Pirkei Avot, the collection of Rabbinic aphorisms known widely as “Ethics of the Fathers,” includes a concise statement by Ben Hei-Hei: “L’fum agra skhara: The reward is commensurate with the labor.” A principle with many applications! Hard-working students are more likely to excel, just as diligent employees rightly earn advancement. Those who are attentive, caring, supportive, giving friends elicit devotion and affection in return. A rewarding and fulfilling marriage requires on-going effort, attention, mutual consideration, sensitivity, loving conduct and communication.

Effort is required in the spiritual realm, as well. Both personal prayer and communal worship are disciplines that require practice and effort. The use of Hebrew as the language of Jewish liturgy is itself a demanding skill set. Ben Hei-Hei’s teaching is, significantly, written in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Talmudic age. Perhaps he was directing his counsel to those who had made little effort to master Hebrew.

A deep appreciation of Jewish tradition, its spiritual wisdom and practice, requires a principled commitment to study. It is those who invest time and effort and self in congregational life who are “rewarded” with a satisfying sense of community and belonging.

In matters of love and learning, spirit and community… in all that makes us truly human… “The reward is commensurate with the effort.”

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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