Parshas Shelach (5776)
Our family just came home from a four-day, fun-filled Recreational Vehicle (RV) trip to beautiful southwestern Ontario.
The RV we rented was a beauty. It was equipped with roomy living space due to slide-out extended floors on both sides, and it had many of the amenities and furniture found in a typical home. There were three TV’s, a leather couch, a full kitchen with stovetop, microwave and fridge/freezer, a dining table, a full bathroom with shower, and enough beds for our entire family.
An RV is sometimes called a “motorhome” because that’s what it truly is, a “home” that “moves”, i.e. a motor vehicle in which your furniture comes along with you as you travel.
This reminded me of a famous story about the Chofetz Chaim:
A wealthy American businessman who was passing through the Polish town of Radin paid a visit to the home of the leader of his generation, the saintly Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaKohen ZT”L, known to all as the ‘Chofetz Chaim’. Upon entering the home, he was struck by how sparsely it was furnished. “Where is all your furniture!?”, the businessman asked. “And where is yours?”, replied the Chofetz Chaim. Somewhat startled by the response, the businessman said, “Oh, I am only passing through”. To which the Chofetz Chaim replied, “I, too, am only passing through”.
What the Chofetz Chaim taught the businessman – that we are all just passing through this world on our way to the Next World - echoes a 2000-year-old teaching of our Sages who wrote in Ethics of our Fathers (4:21): “Rabbi Yaakov said: This world is like a lobby before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall”.
[In the Talmud (in Avodah Zarah 3a) there is a similar saying: “This world is like the eve of Sabbath, and the World to Come is like Sabbath. He who prepares on the eve of Sabbath will have food to eat on Sabbath”.]
The Sages here are telling us what is probably the most important teaching in all of Judaism - that this physical world that we live in is not our final destination, but rather a place to prepare ourselves for our ultimate home in the next world, like a lobby leading into a banquet hall.
If we occupy ourselves with Torah study, mitzvah observance and character refinement while we are still in the ‘lobby’ of this world, we will be able to enjoy the great reward that we will receive in the ‘banquet hall’ that is the World to Come. But if we forget that we are only passing through this world, and we preoccupy ourselves for most of our lives with all our “furniture” and other mundane pursuits, neglecting our spiritual side, then what will have to enjoy for all eternity in the World to Come?
How tragic and even painful will it be if after we die we find ourselves in the Next World with nothing to show from our time spent in this world save some furniture that we bought for our home?
[Now I know that some of you reading this may not be too concerned about our Sages’ teachings regarding this world and the next because you aren’t convinced that there is, in fact, another world of ultimate reward that we go to after this one. All I can say to you then is that many, if not most, of the greatest Jewish and non-Jewish minds in history believed in hisha’arus hanefesh, i.e. that the soul lives on after death in a different dimension (which Judaism refers to as the “World to Come”). So shouldn’t we live our lives with at least the possibility that it might be true??] My blessing to you and me is that we live our lives in this world like we are only passing through to our ultimate home in the Next World.
[To learn more about the Soul and the Afterlife, I recommend a fantastic book: Soul Searching: Seeking Scientific Ground for the Jewish Tradition of an Afterlife by Yaakov Astor, Targum Press Publishers.]