LIFE IS A PAIN IN THE NECK
In the Mesillas Yesharim, in the first chapter, the author wishes to impress upon us the importance of directing our thoughts towards the World to Come. And he begins as follows: “You can see in truth that nobody who has any seichel at all could believe that the creation of man was for his situation in this world.” And he explains: “Because what is the life of a man in this world? And who is there who is actually completely happy and who really has tranquility and peace in this world? Our days are only seventy years, and b’gvuros, if a man has strength and a healthy constitution, then he can live maybe eighty years. But a great part of these years is filled with difficulties and toil. A great part is sadness; various kinds of vicissitudes, pain, illness, troubles and worries. And after everything, המות, comes death. You won’t find even one out of a thousand people that this world should supply him with true pleasure and tranquility. And even that one person who is so fortunate, even if he would live to a hundred years, he has already finished from this world and the future years that he continues to live are not years of happiness. He is no longer enjoying the pleasures of life.” And so, we see that this world, the pleasures of this world, are not the end-purpose of creation.
And we’ll explain the Mesillas Yesharim as follows: Any בר דעת, anyone with even a little bit of seichel, will note that all the kindliness, all the pleasures that we see Hashem providing in this world, are only functional – they’re there for a purpose. We like to eat food; food is a pleasure. And Hashem made it that way so that we should want to fill up with gas to have energy to exist, the strength needed to accomplish. It’s a functional pleasure, and that’s why after you eat a certain amount, you can’t eat anymore; the pleasure stops. If you would eat more than that, it becomes a distress. And other pleasures as well; they’re temporary, fleeting pleasures to make sure that you accomplish what has to be done. I don’t have to give you details. You can see it on your own; after the goal is accomplished you don’t want anymore. And therefore when you study these things you’ll see that there’s not any real pleasure in them, it’s only imaginary. And that’s how it is with many of the pleasures of life – as soon as the purpose is completed, there is no more pleasure.
And therefore, it’s clear, it’s very clear, that there is a purpose beyond this world. This world is not it. Because even the pleasures are fleeting pleasures; even the good things in life must come to an end, and the life of all men is filled with difficulties and sadness to a certain extent.
THE NESHAMA WANTS MORE $$$
Now the Mesillas Yesharim goes on to a second argument. “Not only that,” he says. “But if the purpose of the creation of Man was for this world alone, it wouldn’t have been necessary to put into him a neshama. He wouldn’t need such a noble soul; a soul that yearns for more and has higher aspirations, a soul which does not find any pleasures in all the things of this world. The neshama can never be satisfied with this world.” Now, of course it does find pleasure. But it’s never completely satisfied because it’s actually yearning for something much greater than the ephemeral pleasures that this world provides.
And that’s what Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men told us: וגם הנפש לא תמלא – “And the soul can never be filled” (Koheles 6:7). No matter how much pleasure you try to pour into your neshama, it will never be filled, never satisfied. Everybody knows that מי שיש לו מנה רוצה מאתיים. If a man has a million dollars, then he wants two million. And when he finally makes his second million, he’s already thinking about the next one. He’ll never really be satisfied.
And the Midrash Koheles explains this with a mashal: משל למה הדבר דומה – What is this compared to? To an עירוני, an ordinary person, a simple townsman, שנשא בת מלכים – who married a princess, a daughter of the king. Somehow the shadchan was able to pull off a miracle. So the chosson takes her out of the palace where she grew up, and he brings her to his little wooden shack.
So now she looks around and she’s thinking: This is where I’m going to spend the rest of my life?! In this hut?! She has better hasogos, better ideas about what life is capable of providing. She came from a palace, she knows what a home is supposed to look like. And so she begins to weep.
THE PRINCESS EATS MASHED POTATOES
So this chosson is perturbed by his new wife’s sadness and he wants to make her happy. Now, this ordinary townsman doesn’t have any ideas about the beauty of the palace. “Why do people cry?” he thinks. “It must be that she’s hungry. What else could be wrong?” So he takes out, let’s say, his big kettle and boils up some water and throws in some potatoes from his backyard. And he brings her a big plate of potatoes and says, “Eat, my kallah, there’s no reason to weep here in my home. There’s plenty to eat here.” But she continues to weep because this new world that she has descended to will never be able to satisfy her yearnings.
Now, the body is the chosson. And the kallah, the bride who came from the palace of the king is the neshama. And the bride will never be satisfied with what the poor chosson could offer her. Another plate of potatoes. Maybe even some mashed potatoes. Or some cooked beets. אפילו אם יביא לה כל מה שבעולם – even if he brings her everything in the world, אינה חשובה לה כלום – it’s not worth anything to her, שהיא בת מלך – because she’s the daughter of a king and she remembers the palace from where she came. כך הנפש אילו הבאת לה כל מעדני עולם – So too the neshama, even if you would bring her all the delights of the world, אינה חשובה לה כלום – it means nothing at all, because the soul remembers where it came from, שהיא מן העליונים – she comes from a higher world, from the upper worlds. And the soul will therefore never be satisfied with these earthly and mundane pleasures.
