Remember What’s Important
In the final days before Shavuot, let's internalize the unique purpose of a Jew's life. When we accepted Torah on Mount Sinai and became Hashem's people, we were set aside from the other nations.
“If you follow (walk in) My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them” (Vayikra 26:3-4)
Where You Live
HaRav HaGaon Ephraim Ashrei, zt”l, the rabbi of Beit Midrash HaGadol in New York, once told me, that he had seen the house of the Chafeitz Chaim, zt”l, in Radin, and he described it as being simple and bare of any of the furnishings one would typically expect to find in someone’s home. All he saw was a few chairs made from simple wood that didn’t even have backrests.
There is a story told of a man who was traveling through Radin, and he visited the home of the Chafeitz Chaim, zt”l. While visiting the tzaddik, he was puzzled by the simplicity of the home and by the absence of common household items. He asked the Chafeitz Chaim, zt”l, “Why doesn’t the Rav have any of the typical furnishings and household items?”
“I wonder,” began the Chafeitz Chaim, zt”l, “where are all your furnishings and household items?” “I am just traveling through! I am just a guest here temporarily,” replied the man. “But, back home, I have plenty of luxuries: furniture, decorations, and all of the typical things you would find in anyone’s home!”
“I am exactly like you. I am just a ‘traveler’ here; just passing through this world. My home is in the World to Come. Therefore, I do not fill my temporary dwelling here in this world with various luxuries and trappings. Instead, I spend my life acquiring the treasures of avodat Hashem, accumulating merits that reside for me in the World to Come.”
Refraining from the Temporary
In Pirkei Avos (4:16), Chazal teach us that: Rabbi Yaakov would say: This world is comparable to the foyer before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the foyer, so that you may enter the banquet hall.
Chazal goes further and explains (Shabbat 153a and Kohelet Rabba 9:10) that this is analogous to a king who announces that he will be hosting an elaborate feast for his people. The king then instructs his subjects to clean themselves up, wash their clothes, and prepare for the feast. However, the king did not let them know when exactly the festivities would begin. The clever subjects rushed home, prepared themselves quickly, and returned to the king’s doorsteps to wait in anticipation. The foolish servants figured that a feast of this magnitude would take a while to prepare. So, they went about their business-as-usual, procrastinating their own preparations.
Suddenly, the king announced that the festivities would commence at once. The doors opened and all the subjects who were waiting outside entered. All the other people who had gone about their business rushed back; utterly unprepared. The king instructed that those who had adorned their elegant clothes and cleaned themselves up should sit and eat, while the others should stand and watch.
Hashem is the King of Kings, and has sent the neshama, the soul, into this world, into a physical body. By performing the mitzvot and doing virtuous deeds, a person is able to properly prepare himself to enter Hashem, the King of King’s palace in Gan Eden in the World to Come where he can stand before the glow of the Shechina, to feel the pure and true enjoyment of Hashem’s essence and presence for all of eternity.
However, this takes self-awareness of purpose. Sensible yidden remember that the focus of this world is the spiritual well-being of their neshama. They realize that their physical existence, their body, is temporary. Therefore, they minimize their physical existence, refraining from this world’s luxuries and over-indulgences. Instead, they focus on fulfilling the Torah and mitzvot, accumulating the merits that they will benefit from in the World to Come for all of eternity. They are preparing themselves in this world, like the king’s subjects in Chazal’s analogy, to be ready to indulge in the “feast” in the World to Come.
Who We Are as a People
This reality is what differentiates the yidden from all the other nations. Avraham Avinu was referred to as the “Ivri” -which is commonly translated as the “Hebrew”. However, the Midrash Rabba (42:8) offers another insight. The word “ivri” also means “against” or “in opposition.” The Midrash explains that Avraham Avinu was called the “Ivri” because the entire world was on one side, and he stood alone on the other. While the rest of the world worshiped idols, Avraham Avinu alone recognized the presence of Hashem in the world. The Jewish people are referred to as “Ivrim.” We live a life that is contrary to the life the rest of humanity chooses to live. They are on one side and the yidden are on the other.
The Shinaver Rebbe, zt”l, has an additional beautiful insight into the name “ivri”. The word “ivri” shares the same root word as “over” which means “passing”. A yid is called an ivri because he recognizes that he is just passing through this world, that he is merely a guest in this world on his journey to the World to Come.
This is exactly what David HaMelech meant when he wrote in Tehillim (119:19) that, “I am a stranger in this land.” He viewed his time in this world as a “stranger” passing through.
You Must Stand Apart
A yid must always keep this perspective at the forefront of his mind. He needs to remember what his priorities must be while in this world. The yidden live in a world surrounded by non-Jews with conflicted values. There are even Jews who have chosen to live their lives emulating non-Jewish values, their culture and their lifestyle, may Hashem protect us. They eat in non-kosher restaurants, and go to the theater and co-ed beaches.
If you want a treasure trove waiting for you in the World to Come, you need to feel like a foreigner in this world, to feel like a stranger in the land, to live a life contrary to the norms of the non-Jewish society that surrounds you.
This is difficult. Naturally, people want to belong and fit in. They want to be comfortable in their surroundings. Therefore, you must constantly keep in mind that all these physical indulgences are temporary, and only through Torah and mitzvot, can you obtain the true eternal pleasures in the World to Come.
This is like someone who has a delicious dessert placed before them. When they read the ingredients, they notice that there is one ingredient that they are deathly allergic to, even small doses will make him horribly sick. Even though everyone around him is indulging and enjoying the dessert, he will refrain from eating it, forfeiting that temporary enjoyment because he recognizes the danger, the risk to his life in that very same dessert.
Walking Through Life
This is what our pasuk is teaching us here: “If you want to follow My statutes and observe My commandments…” How can a yid keep the mitzvot and cling to a life that is focused on the right priorities? “You shall walk” – you must realize that you are merely “walking” through this world. That the pleasures of this world are temporary.
In fact, your entire physical existence is only fleeting. On the other hand, your spiritual merits accumulated through Torah and mitzvot will be reserved for your eternal enjoyment in the World to Come. When you keep that perspective, you can, “observe My commandments…”
May Hashem help each of you to remain strong in the face of opposition and temptation, that your priorities should remain steadfastly committed to a life defined by Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds. Through the merits of that life, may we all enjoy the true pleasures of Olam HaBa, the World to Come. Amen.
The Kalever Rebbe is the seventh Rebbe of the Kaalov Chasidic dynasty, begun by his ancestor who was born to his previously childless parents after receiving a blessing from the Baal Shem Tov zy”a, and later learned under the Maggid of Mezeritch zt”l. The Rebbe has been involved in outreach for more than 30 years, and writes weekly emails on understanding current issues through the Torah. You can sign up at www.kaalov.org.