Parashat Shemini: The Inherent Value of Preparation
Parashat Shemini begins with the events of what we might call "opening day" in the Mishkan, when it first began operating, with Aharon and his sons serving as Kohanim and offering the sacrifices. Although this was the first day of the Mishkan’s operations, the Torah refers to this day as "Yom Ha’shemini" – "the eighth day" – because it was preceded by a seven-day process of preparation, during which special rituals were performed to formally consecrate the Mishkan and the Kohanim.
Rav Dovid Feinstein noted the significance of the fact that the Torah refers to this day as "the eighth day." It might seem strange, at first glance, that a day so significant, which marked the beginning of the regular service in the Mishkan, would be described as the conclusion of a process, rather than the beginning of a new era. The title "eighth day," Rav Feinstein commented, demonstrates the immense importance that the Torah affords to the preparation for Misvot. The point being made is that this first day of the Mishkan’s operation could not have been possible without the seven preparatory days. This is why it was the "eighth day" – because the seven-day period of preparation was a vitally important, indispensable part of the process.
Too often, we neglect the process of preparing for Misvot. This neglect is especially common when it comes to Tefila. Many times, we arrive in the synagogue late, or just before it begins, huffing and puffing and then jumping right into the prayer. We should endeavor to arrive in the synagogue at least a few minutes early so we can mentally prepare ourselves to communicate with our Creator. In fact, the Mishna in Masechet Berachot tells that there used to be especially pious people who would arrive a full hour early before the prayer in order to prepare. While this is not practical for the vast majority of us, it shows us the importance of spending a few moments to prepare ourselves for prayer – and for other Misvot which we perform.
There is also another aspect to this concept, of the value of preparing for Misvot. From the Torah’s perspective, if a person prepared to do a Misva which then did not materialize, he is nevertheless considered to have performed the Misva. Since preparing for a Misva is no less significant than the Misva itself, a person receives credit for a Misva he prepared to fulfill even if circumstances eventually prevented him from actually fulfilling it. For example, if a woman arranged her schedule one day to allow her to attend a Torah class, doing everything she needed to get done ahead of time, but in the end she was called to pick up a child who was not feeling well in school, she gets credit for attending the class. Since she made the preparations for the Misva, she is considered as having fulfilled it despite the outcome.
The Gemara in Masechet Berachot presents the text of a prayer which many have the custom to recite just before they leave the Bet Midrash after learning Torah. In this prayer, the student gives thanks to G-d for granting him the privilege of spending his time learning, instead of being like those who engage in other pursuits. In one segment of this prayer, the person proclaims, "For we toil and they toil; we toil and receive reward, while they toil and do not receive reward." The Hafetz Haim raised the question, is it really true that other people toil without receiving reward? We all know many people who do not learn Torah and who earn a great deal of money through their hard work. How can we say that they do not receive any reward through their toil?
The Hafetz Haim explained this prayer to mean that we receive reward for the toil itself, irrespective of the outcome, whereas in all other pursuits, one receives reward only for the result. A salesman who spends a month traveling throughout the country trying to sell a product will not receive any money unless he succeeds in making sales. In Torah, however, we receive reward for the effort invested, even if in the end we do not understand. Sometimes, Yeshiva students spend hours trying to answer a certain question, or trying to understand a difficult passage in one of the commentaries, but leave at the end of the day without a satisfactory explanation. They will receive reward for the effort they put in, despite not ever arriving at the answer.
This is unique to Torah, because the Torah values not only the end result, but also the entire process. The hard work invested in preparation for a Misva is immensely valuable, irrespective of the final outcome.