In the early days of the Lakewood yeshiva, one of the major benefactors once made a bold comment to Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the founding Rosh Yeshiva (head of the academy):
“Rebbe, I’m supporting your yeshiva and so I have an equal merit in the reward for the learning, right?”
“That’s correct,” replied Rabbi Kotler, “we have a partnership just like the one that existed between Issachar and Zebulun. You provide the material needs, I provide the spiritual needs and we share the reward in Olam Haba (the World to Come).”
“So how are you and I any different, Rebbe?” the man smirked, “We’ll both end up in the same place!”
“The difference between us,” responded the Rosh Yeshiva, “is that while we may both have a wonderful Olam Haba in store for us, I also have an Olam Hazeh (this world)!”
Rabbi Shefatiah quoted Rabbi Yochanan: If a minyan reads from the Torah, the greatest among them gets gelilah (rolls up the Torah scroll). Moreover, the person who gets gelilah receives the reward of all of them, as Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught: If a minyan reads from the Torah, the one who gets gelilah receives the reward of all of them. Asks the Gemara: Really, the reward of all of them? Rather, he receives a reward equal to that of all the others.
The Talmud here teaches that the most important part of the Torah service is wrapping up the Torah once we are finished reading. Seriously?!? Gelilah is the prize aliyah (call-up)? Everyone knows that gelilah is given to the fellow who can’t read the blessings over the Torah – hey, we’d even give it to a kid! Since when is gelilah the special aliyah reserved for the greatest of the bunch?
It almost sounds as though our Sages heaped reward on gelilah just because nobody would take it otherwise. ‘Don’t feel like a loser for getting gelilah, we’ll give you as much reward as everyone else put together!’ Ah, feels much better now, right?
Actually, it was probably one of the smartest kiruv (outreach) moves. The dude that walks into shul and can’t read Hebrew – instead of embarrassing him with the transliteration, we can now give him gelilah and let him know that he got the best aliyah in the house! Remember, back in the day, when you were called to the Torah, it wasn’t a matter of merely reciting the blessings, you had to read the entire portion out loud!
And so gelilah became the great equalizer. It didn’t matter how knowledgeable you are or aren’t, we could call you up. And once the Talmud decided that gelilah should be the prize call-up, it has the binding effect of Halacha for all time!
But let’s be honest for a moment. If you’ve been getting gelilah for some time now, it’s time to ask yourself why. Sure, you’ll be rewarded for coming to shul and being part of the service. In Olam Haba, you might even have a special reward in store for getting gelilah, but how does your Olam Hazeh look?
Are you settling for spiritual mediocrity, satisfying yourself with tying the Torah up after everyone else has finished reading it? No doubt, someone’s got to do it, but if it’s always you, maybe it’s time to move on and expect more from yourself!
Doing gelilah may get you to the same final destination, but imagine how rich and fulfilling your life would be if you were prepared to invest the time and effort into mastering real Torah knowledge in this world! In the World to Come, you don’t want to just be in Heaven, you want to appreciate Heaven. The way to accomplish that goal is to achieve mastery of G-d’s wisdom in this world. All good people go to Heaven, but only those who have mastered the Torah are truly able to appreciate the World to Come.
Don’t settle for mediocrity. It’s not only about the reward. It’s about realizing spiritual greatness. You can do it, apply yourself to Torah study today and you will achieve greatness in this world and the next!