Can you imagine anyone in their right mind starting to pay tuition for schooling before they have any children to send to school? Yet this is the ideal way to serve Hashem…
The Medrish Tanchuma (Parshas Emor paragraph 7) sites an introduction to one of Rebbe Tanchuma’s sermons: “‘Whoever anticipated me and I can reward him, for whatever is under all the heavens is mine (Job 41:3).” This verse refers to a man without children who lives in a certain area and pays wages to teachers of the Written Law and Oral Law. G-D says: ‘It is behooving of me to reward him for his hard work, I will reward him with a son.’ Rebbe Yirmiyah ben Elazar use to say, In the future a Voice from Heaven will speak from on top the mountains and say, ‘Whomever works with G-D come and take your wages.’ The Holy Spirit will cry out and say, ‘Whoever anticipated me and I can reward him.’ Who gives praise before me before I give him a soul? Who circumcises his son before I give him a son? Who makes tzitzis before I give him a four cornered garment? Who makes a fence on his roof before I give him a roof? Who makes a sukkah before he is given a place to put it? Who sets aside the corners of his field for the poor before I give him a field? Who separates terumah and tithes before I give him a threshing floor? Who brings offerings before me before I give him an animal? This is the intention of the verse (Vayikra 22:27), ‘When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born…’”
The Etz Yosef explaining how the verse in Iyov [Job] relates to the verse in this week’s Torah Portion says that even if one brings an ox or sheep as a sacrifice to G-D he should not feel glorified about his actions because Hashem is the one who gave him the animal in the first place... Even though there really isn’t anyone who can fulfill a mitzvah before he has the means to do it, and therefore G-D really has no obligation to reward anyone because everyone should fulfill G-D’s mitzvos since He gave to everyone out of His goodness, Hashem will nevertheless reward anyone who fulfills His mitzvos. (Click here for Hebrew text)
It makes sense that true reward is only deserved if one does something out of the goodness of his or her heart, without needing to give back, and, therefore, G-d, in His pure mercy, is really just rewarding us for doing something which we should feel indebted to do anyways since he gives so much to us and we should use those means to give back without expecting anything more in return. We certainly should not feel arrogance, for any mitzvah we perform, no matter how elaborate it is, because G-D himself gave us the material to perform the mitzvah.
It would seem from this medrish that Hashem is concerned with us becoming haughty as a results of the mitzvos we perform. Yet Hashem is not concerned with us becoming haughty as a result of the effort and hard work we put into something – even if we do not produce results. But why not? Doesn’t it say in Pirkay Avos [Ethics of our Father with Bartenura commentary] 5:23: ‘according to the amount of pain and suffering one can withstand for the sake of learning Torah and doing Mitzvos the more reward he receives!?’ If effort is what really counts in Hashem’s eyes, then we should be even more drawn towards conceit no matter what the results are!
It must be, therefore, that a person does not feel any pride in putting in all his efforts, no matter how much glitz and energy one puts in, if, in the end, one doesn’t produce. And this must be so even if he knows the results are all in Hashem’s hands and that Hashem is only looking for one’s efforts; still, everyone feels there is nothing to feel arrogant about if one didn’t fulfill what he intended.