ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN
Multiplication tables are one of the simpler mental challenges that we must face in life. The daily need for basic multiplication makes these problems almost second nature for us to solve.
Multiplication tables are one of the simpler mental challenges that we must face in life. The daily need for basic multiplication makes these problems almost second nature for us to solve. However, for a 3rd grader these simple problems can be overwhelming. Bobby stared at his page full of digits, straining his brain to process the numbers together. Once again, he dropped his pencil in frustration. This stuff was so hard. He was ready to give up and resign himself to being a mathematically deficient person forever. The only motivation he had to keep trying was his father's promise to buy him a bicycle if he received a good grade. His desire for the bike was enough to push him through the frustration as he slowly completed his math tables.
In this week's Torah portion, the ten plagues come to a climactic end with the deaths of the Egyptian firstborns. Before the plague strikes, Moses goes to Pharaoh to warn him of the upcoming calamity, and once again asks him to emancipate the Jews from their slavery. Moses describes what will happen during the plague, and adds that on the night when the plague will strike, the dogs will not bark at any Jewish person or animal (Exodus 11:7).
The Talmud (Tractate Baba Kama 60b) states that one of the times that dogs bark is when the angel of death is in the city. During this final plague, the angel of death was undoubtedly around and active, so naturally the dogs should have been barking. Nonetheless, they restrained themselves that night from barking at any Jewish person or animal. This act did not go unnoticed. Later, the Torah forbids us from eating meat of an animal that was killed without proper, ritual slaughter. This meat is known as treifah. Instead, when one of our animals dies in a way that renders it a treifah, we are told to throw its meat to the dogs. (Exodus 22:30) The Midrash (Shmot Rabbah 31:9) explains that the dogs earned this reward because they did not bark at the Jews that one night in Egypt. The sages derive an incredible lesson from this. Hashem does not withhold reward from any of His creations. Every act, every kindness, or inconvenience that any of Hashem's creations promote or experience is taken into account, and reward is granted accordingly.
If the dogs were rewarded for not barking on that night, then certainly other, more monumental acts do not go unrewarded either. We find a similar idea later in the Torah when it states, "You are children to Hashem, your G-d. Do not cut yourselves. . .[in mourning] for the deceased" (Deuteronomy 14:1). Rabbeinu Bachya, a classic 14th century Torah commentator, explains that the other nations had a practice of tearing their flesh as an excessive form of mourning. They did this because they focused only on this world. When someone died, they felt that their loved one was lost forever. The mourners would react to this loss very harshly. However, we are forbidden to act in this way, specifically because we are Hashem's children. As such, we realize that just as a father leaves his children a good inheritance, so has our Father given us the opportunity to inherit our portion in the World to Come. It is improper for us to excessively mourn because even when a person's physical body has been lost in this world, the person has ascended to his permanent position in the World to Come. We trust that there will be a good reward waiting there for them, just as a son trusts his father to leave him a good inheritance. By not mourning too much, we demonstrate our belief in the idea that Hashem does not withhold reward from His creations. We trust that there is a wonderful reward awaiting us in the World to Come.
In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers 5:23) we are told that the reward which we will receive for our performance of mitzvot is proportional to our efforts. Performing a mitzvah under difficult circumstances yields a reward that is proportionately greater than that of performing the same mitzvah with ease. When faced with a difficult situation, a person might want to give up and not do a mitzvah. However, the Mishnah tells us that we should do exactly the opposite. By pushing against the obstacles and performing the mitzvah, despite the adversity, it is still worth our while and our reward for it will be so much greater.
From these ideas, we can gain a greater appreciation for the reward that we are given for performing mitzvot. The dogs were granted an eternal gift of meat because they went against their natural inclination to bark that one night in Egypt. If this is the reward that the dogs received, then imagine what awaits us in the World to Come. We know that each of our mitzvot is carefully weighed, as the quantity of our mitzvot is not the only factor taken into account. The quality of the mitzvah, along with all of our inner motivations and intentions, as well as the difficulty or ease involved in the action are all considered by Hashem. Our reward is calculated with these factors in mind. Add to that the idea that Hashem does not withhold reward from His creations. Then, include the thought that we trust Hashem and look forward to His reward just as a son anticipates a good inheritance from his father. Bobby had trouble with his multiplication and only pushed through because he knew his father had promised him a bicycle. Likewise, when it is difficult for us to perform mitzvot, we can motivate ourselves by realizing how great our reward will be specifically because the mitzvah is so difficult. Ideally, our approach to mitzvot should be to serve Hashem just because that is what He wants. We should perform mitzvot out of love not just to be rewarded. However, not everyone is on the level where they can do mitzvot for heaven's sake alone. As we strive to reach this level, we can motivate ourselves with thoughts of the rewards we will receive. Then, from doing mitzvot to receive our personal reward, we can grow to eventually do mitzvot in the most ideal way for heaven's sake. By focussing on the reward, we can motivate ourselves to grow in our mitzvah performance, similar to the way the reward motivated Bobby. May we all be inspired to push through difficult situations and perform as many mitzvot as we can, in the best way that we can. Through this, may we merit the great reward that we know our Father has awaiting us.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Chana bat Avraham Yehudah.
Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in New York.
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