Parshas Bereishis: The Reward of Work

Sefer Bereishis, Parshas Bereishis; Baruch she’he’chiyanu v’ki’yimanu v’hi’giyanu la’zman ha’zeh!  With the yomtov season behind us, and the cold, dark days of winter ahead of us, we relish with excitement, once again, the privilege of beginning from The Beginning.

Though we read, and learned, Bereishis last year, and the year before, and the year, decade, century, millennia before, Baruch Hashem, this year and every year, we learn it again.  Bereishis barah Elokim eis ha’shomayim v’eis ha’aretzIn the beginning, Elokim created the heaven and the earth (Bereishis 1:1).

In Parshas Bereishis, the Torah narrates creation (Ch.1), the detailed creation of Gan Eden, man and woman (Ch.2), the first sin and its aftermath (Ch.3), the first murder! (Ch.4), the generations from Adam to Noach (Ch.5), and the sinful ways of mankind and the decision of G-d to destroy man (6:1-8). 

After the first sin, when Adam and Isha (wife) ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, G-d cursed each one of them – and the male and females genders for all time – and it is then, strangely, that Adam named his wife.  וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ, חַוָּה:  כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה, אֵם כָּל-חָי – And the man called the name of his wife Chava, for she had become the mother of all living (3:20).  Though he might have named her “the mother of death,” for her sin brought mortality to the world, with compassion and forgiveness, Adam named her the mother of life.

What does her name, חַוָּה, represent, and why is she known as the mother of all living, but Adam is not named as ‘the father of all living’?

The Ohr Ha’Chaim ha’Kadosh (ibid) explains:

שנגזר עליה לילד בעצב לזה קרא לה חוה … לרמוז כי היא היתה אם כל חי. כיון שהיא סובלת העצבון של הריון ושל לידה לה יאתה להתיחס אם כל חי ולא לאדם

Since it was decreed upon her that she would bear children in pain, for this reason Adam called her Chava, to indicate that she was the mother of all living.  Since she would have to now bear the suffering of pregnancy and childbirth, it is fitting to attribute to her, and not to Adam, the title ‘mother of all living.’ 

R’ Yitzchok Zilberstein, shlita, learns from here a powerful lesson: “An act is attributed to a person only if he encountered difficulties in its execution.  If a person did not suffer for it, he does not merit it – even if he has a direct connection to that act.  Even if he is the father who brought the child into the world.  Because only Chava was cursed with the suffering entailed in bearing children, and not Adam, she was the one who merited the title of ‘the mother of all living’” (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach, Bereishis, p.66). 

One who works, even if – or particularly when – that work is difficult, and the fruits of the womb (proverbially and literally) are born with pain and suffering, will be rewarded with the benefit of that work.  One who does not exert himself, will reap no reward.

As the Sages teach (Avos 5:23) – לְפוּם צַעֲרָא אַגְרָא, according to the effort is the reward.  The Bartenura (15th C.) teaches: לְפוּם צַעֲרָא אַגְרָא. כְּפִי רֹב הַצַּעַר שֶׁאַתָּה סוֹבֵל בְּלִמּוּד הַתּוֹרָה וַעֲשִׂיַּת הַמִּצְוָה, יִהְיֶה שְׂכָרְךָ מְרֻבֶּה – According to the effort is the reward: According to the amount of exertion that one bears and suffers for Torah learning and doing mitzvos, so his reward will be great. 

Oftentimes, the yetzer harah (the primordial serpent that moved inside of us all, once Adam and Isha ate the fruit of the forbidden tree) seeks to convince us that the easy way out is the preferred way in life.  Sleep a bit more, it’s so cold out in the winter, why get up early to serve your Creator?  Sleep in in the summer, he says, the lazy days of summer vacation are here, why rush to complete your tasks today!? (See M”B 1:1).  We live in a “me generation,” where many feel they deserve everything and hard work is shunned in favor of the easy way out. 

Yet this is not the Torah perspective.  Upon creation of Adam, the Torah tells us: וַיִּקַּח ה’ אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ – And Hashem Elokim took the man, and he placed him in Gan Eden, to work it and to guard it (Bereishis 2:15). 

R’ Aharon Lichtenstein zt’l teaches, “Man does not simply exist as a biological being enjoying the world, but rather as a functional being who contributes, creates and works.  The need for man to work is not part of the curse subsequent to the first sin; man was originally placed in the Garden in order to cultivate it.  The curse was that man would have to battle with an unwilling earth (ibid, 3:18-19).  But the fact that one needs to work at all is part of the primeval, primordial order, irrespective of any element of sin.  This had been intended from the beginning.  Simply put, this is indeed a perfect order, provided that man does his part…

“Both לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ are designed to maintain the world at its present level: passively guarding against damage (לְשָׁמְרָהּ) and actively working in order to replenish (לְעָבְדָהּ).  We need to work so that the natural processes repeat themselves; if you do not contribute your share, the seasons come and go, but nature does not replenish itself” (By His Light, Characters & Values in the Service of G-d, p.9). 

In whatever the task at hand, and whatever life brings our way; whatever our job over the long term and our tafkid at the moment, one must exert himself, to ensure that the job is done, and done well.  From one’s profession to, l’havdil, Torah learning; from baking a cake to building a sukkah; from completing a homework assignment to writing a PhD thesis – whatever the work, it must be done with maximum effort and exertion.  For only he (or she) who suffers for that work will be rewarded and have the work attributed to him.  וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ, חַוָּה:  כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה, אֵם כָּל-חָי.

As the Psalmist tells us: הָלוֹךְ יֵלֵךְ, וּבָכֹה- נֹשֵׂא מֶשֶׁךְ-הַזָּרַע, He who goes along weeping, carrying the valuable seed, בֹּא-יָבֹא בְרִנָּה- נֹשֵׂא, אֲלֻמֹּתָיו, he will come back with song, carrying his sheaves (Ps.126:6). 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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