This is, of course, the last Mishna in the fifth chapter of Pirkey Avos. "Ben Hei Hei omer, 'L’fum tzaara agra' ." (See the "Ameilus BaTorah Sicha", where I elaborate on this Mishna and who Ben Hei Hei was).
There is a sicha from Rav Yisroel Salanter, one of the founders of the Mussar movement, (Ohr Yisrael-Kochevei Ohr Chapter 8) which crystallizes this point as well as many other points about serving Hashem.
I got a lot of inspiration from it and I hope that you will too.
He starts off with a famous Midrash (Midrash Rabbah- Parshas Pekudei- Parsha 52:3) about a story with Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta who was very poor and had nothing to eat. On Erev Shabbos (Friday) he went outside the city and prayed to Hashem, and Hashem sent him from Heaven a precious stone from which he bought all his Shabbos (Sabbath) needs. His wife asked him where he got all of this. He replied from the sustenance that Hashem has given me. She then swore that if he doesn't reveal the source that she wouldn't eat any of the food. He told her the truth and then she said she wouldn't eat unless he would agree to return the precious stone to Heaven after Shabbos. When he asked why, she replied, "Do you want your table (in the world to come) to be deficient and your friend's table full?" He went and told the whole situation over to Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda the Prince, who was known as "Rebbi"). Rebbi responded, "Go tell her (your wife) that if it's (your table) deficient, then I will refill it from mine." When his wife heard the response she came to Rebbi and told him, "Does one see his friend in the World to Come? Doesn't each righteous person have his own World as it says..." As soon as he heard this he returned the precious stone.
Rav Yisroel Salanter declares that her response to Rebbi is "an enigmatic riddle and a hidden wonder." He asks how did her answer win the argument (as can be seen by the fact that the stone was returned)?
Also what did she mean? Did she think that she wouldn't be able to find Rebbi to get what she's missing? If Rebbi said that he would refill their table, did she think he couldn't be trusted to keep his word?
Rav Yisroel begins his answer by quoting the Mishna that we started with, "According to the pain is the reward." He points out the difference between a laborer and one who toils in Mitzvos. A laborer doesn't get much for labor. He gets nothing for any personal hardships he endured during his work. If a strong person does heavy work which is easy for him and a weak person does the same amount of hard work but it's back breaking for him, the weak fellow does not get any more for his personal hardship that he endured.
However, this is not the way Hashem deals with his beings. Besides the reward one gets for the actual mitzvah that he listened to the word of Hashem, he gets another reward proportionate to the personal hardships that he endured while doing the mitzvah. There is no comparison between one who keeps the Torah through wealth and one who does it through poverty, between one who is in good health and one who is suffering. There is also the element of "kefiyas hayetzer" - fighting and resisting the evil inclination. There is no comparison between one who has to fight his inclination and control his desires and one who doesn't, the former making the mitzvah worth so much more. He quotes the Avos D'Rabbi Noson (3:6) who says "...It is better for a person one thing done with pain more than one hundred done with tranquillity." He also quotes the Sefer Chasidim who says that a Mitzvah that is done with fighting our inclination is worth more than a hundred mitzvos done without it.
With this he explains a Gemoro in Baba Basra 78a which explains what it says in the scripture in Bamidbar 21 "Therefore The Moshlim (those that make parables) say come to Cheshbon (a city captured by Sichon from Moav)." The Gemoro points out that the word "Moshlim" can mean those who rule over and the word "Cheshbon" can mean an accounting. Consequently they explain that there lies a very moral and ethical lesson in this verse. It can be understood that those who conquer their inclination-the tzaddikim are telling us what the secret is to conquer the inclination. "Come make an accounting of the world"-make an accounting and weigh the loss endured during a mitzvah against the reward you receive for it, and weigh the reward and pleasure of a sin against the punishment and loss you will receive for it.
Rav Yisroel asks who doesn't know this simple calculation that Hashem gives reward for a mitzvah and punishment for a sin, so what are they teaching me?
However, this is what lies in their sagely advice. It is easy for a person to go on the right and straight path as long as it's not too hard. However, when he meets up with an obstacle, a hardship, or he has to conquer his evil inclination, then he becomes lax. So they are advising us when we come up against these hardships in our body or money we should realize in our heart that to reap great reward is only due to these hardships. It is these very hardships that will increase the value of his mitzvah by a hundred-fold. They are not telling us to weigh the hardship of a mitzvah against the reward of the mitzvah which is obvious. Rather, they are teaching us that besides the reward for the actual mitzvah itself, there is also a separate reward for the hardships endured. Consequently, this is the calculation we should make. We should weigh the hardship of a mitzvah against the reward of that very hardship itself. He must realize that it's only through this suffering and pain that he endures for the mitzvah that his mitzvah be so much more valuable. (I always compare it to weight lifting. The harder and heavier it is the more he will gain in his body building.)