And this is the secret for all of the dissatisfaction in the world. People can never be satisfied because they’re yearning for something much more, they’re yearning for the palace of the king where they came from. And they’ll never be satisfied until they come to the Next World where they will finally get what they’re really craving for, being together with Hashem. Until then, there can be no true happiness.
I NEED A VACATION FROM MY VACATION!
Like a man we once had in our congregation. He and his wife lived in a beautiful home, on a tree-lined street with gardens. It was a beautiful street and an expensive home. But they had to go for vacation to the country. I don’t know if the country was any better than their home, but they went to an expensive hotel in the country for the summer. This is a true story. The truth is that I didn’t understand the necessity at all. She didn’t overwork herself here in the city, and they didn’t lack anything in their spacious and luxurious home. But they went to the country to spend the summer in an expensive hotel. A luxurious hotel where they could find “happiness”. But then, they left the hotel for a vacation to Switzerland for a few weeks. A true story! In our shul! They thought that maybe in Switzerland they’d find the satisfaction they were yearning for. But the truth is that they would never find true happiness in this world. Because they were looking in all the wrong places.
Now imagine people living like that constantly. Grasping at empty dreams with futility; living for this world and this world only. So what happened eventually? Unfortunately she suddenly contracted cancer. She was quite young. And after a long and painful illness she finally had to leave this world. And she didn’t leave as a satisfied and happy woman.
WHERE IS THE TOV ME’OD?
Now we’ll take this step by step so that we should understand this topic fully, because what we are speaking about now is the crux of our lives. We’ll start with an axiom, a premise, that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is a טוב ומיטיב. That’s number one and we cannot begin unless we assimilate that idea into our bones. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is עולם חסד יבנה (Tehillim 89:3). He created everything for the purpose of kindliness. וירא אלוקים את כל אשר עשה והנה טוב מאד – “And Hashem saw everything that He made, and behold it was very good” (Bereishis 1:31). Now, tov me’od means something that is endlessly good! Hakodosh Boruch Hu doesn’t give His seal of approval “very good” unless it is very, very, very – and forever we won’t stop saying very – good. That’s how good it must be if Hashem says it’s “very good.”
So when Hakodosh Boruch Hu said tov me’od, He meant infinitely tov. And that cannot be fulfilled in this world. Because this world is not all good and it’s not forever. למען יאריכון ימיך ולמען ייטב לך – [Honor your father and mother] so that your days will be lengthened and so that it will be good for you” (Devarim 5:16). And the Gemara (Kiddushin 39b) says: There’s no true length of life in this world and there’s no truly good life in this world. Because who can say with sincerity that their life is one of tranquility? Can you find me someone whose life is not beset with constant disturbances and crises? There is no such thing! The disappointments; the troubles and turbulence are constant. Every family, every individual, suffers in various ways in this world and I know all about it. I get the phone calls – constantly. People are ringing my bell. I know much more than you do. Trouble with parnasa, shalom bayis, shidduchim, sicknesses, fighting with neighbors and mothers-in-law, debts and everything you could imagine – and more. Life is full of difficulties for everyone.
THE HEAVYSET NURSE
And even if one would live a long life, peacefully without any disturbances, the end is almost always filled with tzaros. Before death there is infirmity and sickness. Almost everybody eventually ends up in a home for the aged. Many of those who imagine and hope that they will forever make their way merrily through life, will most likely find themselves one day lying in a bed wearing diapers. Many of them will be laying for years and years in a bed unable to move. They won’t be able to perform their functions without the help of a nurse. And then a heavyset woman will come in to change your diapers. And they’re not always the sweetest of women, those orderlies. “Made in your pants again? So soon?! I just changed you two hours ago!” Could that be the tov me’od that you pursued all the days of your life? You have to rely on this crabby old nurse to wipe you clean a few times a day. And some people won’t be able to talk for years. Some will suffer a great deal before they die, there’s no question about that. And after all of those “pleasures”, what is waiting for him? The cold clammy clay of the grave.
Ay ya yay, the grave! The thought that we all hope to ignore forever. Because of course only other people die. And the truth is that even if you would live a thousand years, so now you’re a thousand years old and it’s coming to an end. So what good is it all now? Now begins sadness. And to a certain extent this sadness pervades the entire life. No matter how jolly a group of revelers seem to be; they’re jumping around, blowing horns, and drinking. It looks like they’re living it up. But all of them have at the bottom of their heart – no matter how much they try to cover it up with good times – laying there is the awareness that eventually there will be death.
ON THE LAST DAY LIFE ALWAYS SEEMS TOO SHORT
Because even if you would live a life of no disturbances at all, but the great disturbance is the fact that all of this will come to an end. And therefore, no matter how good it’s going to be, it can’t be better than a thousand years of constant success, a thousand years of unalloyed pleasures. And even those thousand years are not enough. It’s not a long life. It might be long when you’re starting it, but when you come to the end it doesn’t seem long at all.
So whatever good you had, nevertheless, when the end comes, everything collapses and it’s not tov me’od anymore. And so that can’t be what Hashem meant when He said that His creation is tov me’od. And therefore, the Mesillas Yesharim is very keen to point out to us that the fact that this world is alloyed, is adulterated, by certain forms of sadness, and certain events of unhappiness, proves that this is not the purpose. Because Hakodosh Boruch Hu’s purpose is tov me’od infinitely.
