We read in Parashat Noach the disturbing story of Noach’s inebriation, during which he removed his clothes. One of his sons, Cham, relished the sight of his father’s disgrace, and rushed to tell his brothers – Sheim and Yefet – of what happened. Sheim and Yefet promptly covered Noach to protect his honor. Later, when Noach regained sobriety, he proclaimed a blessing upon Sheim and Yefet, and a curse upon Cham.
Rashi (9:23), based on the Midrash, notes that the Torah uses the singular form “va-yikach” (as opposed to “va-yikchu”) in reference to Sheim and Yefet’s taking a garment to cover Noach. This indicates that one of the two played the primary role in this effort, and the other a secondary role. Rashi explains, “This teaches that Sheim exerted himself in the mitzva more than Yefet.” Therefore, Rashi writes, Sheim’s descendants received a greater reward than Yefet’s descendants. Yefet’s reward was that his evil descendants – the nation of Gog – would receive burial after their defeat (Yechezkel 39:11), whereas Sheim’s descendants received the mitzva of tzitzit, wearing special fringes on their garments, just as Sheim took a garment to cover Noach.
Rav Yechezkel Levenstein (Or Yechezkel – Torah Va’daas, pp. 132-3) comments that the Midrash’s remarks demonstrate how a quantitative difference in effort can make a qualitative difference in the results. It seems unlikely that the difference between Sheim and Yefet’s levels of exertion in this episode was all that drastic. They simply took a garment and covered the private parts of their father’s body; if they both participated, Sheim’s efforts could not have been qualitatively greater than Yefet’s. And yet, this minor difference resulted in vastly different outcomes. Sheim’s act was considered qualitatively greater than Yefet’s due to the extra bit of effort and enthusiasm that he invested in this important mitzva. Chazal here thus teach us, Rav Levenstein explains, that even a slight increase in our investment of effort can significantly – and even drastically – affect the outcome. Putting in a little extra time, concentrating a little more intently, paying a little extra attention to detail, and investing a little more emotion into what we do can make the result qualitatively better than it would be otherwise. The Midrash thus urges us not to discount even small amounts of additional work and effort, to recognize the great importance of every ounce of exertion we invest in Torah study and mitzva performance, and overcome our natural tendency towards complacency that threatens to drastically diminish from our success and achievement.