We have learned in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 1, Mishnah 13): “One who does not attempt to enhance his service of Hashem and Torah learning is worthy of death.” We must try to understand what our Sages meant by this statement, for the Torah does not mention such a severe punishment for one who does not study Torah or enhance his Mitzvah performance.
Maran zt”l explained this based on the verse in Mishlei (Chapter 15), “A wise man focuses his way of life upwards in order that he not fall to the abyss below.” One may tell himself, “Why should I strive for deeds that are loftier than I am; I think that it is quite sufficient to maintain my current level of commitment to religion, innocence, and fear of G-d. I shall stand guard not to let my current level deteriorate; however, I need not add anything to my service of Hashem.” Upon further analysis, this is a completely mistaken thought pattern, for if one does not strive to reach higher and loftier levels in the service of Hashem through setting times for Torah learning and enhancing his Torah and Mitzvot observance, by default he will fall lower and lower. This is what is meant by, “A wise man focuses his way of life upwards” and all this is “in order that he not fall into the abyss below.” If one does not ascend, he will descend by default. For this reason, the Mishnah tells us that if one does not attempt to enhance his adherence to Torah and Mitzvot he is worthy of death, for it is impossible for one to stay on the same level for one’s entire life.
Maran zt”l adds something he heard from the late Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef, Hagaon Rabbeinu Ezra Attieh zt”l: An incident once occurred in Aleppo, Syria, with a G-d-fearing man named Rabbi Aharon. Every day he would set aside time for Torah learning, beginning with an in-depth study of the “Hok Le’Yisrael” while trying to understand the words of the Mishnah, Gemara, and Zohar to the best of his ability. Following this, he would begin his intensive study of the Shulchan Aruch. By the time he had concluded his daily learning schedule, the hour was late and he would eat some bread for breakfast, recite Birkat Hamazon, and head for his office in the center of town. Rabbi Aharon was an expert pearl and precious stone salesman and his reputation of being an honest and trustworthy man preceded him. His wife would criticize him for leaving to work so late, for if he did so, how would he be able to support his family properly? He would reply that he trusted in Hashem that in the merit of his Torah learning, Hashem would provide for them abundantly and easily.
Once, as he was about to open his office, he noticed an Arab from the city of Chevron sitting next to his store. He asked this man what he wanted and the latter replied that he should first open his office only after which he would reveal what he needed. Once he opened his office, the Arab strode in after him and removed his turban, in which several other turbans several turbans were wrapped, one inside the other. Between two of the turbans was a truly priceless pearl which the Arab showed to Rabbi Aharon and asked him how much he thought it was worth. After scrutinizing it several times under a magnifying glass, Rabbi Aharon exclaimed that it was indeed precious and worth over one-hundred thousand dollars! (At that time the dollar was approximately seven times its current value.) Rabbi Aharon told him that he would discuss this with some people he knew who were pearl dealers to see if any of them were interested in buying it. The Arab told him, “I am staying at Hotel so-and-so and I am hopeful that you will get back to me as soon as possible.”
The next morning, after Rabbi Aharon had finished his daily learning schedule, ate his breakfast, and left to work, he passed by this specific hotel where the Arab from Chevron was staying and he noticed a large crowd gathered at the front of the hotel. He asked one of those assembled what was going on to which he was told that a certain Arab from Palestine had come to stay in this hotel and after a week’s time of eating and drinking there without paying for anything, he had a sudden heart attack and died. The hotel owner filed a report with the police and the police chief was now here auctioning off this deceased man’s belongings to offset his debt.
Rabbi Aharon stood there in wonderment to see if Hashem had succeeded his path or not. The police chief began selling the Arab’s clothing and other belongings and when he reached the man’s turban, Rabbi Aharon bid ten Bishlik (a small coin) for it. Another man bid fifteen, and Rabbi Aharon then raised his bid to eighteen Bishlik. At this point no one bid any higher and the police chief announced, “Going once, going twice, going three times, sold!” Rabbi Aharon paid the price and took the turban to his office. Upon unraveling the turban, he found the precious pearl inside. Eventually, he sold it and became very wealthy. This is what our Sages meant by saying that the one eats the fruits of the merit of his Torah learning in this world and the principle reward stays complete for collection in the World to Come.