OLAM HABAH IZ THE GUTTA ZACH
And if that’s the case, then the question arises: Where is that tov me’od? And so the Mesillas Yesharim tells us that this proves that Hakodosh Boruch Hu intended for a different existence where that promise of tov me’od will be fully fulfilled. Tov me’od will only be fulfilled in the Next World, in the יום שכולו טוב. It’s not in this world. Because this world may be tov, and it may be tov me’od, and it may be tov me’od me’od, and with another thousand me’ods – but that’s where it stops. It will always come to an end. But the יום שכולו ארוך will never end, and that’s where your neshama will finally be satisfied.
Now we must know that the Mesillas Yesharim is not talking to people who have to be convinced about Olam Habah. His words are directed to bnei Torah, to ma’aminim who already believe in Olam Habah. He’s talking to people who are already born into an environment – this was two hundred years ago or more – an environment where the entire world, even gentiles, all subscribed to the principle of the Afterlife, the Hereafter.
THE FOUNDATION OF A JEW
And so the Mesillas Yesharim is speaking to us, all of us sitting right here who believe implicitly in Olam Habah. Because belief is not enough! You don’t just sign on the dotted line הריני מאמין באמונה שלימה בעולם הבא and finished. No! That’s merely the first step. He is teaching us here not about the existence of Olam Habah per say, but that Olam Habah is the sole purpose of our stay in this world. Because even a ma’amin who believes implicitly in Olam Habah could however think that this world also is an end in itself. And therefore he always needs reminders, he constantly needs to be made aware of this important yesod that Olam Habah is the single most important ingredient of our stay in this world.
And so, if anyone asks you what you are doing in the world – whether you can tell him or not – you at least have to know for yourself that we’re here to prepare for the great career of everlasting happiness in the Next World. That is the foundation upon which we build everything in this world. That is the yesod hachasidus v’shoresh ha’avodah. If you have this clear before your eyes then you can build. But if this is not before your eyes, or even if it is, but it’s weak, then you’re building without a foundation. The whole foundation of being a Jew is the clear conviction that our purpose is Olam Habah, the Afterlife. Not that the Afterlife is an annex, something that is also going to be given to us. No – the Afterlife is it!
Every added granule of awareness of Olam Habah that one achieves is a granule of gold because it is this awareness, more than anything else, that affects how you live your life. Olam Habah is the foundation of everything, and the stronger the foundation – the more cement that you pour into the foundation by thinking of Olam Habah as much as possible – the more you will be able to build a beautiful edifice of avodas Hashem on top of it.
And that brings us to the beginning of our parsha, to that glorious day of the hakamas hamishkan, when the Sanctuary was erected and the service of the Kohanim was to begin. ויהי ביום השמיני – “And it was on the eighth day”(Shmini 9:1). We must know that the Yom Hashmini was a most glorious day for the Am Yisroel. There are very few days in the history of the world when there was so much rejoicing as on that day. And the Midrash (Toras Kohanim – Milu’im:1) tells us that נטל עשר עטרות, it was a day crowned with ten crowns of glory, a day like no other in our history.
The sh’china was coming down to fill the edifice – it was the Presence of Hashem coming to rest among them – and they went wild with happiness. וירא כבוד השם אל כל העם ותצא אש מלפני השם… וירא כל העם וירונו ויפלו על פניהם – “And the Glory of Hashem appeared to all the people, and a fire came forth from before Hashem…and all the people saw, and they shouted in joy, and they fell down on their faces” (Shemini 9:23-24).
The whole nation witnessed this momentous event, and they shouted with happiness because this was the thing that they wanted more than anything else in their lives – to know that Hashem had chosen them forever. And they were thrilled down to their marrow. It was an experience – a happiness and a thrill that was never to be repeated. That was the great day of ויהי ביום השמיני.
THE HAPPIEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD
Now there was one woman who was reveling in happiness on this day of the Chanukas HaMishkan more than anyone else. And that was the wife of Aharon HaKohen, Elisheva bas Aminadav. She was privileged to be the wife of the Kohen Gadol, and she saw success that no other woman ever saw, before or after. Her husband was the High Priest who put on the vestments, the glorious gold vestments with diamonds on his breastplate. He was the first man to achieve that glory and it was only the beginning, because she knew that her children would forever do that too. The family of Kohanim was descended from her for eternity. It was a success that no other woman was given the privilege to enjoy.
And not only that, but Aharon HaKohen was a Navi, a prophet of Hashem, which in itself is a tremendous glory. The wife of a Navi, a Navi Kohen Gadol, shares equally in the glory and greatness of her husband. We know that a woman shares her husband’s spiritual success. It’s a great rule that a husband and a wife are one forever – in this world and in the World to Come. That’s why Jewish women always urged their husbands to excel, because whatever good deeds and whatever excellence their husbands attained was shared one hundred percent by them.
But Elisheva bas Aminadav had even much more than that. In addition to the greatness of her husband, her husband’s brother was the king of the Jewish nation. Moshe Rabeinu was the king! That itself is an honor and a greatness. “My husband’s brother is Moshe Rabeinu, the leader of our nation. And he speaks to Hashem face to face.” Her brother-in-law was the greatest prophet that ever lived.
