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"This shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances, and you observe and perform them; Hashem, your G-d, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers" (Devarim 7:12).

"When you hearken" - in Hebrew, the word used in the Torah's text for "when" is "eikev," which can also be translated as "heel." Therefore, Rashi quotes the Sages who interpreted the verse as saying that if we hearken to those mitzvahs which people usually trample with their heal, then we will receive abundant reward.

This interpretation can be understood in two ways. Firstly, it means simply that there are many mitzvahs which people are quick to fulfill, while there are some that they are lax to observe. The Torah tells us that if we are scrupulous to observe those mitzvahs which others abandon, we will receive more reward than usual.

When I was a young schoolboy, there was a boy in our class who was very strange. His voice was high pitched and, in general, his personality was not appealing. No one in the class wanted to have anything to do with him. I felt very sorry for him and sat in the empty seat next to him and befriended him as much as I could. This was surely a great mitzvah which everyone else in the class had rejected, and, so, I rushed to fulfill it.

But there is a second possible interpretation. Within a mitzvah itself, there are often parts that people are negligent in fulfilling. They argue that as long as they do what is required of them, what difference does it make if it is missing some "insignificant" parts? They are satisfied with having completed that which is absolutely required of them; neglecting the particulars which do not nullify the mitzvah. The Mesilas Yesharim teaches that this is a big mistake which will be fully comprehended when the person will arrive at the World-to-Come and discover how much reward he will not receive because of those parts of the mitzvah he could have observed but disregarded.

I once related a story about the wife of the Vilner Gaon ztvk"l, who was herself a great tzadekes, who made a pact with a friend of hers that whoever dies first should visit the other in a dream and relate what it is like in the World-to-Come. The other woman passed away first and, indeed, she revealed herself to the Vilner Gaon's Rebbetzin who inquired about the system of reward in the World of Truth.

The visitor replied that every single factor is taken into account. "For example," she explained, "You know how we would go together, every Thursday, to collect food from the wealthy to distribute to the poor. Well, do you remember that week that we were so disappointed because our biggest donor was not home when we came to his door?"

The Rabbanit replied that she remembered that day very well.

"And do you remember that, as we walked away, I noticed him coming and pointed him out to you? Then we returned to his house and received the usual, generous contribution?"

"I remember it all," said the Gaon's wife.

"Well," concluded the righteous woman, "In the Books of Heaven, our mitzvah was recorded. But there is a difference. As far as the actual mitzvah of going and collecting food and distributing it to the poor, you and I are listed similarly. But in my book, there is an extra notation that I picked up my hand and pointed to our benefactor, while you did not. And the difference in reward for my mitzvah, with one extra wave of the hand, and yours, is too great and remarkable to describe!"

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel