The Reward for Holiness
By Menachem Mendelsohn
G-d has told the Jews that they are to be a holy people. The Jews therefore became the chosen people, chosen for this task and elevated above all other people if they properly keep the task entrusted to unto them. Yet if not, there is a punishment waiting for those who do not keep the task.
This can be illustrated clearly by a parable:
A king called over one of his favorite servants and told him that he was entrusting to him the care of his undershirts. He told the servant that he wanted him to make certain that they were always clean and fresh.
The servant was puzzled. “Why give me your undershirts? You have so many much nicer garments than these undershirts, why not have me take care of them?” He thought that taking care of the undershirts was a lowly task and he wanted a greater more prestigious assignment.
The king replied, “My undershirts are worn next to my body and touch my flesh. No other garment is as close to me as the undershirt, therefore it must be clean and fresh. You are a trusted servant and I know that if I give you this job that you will take care to watch it closely”
As long as the servant kept the king's undershirts clean and fresh he was rewarded with a special payment, but he knew that if he gave the king soiled undershirts, not only would he not get a reward, but he would end up with a severe punishment.
Similarly, G-d has created all the nations of the world. He does not demand from them the holiness that He outlines for us Jews in the Torah. Why is this? Because we are the closest to Him, therefore we must be the purest. How can we be the purest? It is only through the study of the Torah that we can fulfill this.
This is similar to another story, that of the High Priest during the time of the Temple who was walking along the way when another traveler met him and suggested that they walk together. The High Priest told him that he is welcome to join him, but only if he realizes that a priest may not walk in places of spiritual defilement such as cemeteries. If he is willing to abide by this then he may accompany him.
Similarly, we who are the chosen of G-d are instructed to be careful and not defile ourselves since G-d is holy and is in our midst. We must sanctify ourselves to be holy that we may cling to G-d and serve him. If we do such we will be rewarded and if not a punishment awaits us.
This is similar to a king who asked several of his servants to guard his wine. Amongst the servants were those who were nazirs (Jews who took a vow of abstinence from wine) and several who were known to be alcoholics. This group guarded the king's wine the entire night and in the morning when the king came out of his palace and checked the wine barrels he saw that no wine was missing. He was very happy and he paid his servants for their service. To those who enjoyed getting drunk, he gave twice as much as he gave to the nazirs. Seeing that they received half the amount as the other, the nazirs complained that they all stood guard faithfully and they all deserved equal pay. The king replied to the nazirs that they did not have the inclination to drink therefore they received payment only for their watching the wine, but the alcoholics who had a strong desire to drink from the king's wine, not only watched the wine faithfully but also had to curb their strong desires to indulge in it. Therefore they received a double payment, one for the watching of the wine, and another for watching themselves from drinking.
So too with us. Our King, rewards us for being holy. Yet for some people the observance of His commandments are particularly difficult, therefore He, being All Wise, rewards them also for the difficulties that they must endure to do His will.
So we see that the more difficult it is to observe the divine commandments, the more it pays to do it!
from the April 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine