This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, contains the commandment to pay a hired labourer on the same day he has worked. “At his day you shall give him his hire; neither shall the sun go down upon it.” We, the Jewish people, are considered the “hired labourers” of G-d.
Our “task” is to observe the Torah and its mitzvot (commandments), and our “payment” is the reward G-d grants us for having obeyed His will.
A general principle in Judaism is that G-d Himself performs the same mitzvot He commands us to observe. If we are forbidden to delay paying our employees until the following day, G-d too is required to “pay” every Jew immediately upon the performance of a mitzva. Yet the Torah also states, “Today is for observance; tomorrow (the World to Come) is for receiving reward.” Is this not a contradiction?
If one considers a Jew’s entire life – the sum total of his observance since the day he was born – as one long workday, after which he is entitled to his reward in Gan Eden (the World to Come) this explanation is in itself insufficient.
For the true reward for observance of Torah and mitzvot is not granted in the afterlife in Gan Eden, but in the Messianic Era, when the dead will be resurrected and live once again in a physical body.
The reward a Jew receives in Gan Eden is primarily in the merit of the Torah he studied during his lifetime; the reward for our mitzvot will come only after the Resurrection.
But how is this fulfilling the mitzva of “At his day you shall give him his hire” if we must wait thousands of years for our “payment”?
In order to understand, let us examine exactly what our Divinely-appointed job entails. According to the Torah, this physical world was created solely because “G-d desired a dwelling place down below.” Precisely here, in a coarse material world that obscures the holiness within, G-d wants His Presence to be revealed.
The task of transforming the world into a suitable dwelling place for G-d is a collective one, spanning the generations since the beginning of time. Every mitzva that a Jew performs refines his body and purifies the world at large, gradually infusing the material world with G-dliness. Over the thousands of years of the world’s existence this holiness has accumulated, readying the world for its ultimate perfection – the revelation of Moshiach and the Messianic Era.
The “contract” between G-d and His people is not that of an employer and his day labourer. Rather, the Jewish people has undertaken the collective charge of preparing the world for Moshiach, an undertaking that is not the responsibility of one individual, but is the duty of all Jews, throughout the generations. The full reward for our efforts will be granted only when the job is completed and Moshiach is revealed, speedily in our day.
Even now, however, during the last minutes of exile, G-d is obligated to ensure that all the needs of his “labourers” are met, so that we may properly attend to the task at hand and hasten the immediate Redemption. Moshiach NOW!!!