And her sons? Ahh, what nachas from her sons! She had four sons and all of them were assistants to the Kohen Gadol. And in addition to that was her great brother, Nachshon ben Aminadav, one of the twelve princes of the Am Yisroel. And he was the most important of the Nisi’im.
And on this Yom Hash’mini, all of this pride and joy was coming together. It was being encapsulated, on the day of the hashra’as hash’china, with her husband and sons officiating in the Mishkan under the direction of the King, her brother-in-law, as well as her brother Nachshon. So this fortunate woman was crowned with many crowns of glory, and the joy was overwhelming.
THE PARTY’S OVER
But it wasn’t to last. Her joy – not only her joy, but the joy of the whole nation – was to be marred by the worst of events a mother could ever suffer through. Because on that day, ויהי ביום השמיני, when two of her sons went in to officiate, they were struck dead by a fire that came forth from Hashem and consumed them. ותצא אש מלפני השם ותאכל אותם וימתו לפני השם – And a fire went forth from Hashem and devoured them (Sh’mini 10:2). Ay ya yay! What a terrible sadness! A most unfortunate event that will forever marr the memory of this great day.
Now most of us, when we study this terrible event, we look at it as a mishap, an unfortunate occurrence that came at a most inopportune moment. Such a beautiful day, a most glorious day, ruined by a most unfortunate incident. But one who understands this tragedy in that way, is misconstruing what Hashem wrought on this day and why He did so.
DON’T BE TOO GAY
And therefore, in order to better understand this great lesson, to learn how to view the sad events of that day from a Torah perspective, we will study a selection from the Midrash on this week’s parsha. About that day, the glorious day of יום השמיני, the Midrash Tanchuma quotes the following possuk from Tehillim: אמרתי להוללים אל תהולו – “I said to those who are reveling, do not be too merry” (Tehillim 75:5). The Midrash here tells us that this possuk is revealing to us one of the fundamental ways that Hashem deals with us in this world. And if we are being told how Hashem is guiding our lives, it pays for us to listen well.
Hakodosh Boruch Hu gives an order here, an order for how this world should run; and that is that people should not be too happy. אמרתי להוללים אל תהולו – “I say to those who are wild, don’t be too wild.” And that means that anybody, even the most virtuous man or woman, Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants to make sure that a certain element enters into their life, an element that is essential to the success of their career. And that one ingredient that is necessary for his success in this world, in addition to all the other components of his life, is sadness. Yes, sadness! Sadness is essential in life. And therefore: I say to the merry, “Don’t be merry.”
HASHEM’S GREAT PLAN OF SADNESS
And so what happened on that day was part of the plan of Hashem, the eternal plan of Hashem in this world, to interject sadness into the midst of great joy. And the purpose of that is to teach us that the sole true and unadulterated joy is in the Afterlife. Whatever sin the two sons of Aharon might have committed, the severity of their fate and the sadness it brought upon the people was decreed beforehand, to teach the Am Yisroel forever and ever the lesson of supreme importance, the great fundamental lesson of Olam Habah. It was no accident; it was no unfortunate occurrence that happened to have take place during a moment of great happiness. It was all the plan of Hashem, that specifically on this great day of joy, the Am Yisroel should be reminded of the true joy that they live for, their true purpose in life. And it is davkah sadness that comes about during moments of great joy that accentuates most effectively this great teaching of Olam Habah. It is to the hollilim that Hashem says אל תהולו – “Do not lose yourself in the addictive happiness of this world. Remember that you are here only to prepare for the World to Come.”
And the Midrash continues: שאין שמחה ממתנת לאדם – “Happiness does not last in permanence for anybody.” And that’s not an accident – that’s Hashem’s plan for you. For the one who rejoices today, is not necessarily rejoicing tomorrow. Joy in this world will not continue forever. Like the possuk in Koheles says (2:2): לשחוק אמרתי מהולל – About laughter I said “It is wild, it is too much”. מהולל means wildness. And Hashem says, “If someone is reveling in this world, if he’s making his way merrily through Olam Hazeh getting caught up in the fun of this world, then I say to him: “That’s too wild, it’s not good for you. I can’t let a person get lost in this wild merriment, because that’s how a person squanders his life away.” And there’s nothing as tragic as wasting the opportunity of life.
And therefore, when people laugh unrestrainedly they have to know that they are inviting upon themselves a special treatment. They are overdoing it – they are הוללים now – and therefore missing out on a most important element of life. And when that happens, Hashem gives His order of אל תהולו, He introduces into their lives an element of sadness. And that’s what this possuk is telling us. לשחוק, when it comes to laughter, אמרתי מהולל, I tell you that it’s too much, it’s too wild, too gay.
