One of the more fundamental principles concerning Torah and mitzvos is stated in the first Rashi in Parshas Bechukosai. Rashi, referring to the seeming redundancy in the pasuk in speaking of “im bechukosai teileichu”and also “umitzvosai tishmeru” (if you will walk in the ways of My decrees, and keep My mitzvos), says that the first phrase refers to the imperative “shetiheyu ameilim baTorah” (that you should toil in Torah). And in the Sifra it states, “ HaKadosh Baruch Hu desires that you toil in Torah.”

(This rule applies equally to doing mitzvos as well as to learning and studying Torah. It is written in Pirkei Avos (last Mishna in ch. 5), “Ben Hai Hai says, “In accordance with the toil, the effort, the pain — is the reward.” This refers to anything in the realm of the spiritual.)

A few questions arise. One, where does Rashi and/or Sifra see this rule in the words of the pasuk? Two, why would HaShem specifically desire that we toil in Torah? What is wrong with a time-saving, effort-salvaging device that would have you learn twice the material in half the time? Three, why does a lack of doing so lead to the disastrous results of the tochacha in Bechukosai, as Rashi there (26:14) makes very clear? Is it that terrible a misdeed if I like to relax and take it easy?

The Medrash in Kedoshim (25:5) tells the following story: A king was passing by a tree grove, and saw a 100-year-old man planting saplings of fig trees. He asked the man if he really thought he would be eating its fruit. The man answered that HaShem would decide that question, but that he, the old man, would continue to plant, and hopefully would merit to eat from the fruit. But regardless, plant he would, and if he wouldn’t merit to eat from the fruit, then just as his parents planted for him, he would be planting for his children. The king then told him that if he does merit to eat the figs of this tree, he, the old man, should make sure to inform the king. Well, the old man lived to see the grown fruit, and set off to bring a basket filled with the figs to the king. When he got there, the servants let him in, and after identifying himself as that old man, he presented the king with the figs. The king thanked him, took the fruit, and filled the basket with gold coins. Upon returning home, the old man’s neighbor misunderstood that the king apparently had a craving for figs, so he filled up his own basket of figs and brought them to the king. The king angrily threw him out, and ordered that whoever passes by should pelt this chutzpahdik person with his own figs.

What is the point of this story? And what indeed was the difference to the king between the old man and his neighbor? The Chofetz Chaim, in a famous explanation of the phrase, said at a siyum, “We [people in Torah] toil, and they [the world] toil [in secular matters]. We toil, though, and receive a reward, while they toil without reward.” What does that mean? Who toils without a reward? Surely someone who works hard gets rewarded at the end of the day!?

In the realm of the physical, the point is the goal — the end-result. No honor or respect is granted to the process of getting there. On the contrary, we are looking for faster and quicker time-saving devices, redial buttons, speed-dialing, word-processing, cut-’n-paste. If a smarter person effortlessly sails through medical school, and a less-gifted one works hard to keep his head above water, we admire the star, the headliner, the one with greater accomplishments.

Torah is different. “According to the pain is the reward.” HaShem does not look at results. Why, after all is said and done, results are the accomplishments of HaShem, not of people! Any gifts you have, any capabilities, any achievments are all dependent on, and directly attributed to, not you, but HaShem! The only thing that you did was — you toiled. Some people toil by fighting the yetzer hora in this particular matter. Some toil by fighting negativity, resentment, cynicism. Some have to work harder to concentrate, to remember, some to understand. Some fight laziness; some fight jealousy; some anger. It is the fighting, the toil, the exertion, the effort — this is us, this is our bechirah, this is our handiwork — and nothing else! There is nothing else to be rewarded for!

This was the dialectic between the king and the old man. The king felt it pointless to work when there are no fruits to show for it at the end of the day. The old man taught the king: I toil, and as a reward I might merit to see the fruits of my labor; and even if HaShem does not want me to (for this aspect is up to HaShem, not us!), someone, somewhere will eat the fruit. But toil I must; that is what I am here in this world to do.

And the hapless neighbor just didn’t get it. Whereas the old man “brought” the king his industriousness, his labor, the neighbor brought the king the accomplishment — the end result — figs! “I need your figs?” shouted the king. “I have not enough figs in my palace?”

Does HaShem “need our figs”? He has angels, serafim, holy spirits, all accomplishing what he sends them out to accomplish. HaShem wants our choice, our toil in His service, our working hard to conquer a middah, to overcome our nature.

“We toil… and receive a reward” — for the toiling, not for the accomplishment. “They toil and do not receive reward”for the toiling!If a person works to build a table, and fails — can he ask to be paid for the table? Yet if a person struggles to understand a Gemara, to be mevaker choleh, maybe even for someone he or she does not particularly like, and never figures the Gemara out, and the choleh has already been discharged, the reward is according to the toil, the pain, the difficulty.

That is all HaShem wants from us; only that is our gift to Him. And that is the “walking” our parsha speaks of — the walking, and not the end of the journey, not the reaching the end zone.

And if we don’t “give” that, we give nothing, and it is only a short road to spiritual poverty.