Likewise they teach us that by a sin as well, there is a punishment for the actual sin and there is also a punishment for the pleasure one experiences during the sin. The punishment is multiplied in proportion with the pleasure experienced (I have elaborated on this point in the "Rabbi of 42nd St. Sicha). This is the advice of the Sages. They are not just saying to calculate the pleasure of a sin with the loss and punishment of a sin. Rather, they are teaching us that there is also a punishment for the pleasure experienced during the sin besides the punishment for the sin itself. They are telling us to calculate the pleasure of a sin with the loss and punishment of that very pleasure that you experienced during the sin.
Based on all of this, we may wonder why we pray to Hashem every day at the end of Birchos Hashachar-the Morning Blessings "that He shouldn't bring us to nisayon-tests and hardships?" On the contrary, the tests and hardships would magnify the value of our mitzvah.
Rav Yisroel answers that that is fine if one passes the tests and does the mitzvah. But there is an inherent danger that the tests may overwhelm us and we may fail them and not do the mitzvah. That is why we ask Hashem not to bring us to tests and hardships out of fear of giving in to them. We should not look for hardships rather we should work with the tests and hardships that may come our way.
Rav Yisroel also points out that if someone worries and it bothers him about how he keeps mitzvos, that itself is considered a hardship and maximizes his reward.
He proves it from a Gemoro Kiddushin 31a. The Gemoro says that Rabbi Chanina says, "Greater is (the reward for) one is who is commanded and does (the mitzvah) than one who isn't commanded and does." Now Tosefos there (s.v.Gadol...) explains why this is so. He says that one who is commanded is greater because he worries and is pained lest he transgress, more than one who is not commanded who has the option of not doing it.
So we see clearly that the emotional hardship of pain and worrying also magnifies the reward of a mitzvah. In fact, that is the whole difference as to why one who is commanded has greater reward than one who isn't.
Rav Yisroel now returns to the Midrash we started with. He says that the wife of Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta was not worrying just about the possibility that Hashem would deduct from their merits because of such a miracle. Rather she understood, as we have said above, that learning Torah through poverty is so much greater than when wealthy.
Now Rabbi Chalafta had, up to this moment, been learning Torah and doing mitzvos through poverty which had been maximizing his reward. However, now that he received the precious stone he was wealthy. Consequently he would be losing the great reward of learning Torah through poverty from now on. His wife would rather live a life of poverty in order that he retain this great merit of learning through poverty.
As far as what she replied to Rebbi, Rav Yisroel explains with the following principle.
Just like there are many different types and degrees of physical pleasures in this world. So too the reward for mitzvos in Olom Habo is not just one type of spiritual pleasure. Rather, for each mitzvah there is prepared a separate spiritual pleasure. Likewise, a mitzvah that was enhanced by virtue of the pain and hardship endured, will have a different type of spiritual pleasure than the same mitzvo without the pain and hardship.
Consequently, each tzaddik has in his world in Olom Habo many different types of spiritual pleasures. This is accordance with the quantity of different types of mitzvos that he has done and the quality -the pain and hardship endured while performing them.
This is what his wife was responding to Rebbi. Every Tzaddik has his own world in Olom Habo made up of the different type of spiritual pleasures that he accrued from the quantity and quality of his mitzvos. It is possible that a Tzaddik on a greater level may not have in his world a type of spiritual pleasure that a lesser Tzaddik has. For example if the lesser Tzaddik experienced a hardship that the greater Tzaddik didn't, then the lesser Tzadik will have a type of spiritual pleasure in his world, that the greater Tzadik doesn't. Consequently, this is what it means that each Tzaddik doesn't see his friend in Olom Habo because each one has his own world that came as a result of his mitzvos and hardships. So even a greater Tzaddik can't enter the world of a lesser Tzaddik because the lesser Tzaddik may have a mitzvah or hardship that the greater one doesn't have.
Now, there is no doubt that in general, Rebbi's level was greater than the level of Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta. However, there was one very valuable mitzvah that Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta had over Rebbi. That is, of course, learning Torah through poverty. For Rav Shimon ben Chalafta was extremely poor, he didn't even have food for Shabbos. Whereas Rebbi was very wealthy as it says in the Gemoro Bava Metzia 85a that the guards of the horses of Rebbi were richer than Shvur Malka-King Shvur. Consequently, Rebbi did not have financial worries or the challenge of learning through poverty.
This being the case, Rebbi would not have in his world in Olom Habo the spiritual pleasure of learning through poverty. And this is what the wife of Rav Shimon ben Chalafta was telling him. That every Tzaddik has his own world of different spiritual pleasures. And why does each Tzaddik have his own world? Because each Mitzvah has its own separate spiritual pleasure, and even the same Mitzvah can have a different spiritual pleasure based on the hardships one endured while doing the Mitzvah. Even the greater Tzaddik won't be able to see the lesser Tzaddik who may have a quality Mitzvah which the greater Tzaddik doesn't. So Rebbi who was wealthy and did not have in his world the spiritual pleasure of learning in poverty could not possibly refill Rav Shimon ben Chalafta's table if it would be deficient. The table would be deficient of the spiritual pleasure of learning in poverty, which Rebbi did not have.
