Rashi notes that the Torah uses the word vayikach, and he took, in the singular, as opposed to vayikchu, and they took. This teaches us that Shem actually exerted himself more than Yefes for this noble deed. Consequently, Shem’s descendants were privileged to receive the mitzvah of Tzitzis, while Yefes merited to receive respectful burial for his descendants. Rashi clearly teaches us that the difference between the rewards received by Shem and Yefes are directly linked with their relative actions on behalf of Noach. Shem received a “covering” of Tzitzis for the manner in which he covered his father. Yefes received burial for his descendants in a manner corresponding to the way he covered Noach. Horav Yitzchak Goldwasser, Shlita, points out four differences between the reward received by Shem to that received by Yefes, each one a direct result of the way each son performed his act of respect for his father.
He cites Horav Gedaliah Schorr, z.l., who distinguishes between Tzitzis, which is a covering for the living, and burial, which is a covering for the dead. Shem exerted himself when he performed the mitzvah. He put his life into it. Therefore, his reward is a covering for the living. Yefes was not proactive in his performance. He simply followed along with Shem. There was no life to his act. His reward was a covering – for the dead, which corresponds with his behavior.
Second, it did not take long for Shem’s reward to take effect. The Torah was given at Har Sinai to Shem’s descendants, Klal Yisrael, and the mitzvah of Tzitzis became a reality. Yefes’ reward will be fulfilled in the End of Days, after the war of Gog and Magog is fought. Measure for measure, the rewards coincide with the action. Shem wasted no time in performing the mitzvah. He moved forward with alacrity and covered his father. Thus, his reward was soon forthcoming. Yefes dragged; he was slothful in performing his good deed. His reward will arrive in a manner similar to his deed – at the End of Days, when the world as we know it is about to transform forever.
A Tallis – and every garment for that matter – performs a vital function in covering its wearer. Hence, the Tallis, or garment, becomes part and parcel with the person. It is like a part of his extended body. Indeed, a person’s image, his outward appearance, changes with the clothes he wears. The grave, on the other hand, is not a part of a person. He is placed into it. The body does not change its appearance as a result of being placed in the ground. It deteriorates, because there is no life left in it. Once again, this reverts back to the way each one performed the mitzvah. When one executes a mitzvah with hislahavus, fiery passion and excitement, he becomes one entity with the mitzvah. He is elevated and sanctified by it and becomes a new person by virtue of its holiness. Conversely, when one performs a mitzvah without feeling, without interest, without enthusiasm, he does not become affected in such a manner. One takes from a mitzvah exactly what he puts into it.
Last, Tzitzis is a mitzvah, a reward that bears fruit, that catalyzes the performance of other mitzvos. Chazal teach us in Pirkei Avos that s’char mitzvah – mitzvah; the reward for observing a mitzvah is the opportunity to carry out yet another mitzvah. As we don the Tallis everyday, we say, “Just as I cover myself with a Tallis in this world, so may I merit the chiluka d’Rabbanan, Rabbinical garb, and a beautiful cloak in the World to Come, in Gan Eden.”
In contrast, burial is the final reward. It does not generate any other fruits. A mitzvah performed with zeal and enthusiasm engenders other mitzvos and good deeds. It is like a wellspring, a veritable fountain of ever- flowing waters. On the other hand, a mitzvah performed lackadaisically, without fervor or desire, is sterile. While one certainly will be awarded for his endeavor, the spiritual quality of the mitzvah is deficient. A strong, positive attitude produces the “next generation” of mitzvos, while a languid demeanor in mitzvah performance hardly has the strength to give this mitzvah viability.