Getting credit for work can be important, contentious, humbling, and telling about the nature of the work itself. It is important because people should be recognized for their time, efforts, and initiatives. It is sometimes contentious because work often involves multiple people, and choosing to give credit to only some, or even sharing credit can sometimes diminish the effort by all involved. It is potentially humbling because lack of credit, or muted credit, can remind us that the work we did was actually quite ordinary and any number of people could have performed it. It tells us about the nature of the work itself, in that choosing how people are credited often tells which part of the work is most important. Sports provide a good example of this. In baseball, a hitter who moves a runner from first to third gets less credit than the batter who moves the runner home, even if the former contributed more overall bases. In basketball, a brilliant pass through a tight defense to a wide open player standing under the basket merely gets an assist. The player who makes the easy basket is credited with the actual points.
This week’s parasha, Eikev, teaches, “You shall observe all of themitzvah that I command you today, so that you may live, multiply, arrive, and inherit the land that Hashem promised to your forefathers,” (Deuteronomy 8:1). Reading the phrase, “all of themitzvah,” carefully, the midrash Tanchuma concludes that only one who completes a mitzvah receives the credit. It does not read “all of the mitzvah” to mean that performing the mitzvah from start to finish is necessary for credit. Rather, credit goes for merely completing themitzvah. Its proof is the story of Moses taking Joseph’s bones out of Egypt. Joseph died in Egypt and adjured the Israelites to take his bones out of Egypt when, in the future, God would lead the people out of the Egypt. During the Exodus, the Torah specifically states that Moses took Joseph’s bones out of Egypt (Exodus 13:19). However, since Moses never enters the land of Israel, the completion of the task falls to others. When the book of Joshua describes the burial of Joseph’s bones, it credits all of the Israelites with taking the bones from Egypt and burying them in the land of Israel. Even though Moses alone took the bones, since he did not complete the task, he gets no credit in the end. This is additionally strange because Joseph only asked to have his bones removed from Egypt, not necessarily to have them buried in the land. Moses could have buried Joseph in the desert and received full credit. However, he passes the task on to others, allowing Joseph the honor of a burial in the land of his forefathers. According to this midrash, when deciding where to give credit for a task, one should look to those who completed it and not those who began it.
Our tradition also includes a contrasting midrash to the Tanchuma. Psalm 30, which we say at the beginning of P’sukei D’zimra, begins, “A Psalm, a song for the dedication of the Temple, of David” (Psalms 30:1). Mekhilta D’Rebbi Yishmael (another, earlier collection ofmidrash) notes that this Psalm ought to be “of Solomon,” not “of David,” since Solomon dedicated the Temple. The Midrash resolves this by suggesting that since David gave so much of himself towards the building of the Temple, it was dedicated in his name, not Solomon’s. So too, any time a person gives much of themselves towards a task, that person is credited for it, even if someone else completes the task. From the perspective of this midrash, we should honor the effort over the completion.
Rabbi Yiztchok Zilberstein (may he live for many more good years) suggests a solution to the competing midrashim (Chashukei ChemedRosh Hashana 11a noted 30). In Moses’ taking Joseph’s bones out of Egypt, Moses was a replaceable person. Had Moses not taken the bones, someone else would have. Taking the bones was a routine play. However, if not for the sheer will of David in beginning the project of building the Temple, it would never have been built. For an exceptional move like David’s, credit is due, even if he did not see the task to completion. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (20th Century Israel) makes a similar suggestion (Notes of the GRI”SH to Sotah 13b), based on the world of matchmakers. He deals with a case where a successful match is made through the work of two matchmakers. Rabbi Elyashiv explains that if the efforts of the first permit the second to be successful, the first receives ⅓ of the reward (presumably monetary, not just in Heaven). Otherwise, the credit is given entirely to the second matchmaker, and the first receives nothing.
It is important to note the conduct of both Moses and David. Moses takes up a task that anyone can do. In fact, Moses could have strictly completed the task by burying Joseph in the desert - a task any Israelite could have started and completed. Yet Moses humbles himself to begin the task and shows even more humility by not completing the task. Instead, he gives up credit and also gives greater honor to Joseph by allowing others to complete the burial in the land of Israel. He displays the humility for which the Torah describes him as, “More humble than any [other] person” (Numbers 12:3). David gives his heart and soul to a task, even though he risks never seeing it through. He displays incredible faith and dedication, even though, in his lifetime, his efforts will fail. Moses and David should both be models for us in our own lives. May we all find the humility to begin and attempt to complete the mundane tasks in life, as Moses did. May we all be willing to give up credit to see a task completed with more honor than we ourselves are capable of giving it. May we all be like David, willing to pour our souls into projects which may not be completed in our lifetimes and from whose success we will never truly reap the benefits. Finally, may we always give proper credit where it is due.
Reb Joel Goldstein