And Shem and Yefet took a garment… (Beresheet 9:23)
Noach left the teivah to begin the monumental task of rebuilding the world. He had taken with him all the living creatures and released them to propagate their species throughout the globe. Then he went to his stored seeds to begin planting all the species of vegetation that the flood had destroyed. His first choice was the grape. After it miraculously grew into fruit, he made wine and drank from his handiwork to the point of mindless intoxication. Canaan, the son of Cham, saw his grandfather in a compromised position and told his father, Cham. Cham publicized his father’s shame. When Shem and Yefet heard of their father’s embarrassing condition, Shem rushed to get a garment to cover his father. Shem and Yefet both held the garment and walked backwards towards their drunken father until they were close enough to cover him. Rashi points out a grammatical problem. The Torah says and “he” took rather than “they” took. If there were two men carrying the garment, the plural form should have been used!
Rashi explains: “This teaches us about Shem that he exerted effort in the fulfillment of the commandment to honor his father, more than did Yefet.” Rashi reveals the reward and punishment each of the three sons received. “This is why Shem’s children were privileged to be given the commandment of tallit and tzitzit. Yefet earned burial by his children in the final war of Gog and Magog. As for Cham, who disgraced his father, his descendants were taken into slavery in an embarrassing manner.”
Harav Zalman Sorotzkin, zt”l, in Oznayim LaTorah, says the rewards received were in keeping with the principle of “measure for measure.” Shem, who performed the mitzvah with lively enthusiasm, was rewarded with an adornment to the garment of his children while they were alive. Yefet, who joined in without any zeal, was rewarded with burial for his deceased offspring. Additionally, Shem, who acted with alacrity, was rewarded quickly. His offspring merited the reward much sooner than did Yefet’s descendants. They started performing the mitzvah while living in the desert after the Exodus. Yefet’s children are still waiting for their reward. We see from this incident that the calculation of reward and punishment is precise to the minutest component of the performance of any deed, good or bad.
It is said about the wife of the Vilna Gaon that she used to go around the city on Friday with a friend of hers, collecting to provide the needs of others for Shabbat. One time, when they were involved in the mitzvah, her friend saw one of the people that contributed to their cause on a regular basis. She lifted her finger and pointed out the man to the Gaon’s wife. Together, they caught up with him and successfully secured his contribution.
One day the two righteous women made a deal. “Whoever passes away first will return in a dream and let the surviving friend know what the rewards of the next world are.” Not long after the friend passed away, she returned as promised in a dream. “Know that everything is recorded there and every action in the world below leaves an impression above. For example,” she continued, “do you remember that time we were collecting for the needs of the poor and I pointed out the contributor to you? That action of pointing my finger was recorded and the reward for that simple gesture is on my account, while the rest of our day is recorded to the benefit of both of us!”
The lesson is clear. Any opportunity for mitzvah performance should be approached with enthusiasm. Not only will one ultimately will be rewarded for all good deeds but everyone will also receive additional bonus rewards for the “gusto”!