, they dropped off, one by one, two by two [because of their great fear of Pharaoh]. Once [Moshe and Aharon] arrived at the palace of Pharaoh, not even one of the elders could be found! Thus, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to the elders [at Mount Sinai] ‘What were you thinking, that I would not requite [your lack of effort]? By your lives! Did you honestly imagine that when Moshe and Aharon ascended to receive the Torah that you would be able to ascend with them?” Rather, “Whoever earnestly strove to enter before Pharaoh, [a king of flesh and blood], shall enter before the King of kings!” Because the elders abandoned Moshe in their unwillingness to struggle with their fears, because they did not fully commit to Moshe’s mission, they could not accompany him up the Mountain. Because of the elders’ lack of effort, their reward was diminished.
This Shabbat, as we consider our goals, our hopes and dreams, let us take to heart the words of Pirkei Avot and the lesson the elders learned in our parsha, “According to the effort is the reward.” If we commit ourselves to working towards fulfilling our missions in life, no matter the hardships we may endure or the sacrifices we may make, we will be able to share in the fullness of the rewards we have worked for so diligently.