THE STAND UP COMEDIAN IN SHUL
Life is not for the purpose of opening wide your mouth in laughter. Like Reish Lakish said. He never opened his mouth wide in laughter in this world. אסור לאדם למלאות פיו שחוק בעולם הזה – It’s forbidden for a man to fill his mouth with laughter in this world” (Brachos 31a). You can laugh; yes, certainly you can laugh and be happy. Certainly you can enjoy this world. But to open your mouth unrestrainedly and fill your mouth with a guffaw of laughter – like some people even do in shul sometimes – that’s ossur. Not in this world. אז ימלא שחוק פינו. Az! Only then! In the Next World, that’s when our mouths will be full of laughter. But if you try to do it now, what will be left for the Next World? So you have to leave a little place in your mouth that you don’t open up. You can open up pretty wide – there’s a lot of rejoicing and fun in this world – but not all the way. אז, only then, ימלא שחוק פינו, will we be able to open our mouths with simcha. And therefore it says: לשחוק, when it comes to laughter, merriment in this world, אמרתי מהולל, I said that it’s too wild, it’s too gay.
And that’s what the Gemara says on the words from Shema, אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם היום – “You should do these commandments that I command you today.” So the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 3a) says that from these words “I am commanding you today,” we learn two lessons. One is היום לעשותם – “Today is the time to do them, and the second, ומחר לקבל שכרם – tomorrow is the time to receive reward for them.” Both lessons are very important, but for our subject tonight we’ll study the second half: ומחר לקבל שכרם – “Tomorrow is the time for reward.” Not today! That means don’t waste time in this life seeking reward. Don’t pursue pleasures. I’m not saying don’t have pleasures, but don’t waste time running after pleasures. Don’t travel looking for fun and good times. Don’t spend money to seek pleasures. It’s all futile! There’s no pleasures that you’ll gain in this world by running after them. Now, there are many pleasures, many good times and fun that you can gain by not running after them. But you cannot find pleasure by seeking it, by traveling or by spending.
THE BOOK THAT RAV MILLER NEVER WROTE
That’s why many times I was thinking about writing a book. And I have a lot of material on the subject of happiness. I wanted to write a book called The Pursuit of Happiness. And I knew that it would be a successful book. But I didn’t want to write it because I didn’t want to mislead people. Because this world is not for the pursuit of happiness. Although this world is full of happiness, but people would read that title and think that that is in itself a purpose. No, no; it’s the pursuit of achievement, the pursuit of perfection, that we are here for in this world. Happiness is not a goal to pursue. Now if you live with wisdom, if you live a Torah life, then happiness will pursue you. But not that you should pursue it. Because the more you pursue it, the more elusive it becomes and it goes further and further away from you. Like it says אך טוב וחסד ירדפוני כל ימי חיי – “Let tov v’chesed pursue me!” Because if I will pursue tov v’chesed, I’ll never reach it. But if I don’t pursue it, it will run after me and catch up with me.
And therefore it’s important that Hashem remind people that the time for pleasure is in the World to Come. ומחר לקבל שכרם. Tomorrow – after you take your last breath – that’s when the time will come to receive your reward. These words must be before our eyes always! The time for enjoyment is in the World to Come! This world is not a place for that. It’s only אז, then; it’s only למחר, tomorrow, that you’ll receive the true happiness. In the World to Come you will learn what true happiness is!
AVRAHAM AVINU THE REVELER
And if you look further in that Midrash you’ll see that this possuk, this warning: אל תהולו, Don’t be too happy in this world, wasn’t said to the wicked of this world, to the leitzim and revelers. This was said also to Avraham Avinu! Do you hear that? Avraham Avinu, the greatest thinker to have walked on this earth, needed to be warned by Hashem not to be too happy in this world. As an illustration of this principle of Hashem telling the hollilim, to the gay, אל תהולו, “Don’t be too gay,” the Midrash says that Hashem brought sadness and troubles into the life of Avraham in order to remind even this great man, “Don’t get caught up in this imaginary world!” This great man whose life was devoted to the service of Hashem, nevertheless, even for him too much success, too much happiness would have been unhealthy. And the Midrash illustrates a number of examples throughout the life of Avraham of how Hakodosh Boruch Hu taught Avraham again and again to be very wary of falling into the trap of the hollelus of this world.
And the Midrash gives details: Avraham, as a young man, was hunted for many years, hiding out in the caves to avoid his pursuers. And then he left to Eretz Canaan where he waited many anguished years for a child. And then in the midst of the joy of raising his long desired son, he is commanded by Hashem to sacrifice him. And then Sarah dies and he cannot find a burial place for her until he pays 400 shekel; and then old age overcomes him. The Midrash says that Hashem was constantly telling Avraham, אל תהולו. Even Avraham needed a little bit of bitterness throughout his life so that he wouldn’t take his mind off of the Next World.
And it wasn’t a one time event – an historical anomaly that was meant only for Avraham. The Midrash goes on and says that Yitzchok and Yaakov and Yehoshua and Eli Hakohen were taught this lesson as well. These great men of our nation are called hollilim in the Midrash by our chachomim. We don’t have enough time here to say over the many examples brought there in the Midrash, but you can see it on your own and see how Hashem helped these great people live more successfully by suffering sadness in this world.
And if our great ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Yehoshua and Eli Hakohen were treated so, then surely Hashem orders that same treatment of אל תהולו for us, so that Olam Habah should remain on the forefront of our minds. “You shouldn’t have too much gaiety in life.” And therefore Hakodosh Boruch Hu has a lot of treatment in store for everybody, and you can only benefit from this treatment if you are aware of what Hashem is trying to tell you.
