I was building up from scratch; I was so out of shape that 10 minutes on my elliptical was a big deal. But I slowly worked my way up to a half-hour, three times a week, and fell into a routine. One day, I felt ready for more. I braced myself, and when 30 minutes passed, I continued pedaling. “Just five more minutes,” I told myself, yet every turn of the pedal was strenuous, disproportionately harder than the entire 30-minute workout. The struggle was real.

It’s that way spiritually, too.

The Torah says (Malachi 3:18): “And you will return and see the difference between the righteous man and the wicked one, between he who serves G‑d and he who serves Him not.”

The first two categories are simple to understand: the difference between a righteous man and a wicked one. Is the second half of the phrase merely repetition, saying the same thing in different words?

The Talmud explains that it is not. “He who serves Him not” is a Jew who learns something 100 times, the acceptable standard in the days of the Talmud. “He who serves Him” is the Jew who pushes himself to learn the material just one more time—an effort that could equal the entire previous 100 times.

“He who serves him not” are the people who are perfect, but it isn’t hard for them. They may even be a Beinoni—perfect in thought, speech and action. They naturally enjoy learning Torah, praying and “being good.” They are comfortable in their status quo, and even if they wanted to act inappropriately, they could easily squelch the desire. They’re simply used to it. They may be “goody-goodies,” but that’s not called serving G‑d.

Then there are “those who serve G‑d.” This is the individual who pushes himself beyond his comfort zone and has to actively inspire himself in order to “win” over his evil desires.

And that is just as hard, if not harder, than everything he’s ever done, which makes it worth equal to or more than everything he’s already accomplished. The hallmark of someone considered to be serving G‑d is the fact that he struggles.

Because G‑d appreciates the effort.

Tanya Bit: A spiritual workout begins when my comfort level ends.

(Inspired from Chapter 15 of Tanya)