I just want to add a point that I made in the Sicha "It's About Time". Of course we are dealing here with very high levels, which may be hard for us to attain. As we brought before from Rav Yisroel Salanter
We pray not to be brought to tests and challenges out of fear of their overwhelming us causing us to fail. However, there are many tests that come our way that are not as hard. We may not be able to learn with the same poverty as Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta, who didn't even have food for Shabbos. But maybe we can forgo breakfast to make that shiur even if we're hungry, realizing that your gnawing stomach will maximize the value of your Mitzvah. Each one of us on our level will find many such situations where we will be using a hardship as an excuse not to do a Mitzvah. Let us at least learn from Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta not to use our hardship as a deterrent, rather as an incentive to maximize the value of the Mitzvah and consequently to do it.
I'm going to end off with a beautiful story about Rav Shalom Shwadron, zt'l, that illustrates the Mishna of "according to the pain..." in a very unique way. It is taken from the Hebrew biography on Rav Shalom called "KOL CHOTZEV" p.20-23. (This has not yet been published in English.)
Rav Shalom was giving a nightly shiur to some students. There was a certain student who was a regular, but he had missed the last three nights. Rav Shalom went to visit him at his home to see if he's all right.May Hashem help us to realize the truths of these lessons and to incorporate it in our daily life schedules. Then we will truthfully live a better life in this world and the next.
When he got there, the student informed Rav Shalom that everyone was all right, but for some side problem he won't make it this week. But next week he'll be back as usual. When Rav Shalom inquired as to the "problem" the student answered, "It's hard for me to say, I'm embarrassed”.
Rav Shalom said, "Why are you embarrassed? You can tell me, I won't be angry at you".
The student answered, "It's (the reason) not for the Rav (to hear), but don't worry, I'll be back next week".
"Tell me in short, unless it's personal. What's happening special this week and not next? It sounds interesting".
The student obliged Rav Shalom and said, "I'll tell you the truth: This week is the main soccer tournament and the hours of the game clash with the nightly shiur. I'm addicted to the game. I love the game and its heroes with all my heart, and cannot forgo the game to come to the shiur".
Rav Shalom was silent for a moment and then picked up his loving eyes, eyes that flowed with great and wise Divine Assistance and said, "Good! I hear and I understand. But I'm very interested in finding the secret of the joy of this sport. I would be very happy to hear how to play this game".
The fellow explained the game to Rav Shalom and stressed that when one is able to kick the ball into the goal, that is the zenith of joy.
Rav Shalom made a face as if he didn't understand and asked, "What's the big deal to kick a ball into a goal? Come with me and I'll show you how I can kick twenty balls into the goal as fast as lightning".
The fellow smiled, "I forgot to tell you the main thing. There is a guard (goalie) by the goal who tries to stop the ball from going in. The trick is to get it in and outsmart the goalie."
"And how, indeed, does one outsmart the goalie"?
"Ah! That's the whole beauty and joy of the game. The one who is capable of outsmarting the goalie is the happiest person around”.
"I want to understand", asked Rav Shalom, "the goalie is in front of the goal 24 hours a day?? He eats there and sleeps there"??
"Of course not!" laughed the fellow, "He's only there during the game, afterwards he goes back to his daily living."
"If so", Rav Shalom asked, "what's the problem? Let's go to the goal at night when the goalie is not there, and then we'll be able to kick as many goals as we want"!
The fellow raised his voice and said, "It's specifically for that reason-that the goalie is not there and there is no opposition- that there is no great achievement in kicking the ball in. The great wisdom and strength is only when it's hard, there are people trying to prevent you from kicking it in, and then you succeed, that's the real achievement".
Rav Shalom stood up and looked at the fellow and said loudly, "Let your ears hear what your own mouth is saying. Do you think that coming to the shiur next week is a big achievement?! You want to learn next week when you have nothing stopping (games) you from coming. That will not be anything special. The great achievement and wisdom will be when there are "goalies" standing by the door of the Beis HaMedrash trying to stop you from entering-and you "kick the ball in" and enter, that is the epitome of joy and achievement".
"Yes! Yes! According to the pain is the reward", the young fellow said as he understood the depth and wisdom of Rav Shalom's words, "but I ,I..."
"Don't break the rules of the game. Come to the goal of the Beis HaMedrash when it's hard, and that will be the biggest joy", Rav Shalom said smilingly. He then gave the fellow a hearty handshake and left.
The following night the fellow showed up for the shiur.
List of Rabbi Price's sichot
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