THE DEEP WISDOM OF TEETHING
And what this Midrash, this possuk of אל תהולו, is teaching us, is actually very evident in all aspects of Hashem’s creation. I’ll give you an example so that we can better understand the topic. Many times I have been asked here: Why is it that children have to suffer from teething? And it’s a good question. Some of you might think it’s foolish, but one who understands that Hashem had created every function, every aspect of this natural world, with חכמה עמוקה שאין לה קץ, with very deep wisdom and foresight, will certainly ask this question. Because after all, Hashem made everything in a very benevolent way. And natural growth is usually not painful. When your hair grows in, there’s no pain. There’s no pain as your nails grow. So why is it that a child must endure pains while his teeth are growing in? And it’s more than that. The need for all children to endure the common childhood illnesses; the cold, the flu, the strep, needs to be understood. Why did Hashem do such a thing?
And the Chovos Halevavos (Sha’ar Habechina: Perek 5) actually was bothered by this. And listen to what he says: יעברו עליו חלאים ומקרים מכאיבים – On occasion a child will suffer from illnesses and painful events, and for what purpose? כדי שיכיר העולם ולא יעלם ממנו ענינו – so that these experiences should serve as a preparation for the child, so that the true nature of this world should not be entirely concealed from him, שיבטח בו וימשלו בו תאוותיו ויהיה כבהמות לא ישכיל ולא יבין – otherwise he will place too much trust, too much hope, in this world and he will become governed by his impulses, and become like the animals, that don’t think and don’t understand why they’re in this world. He’ll become a hollel.
NO PAIN NO GAIN
The child needs to learn from a young age that this world is not only a joyride. From the very beginning he must get accustomed to pain. There must be some tolerance of pain in life because pain presents man with a challenge. Without that, man become uncontrollable. Pain motivates a man to do what is right, to see this world for what it really is. And the child must begin to learn that, and as soon as possible. Although this world is a world of happiness, there will always be limited areas of suffering to prepare a child for the most important principle of his life, the fundamental principle of “I’m living for the Next World – that’s the place of only good times, only happiness!”
So we start the lesson of being a human being in this world with the child being taught a little bit of yissurim. Not much; most of life is happiness, even for children. However there is always an injection of suffering, a certain amount of tza’ar, now and then, to make the child aware that he shouldn’t think that this life is it – that this is where he’ll find all of his happiness. And subconsciously, the child is preparing himself for the recognition that he must live this life solely for Olam Habah.
Tzaros should cause a person to think of Olam Habah. They have to cause one to internalize that the World to Come, that’s his final goal. When people see that there is no complete happiness in this world, they must make use of that opportunity. And the wise person will not wait for the tzaros that arrive at his doorstep to learn the lesson of Olam Habah. Anybody who opens his eyes will see what is going on around him, the trials and tribulations of others. And those are all messages from Hashem. And the true servant of Hashem must utilize that message and sear into his soul the truth of what he should be striving for all the days of his life.
DOVID HAMELECH CONSOLES HIMSELF
Like Dovid Hamelech said when he saw that difficulties were coming upon him: אם אמרתי מטה רגלי – “When I thought that my foot was slipping,” חסדך השם יסעדני – Hashem, it was Your kindliness that supported me.”(Tehillim 94:18-19) That means that I cried out to You that Your kindliness should help me. And many times it did. And then Dovid continues: ברוב שרעפי בקרבי – “In the multitude of my thoughts in my midst.” Dovid had thoughts, worries, of what was going to happen. He was confronted with peril at every footstep. Shaul was seeking Dovid with armed men. He was ambushing him and Dovid was hiding like an animal in caves and thickets. He was constantly beset with worries. And what did he say? ברוב שרעפי בקרבי – “Because of the many worries within me, תנחומיך ישעשעו נפשי – Your consolations were the delight of my soul.” Which consolations? Dovid was thinking about Olam Habah! Because he knew how to use his troubles in this world. He knew that one of the most important functions of worries and sadness in this world is to help loosen your grasp on seeking your future in this world. So he utilized his troubles to create for himself a mind that was an Olam Habah mind.
Somebody called me up now; he lost his son. A couple lost a son and they wanted to talk to me. I could speak to them, but the only true consolation is the words that we’re speaking here tonight. This world is a place where everybody loses something. But your world shouldn’t collapse for you because of what happened. When you concentrate your life on this world, even if you believe superficially in Olam Habah, but you live here with a feeling of permanence, that’s when the world turns out to be not what you wanted. Everything turns dark and it all collapses into nothing
Here’s a man who lost his son. He was a beautiful boy, a sweet and brilliant son. He was married and had a big family. And the son was eminently successful. He was successful in the scholastic world and he was successful in the Torah world. He really was an example of success. And everything was the best that could be. The parents were having from this son a tremendous nachas. And then suddenly in the midst of Yomtiv rejoicing, suddenly the son died. And the father took it to heart and it broke him and he never really recovered. And he didn’t live long after that. He was a healthy man but he left this world soon after that.
