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“And they brought the Tabernacle to Moshe, the Tent and all its utensils - its hooks, its planks, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets” (Shemos 39:33).

The Midrash, on this verse, brings a passage from Mishlei (31:25) “And she shall rejoice at the time to come.” This is interpreted to mean, “All the reward of the righteous is prepared for them in the world-to-come.”

To enforce this claim, the Midrash proceeds to tell a story:

Rabbi Avahu was dying and he saw a vision of all the good which was prepared for him for the world-to-come. He was overjoyed and exclaimed, “All this is for Avahu? (He then quoted the passage) ‘And I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing, and in futility”; yet surely my judgment is with Hashem, and my work with my G-d’ (Yesha’ayahu 49:4)” (Midrash Shemos Rabbah 52:3).

This story is very strange indeed. How could Rabbi Avahu think that he had labored in vain? Surely he believed, all of his life, that Hashem rewards one for his good deeds, and surely he knew that he had learned Torah and performed many mitzvahs in his lifetime. Had he merely expressed surprise at the amount of good prepared for him, we would have understood. For no one but Hashem knows the real value of a mitzvah and even the wise will be surprised to see how much they will be afforded in the world-to-come.

But for Rabbi Avahu to make a statement that he thought he had labored in vain, how can we possibly fathom that?

Perhaps the clue to proper comprehension of this enigma lies in analyzing the relationship of this story to the above verse: “And they brought the Tabernacle to Moshe” etc. For the style of Chazal in the Midrash is to always bring ideas and stories which are linked to that particular passage in the Torah. Here, however, there does not seem to be any connection.

But Rashi in Chumash, on this very sentence, brings the words of the Sages in the Midrash Tanchuma (Pikudei 11) which, perhaps, shed light on the parashah.

And they brought the Tabernacle to Moshe etc., for they themselves were unable to erect it; Because Moshe had done no work in building the Tabernacle, the Holy One, Blessed be He, left its erection to him; for nobody was able to set it up because of the weight of the boards which no human strength was capable of setting up on end; Moshe, however, succeeded in placing it in position. Moshe said to the Holy One, Blessed be He, "How is its erection possible by human beings?" Hashem answered him, "You just work with your hands. It will appear that you are erecting it, but in fact it will set itself on end and rise of its own accord.” That is why Scripture says, "The Tabernacle was erected," since it was actually erected by itself.

In this Midrash, we learn a very important basic element of Judaism. Even if one does not succeed in finishing a mitzvah, if it was not his fault and he did all that was in his power to do, he is credited as if he had done it and it is called on his name. Although Moshe could not possibly put up the Mishkan, and it was erected by itself, the Torah writes (Shemos 40:18), “And Moshe erected the Tabernacle.”

We find the same idea concerning the construction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. King Dovid wanted very much to build it but Hashem told him that he cannot since he was a warrior, who fought the battles of Hashem with the enemies of Israel, and the Beis Hamikdash was intended to be a House of Peace which could only be built by a man of peace, King Shlomo, Dovid’s son.

However, Dovid’s desire to build the House of Hashem was so great that he did everything he possibly could to prepare the construction of the Temple. He gathered together all of the material needed, including all of the gold, silver and precious stones which he acquired in battle and from donations which he encouraged. He also prepared all of the plans for its erection, down to the minutest details. The only thing left for Shlomo to do was the actual assembly itself. Therefore, even though Shlomo actually built the Temple, it is called on Dovid’s name as it says (Tehillim 30:1), A Psalm and Song at the dedication of the house of Dovid (Midrash Bemidbar Rabbah 12:9).

Perhaps this is what astounded Rabbi Avahu. He was not at all surprised to see that he was being rewarded for the mitzvahs which he had performed; this is one of the tenets of our faith. But Chazal brought the story on this particular passage to indicate that he noticed that he was being rewarded for many things which he had not fulfilled, about which he had thought he had toiled in vain. Even for these, Hashem pays in full, just for the effort one extended to try to accomplish them.

And certainly Hashem pays much more for those mitzvahs which we did fulfill with a lot of effort, than He does for those we fulfill with a minimal amount of exertion. This is expressed by the Sages who taught (Avos 5:22), “According to the toil is the reward.”

So let’s learn from this week’s parashah not to avoid the effort involved in doing mitzvahs and learning Torah. And when the day of reward comes we’ll be happy to see how much is prepared for us, even for those which we couldn’t fulfill, if we tried our best.

Chazak, chazak venischazak.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel