Our Sages teach us in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 5, Mishnah 22): “Ben Heh Heh (the name of one of the Tannaic Sages) says: Based on how much one suffers is one rewarded.” In the World to Come, when one’s actions are scrutinized to determine how much reward one deserves, one’s actions are not only weighed based on the importance of the Mitzvah, i.e. if it is a great Mitzvah one will receive great reward and if it is a “small” Mitzvah one will receive less reward; rather, the difficulty one endured while performing every single Mitzvah is weighed so that if one needed to garner much inner-strength in order to overcome one’s evil inclination, one’s reward will be great whereas if one troubled himself only minimally, one’s reward will also be minimal.
A story is recounted about a certain Jewish businessman who was once travelling by wagon to do business. While on the way, the sky darkened and a heavy snow fell causing this man to lose his way, for the road was completely covered with snow; he traveled off the beaten path until it was finally very late at night.
The man felt as though he was beginning to become frostbitten so he decided to leave his wagon and he started trekking by foot for many long hours until he saw some light in the distance and when he arrived at this house, he was barely alive. This happened to have been the house of the rabbi who was up late at night studying Torah by candlelight. When the rabbi heard the knock at the door, he quickly let the man in and prepared him warm blankets and a steaming beverage to restore him to health.
In the morning when the men were about to part ways, the businessman turned to the rabbi and told him, “Honored rabbi, you can clearly see how much suffering I must endure in order to sustain my family, what shall be with my share in the World to Come? Will I have a share in it?”
The rabbi answered, “What do you mean? If in this world, which is considered only the entrance hall before the World to Come which is considered the King’s palace you have difficulty attaining peace and tranquility with all of the efforts you invest in it, how much more so regarding the World to Come, if one does not prepare on Erev Shabbat, what shall one eat on Shabbat? Do you think that the World to Come is a free ride? You must toil to acquire Torah, Mitzvot, and good deeds in order to secure your place in the World to Come, as our Sages taught, ‘If one has acquired Torah, he has acquired himself eternal life.’”
A similar concept is brought down by the Midrash that Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish would sit and toil in Torah all day long in a certain cave in Teveria (Tiberias). There was a certain jug merchant who would make sure to prepare a jug of water for Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish every day so that he would be able to purify his hands and drink.
Once, this merchant sat with Rabbi Shimon at which point he asked him, “Rabbi, do you remember that we were childhood friends and we even studied in the same school? While you have merited becoming an outstanding Torah scholar, I have not. Please pray for me that I should share in your share in the World to Come!” Rabbi Shimon replied, “How can I pray for you? Your share in the World to Come will be with members of your own trade, for in the World to Come, every person is seated with the other members of his own trade,” meaning that the blessing of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish would not help someone who did not strive to acquire himself a great share in the World to Come. Even one who is a jug merchant and whose business is run with integrity and honesty will only merit sitting in the World to Come with other honest jug merchants, but jug merchants nonetheless.
From the above incidents one can learn an important lesson, especially for our days, in that every person struggles every day to earn a living and reach other materialistic goals and only after a few decades, when one is already old and weak, does one free himself from his prior dealings, at which point he realizes that all of his materialistic pursuits were for naught and he is devoid of any spiritual assets and his Torah learning and Mitzvot observance are at a low level, like a schoolboy. Thus, every person must arouse himself from his slumber and work diligently in the work of Heaven and always be certain to ascend in levels of service of Hashem through fulfilling the Mitzvot and setting established times for Torah study (especially Halacha). In this merit, Hashem will reward one handsomely and grant one a generous share in the World to Come together with all of the righteous and pious souls of Israel.