YOU’LL SEE YOUR LOVED ONES AGAIN
Now this father made a fundamental error. He was a good father, a frum man, but he made a fundamental error. The father had concentrated all of his hopes on this world. And when this world collapsed, he collapsed. But Aharon Hakohen and Elisheva, when their two beautiful and glorious sons perished on יום השמיני, they didn’t collapse. And that’s because they understood the nature of this world. They understood that it’s a world of disappointments. And they concentrated on the thought that they would see their sons again. They would continue making their way successfully through the hallway of this world – what is it after all except for a hallway of seventy, eighty years – and then they would meet their sons again in the world of eternity.
And that’s what everyone has to know. You can’t expect to be able to weather the difficulties in life, the tragedies, if you’re not prepared beforehand with the proper Torah attitudes. And the person who lives with Olam Habah on his mind is able to make his way through everything that life brings his way, with success. Because he knows that he will see his family again and rejoice with them in the Next World. And he knows that he will receive his just and everlasting reward there, no matter what type of tzaros – big or small – he undergoes here.
THE HIDDEN CHESED
And so, when we look at the plan of Hashem in totality we see that the addition of sadness to life, the lesson of אל תהולו, is one of the great kindnesses included in all that Hakodosh Boruch Hu does. It’s included in the general statement of עולם חסד יבנה – “The world is built for kindliness.” Because without the bumps in the road, you’ll get lost in Olam Hazeh. So Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants to remind us: “Kinderlach, my dear children, don’t get lost in this world. I want you to keep your focus on Olam Habah.”
VISITING THE WHITE HOUSE FOR DINNER
Here’s a man who is fortunate enough to have been invited to a feast, to a celebration that the king is making in his luxurious palace. It’s an honor to have been invited for it is only the select few who are privileged to enter the private ballroom of the king and revel in all of the delights that only the king is capable of providing.
And so, as this man walks through the hallway that leads to the ballroom, he is approached by a valet who offers to take his coat, and then a waiter carrying a tray of sweets proffering to him the opportunity to taste from the delicacies. And as he steps closer to the ballroom there is hot coffee and tea, all kinds of hot drinks. And this man begins to get lost in the pleasures of this prozdor, this hallway. He’s enjoying the delicious chocolates and he forgets that he’s merely walking through a vestibule where he is supposed to be preparing himself. He should be making sure that he is fit for his entrance into the ballroom where he will stand before the king and have the opportunity to delight in the presence of royalty, eating food that is עולה על שלחן מלכים, and enjoying all of the kingly pleasures.
In the corridor there are hanging beautiful ornate mirrors, and they are not hung there merely for decorative purposes. This man should be standing in front of that mirror and fixing himself up for his entrance. Straightening out his garments, making sure that there are no stains on his shirt. His shoes must be shined clean, sparkling, and therefore, he should be standing in front of the mirror inspecting himself for any breach of palace etiquette. Because a guest invited to the king’s private affair won’t be allowed entrance with a disheveled appearance. He won’t be allowed to partake of the many exquisite dishes and other delights if he has stains on his garments or dirt on his face. No, no; you can’t join the revelers in the ballroom if you haven’t made use of the anteroom to prepare.
THE BOUNCER AT THE PALACE DOORWAY
But this man is distracted. Some small chocolates and a warm cup of tea are keeping him too busy for such preparations. And even when he passes by the mirror, and is reminded of his purpose in this hallway, he is distracted by the beauty of the mirror, the ornate designs and sparkling jewels. He’s admiring the beauty of it all and getting lost in the beauty of the vestibule.
So as our guest munches on his chocolate, as he sips his tea and admires the plush wall to wall carpeting, he is startled by the waiter who taps him on the shoulder, “Keep moving, sir.” And when he reaches for another sweet, the “mean” waiter tells him that enough is enough. “Use the mirror to straighten your necktie, to fix your shirt, and move on.” אל תהולו – Keep moving, don’t get distracted by the sweets in this hallway. Enjoy them, but keep moving along towards the ballroom.
WE ARE IN A LONG HALLWAY
And that man is all of us! Because העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור בפני העולם הבא – This world resembles a corridor, a hallway, that is leading you into the palace of the Next World.” (Avos 4:16). That’s what this world is – a hallway where you should be preparing for your entrance into the great ballroom of the Next World. And instead, we make our way through life enjoying all the pleasures of the hallway, and we get lost, we forget why we came to this world. There are good times, simchos, the everyday happiness of being alive, of enjoying all of the varied pleasures that regular life has to offer. And it’s so easy to become distracted.
And certainly those people who run after good times are distracted. Those who spend money to travel, who seek fun and pleasure every step of their lives, will get lost in this world and find much difficulty in keeping Olam Habah at the forefront of their minds. And that’s the great tragedy of life – when people make their way through this world distracted and busy and not focusing on their only purpose here. And that’s a worry, and it’s a real worry!
And so Hakodosh Boruch Hu says, “If that’s the case, then I have to remind you that this world is not It! Don’t be too interested in this world.” And so He pours into the mix of Olam Hazeh another ingredient, the ingredient of אל תהולו that mingles with all of the good times of this world and makes it a perfect concoction. Sadness is one of the important ingredients of this world that makes life successful.
And that’s the important principle that the Midrash is revealing to us: everybody must have in his life a certain measure of unhappiness, in order to teach him the lessons that will prepare him for his true function in this world. Hakodosh Boruch Hu brings into people’s lives elements that are meant to sober a person’s perspective on life by searing into his soul the truth that he is only walking through a hallway.
So you’ll tell me, “I’m not overly involved in this world. I live a normal moderate life; I’m not from the holillim. I’m a good Orthodox Jew.” No! It’s not enough to be an Orthodox Jew. Anybody who is lost in Olam Hazeh, who doesn’t feel with all his being that he is merely passing through a hallway, someone who is not thinking all the time about the Next World, is a hollel. Hollel means a wild person. If you’re investing hope in this world, then you’re a wild person, a hollel. And therefore, Hakodosh Boruch Hu will have to send you reminders all the time – jolts, shocks of sadness – to make you aware that this world is not your place of happiness. If it was just one joy after another, this perfect happiness followed by that perfect happiness, then all your thoughts, all your intentions, all your interest, and all your work would be directed towards this world. And you would lose sight of the truth that this world is only a prozdor, it’s only a hallway that is leading you to your true destination. And without these constant reminders from Hashem, you would be seduced into a life of enjoying this world for the sake of this world itself.
A CARICATURE OF A JEW
Once you get busy with this world, once you get caught up in this world, then no matter how much you profess to believe in the Next World, it means almost nothing to you. And that’s why in almost all places today what we find is a caricature of Judaism, just a hollow shell. That’s why you walk into a synagogue sometimes – not everywhere but it’s very prevalent – and you see people who come in with tallis and tefillin, and twenty five minutes later they walk out. From beginning to end, twenty five minutes. What happened here? So most likely he skipped; he started from Yotzer Ohr and he ran out after Oseh Shalom in shemona esrei. But no, that’s not what happened. He said the whole thing, with everything. With everything! Adon Olam he said too. And when he got through he said the Parshas Ha’akeidah, everything! And the Ani Ma’amins too. He got everything in! That’s a caricature, a tragedy. And I’m afraid he got in a little conversation too.
I once watched two frum Jews with beards. I call them frum; they looked frum. One was saying אשרי ובא לציון. And the other one was talking to him the whole time! I once even saw a Young Israel man, he was standing shemona esrei, and another man was standing there talking to him! That’s Judaism?! No, it’s a caricature, a hollow shell, and it’s a terrible tragedy.
And it’s not only davening; it’s everywhere, everything you do all day long. Without Olam Habah you are living a very shallow life. When you’re taking care of your family, are you doing it with Olam Habah in mind? Or are you doing it the same way that your Italian neighbor down the block is doing with her own brood, Anthony and Susan? Are you eating with Olam Habah on your mind? Are you doing any mitzvos with Olam Habah in mind?! No, it’s all hollow! It’s Olam Hazehdikeh tefillin, and Olam Hazehdikeh tzedaka, and Olam Hazehdikeh cleaning the house and raising a family! You’re a Olam Hazehdikeh person! A caricature of a real Jew.
THE YETZER HARAH PICKS HIS BATTLES
And that’s why the Chovos Halevavos tells us that of all the principles that the Yetzer Harah tries to weaken a man, it is this one that he attacks the most. Because he knows that Olam Habah is the yesod of our lives. It’s our purpose here. So all the other things the yetzer harah will let you have – believe in Hashem, good; believe in Matan Torah, good; believe in Yetzias Mitzrayim, good; believe in תורה שבעל פה, good; believe in the whole gemara, believe in everything! You can even believe in a Rebbe! But be weak, just be weak when it comes to Olam Habah. “Be weak in that,” says the Yetzer Harah. “Don’t talk about it, soft-peddle it, be embarrassed to mention it.”
And let me tell you that he’s doing a good job on us.There are plenty of frum people who are very weak in this principle. Now you may argue with me but I’m telling you that very many of us have succumbed almost entirely to the Yetzer Harah. And I can prove it to you immediately by a simple experiment. Let’s listen in to the conversations in an Orthodox home.
WHAT TYPE OF CHINUCH IS THIS?
All they talk about is this world. And they talk about it a lot. With all the details of this world. The little girl listens to her mother on the telephone. Sheitels! This kind of sheitel, that kind of sheitel, and dresses. The mother is complaining about how hard it was to buy a dress. “I couldn’t get a dress anywhere. I went all over town to find a dress.” Finally she found it in a “special” place around the corner. This is an Orthodox mother?! And that’s all the child hears. Sometimes recipes, and makeup. All things from this world. She can sit next to her mother for a thousand years while her mother talks on the telephone, and she won’t hear Olam Habah mentioned even once.
And I’m afraid next to the father is no better. A father, children, all with black hats, sitting around at the table talking divrei Torah. Maybe the father will say over pilpulim if he’s a talmid chochom; if not he’ll say over some gutta verter, some comments on the sedrah. But Olam Habah is a rare bird. You can sit sometimes for twenty years at a table and not hear once Olam Habah mentioned! Little children growing up don’t even know there’s such a thing. Unless someone dies and so they tell the child that he went to “Olam Habah.” But even then, the child is thinking, “What? Where?” Because nobody is talking about it. And there’s a good reason for that. Because the yetzer harah is most interested that it shouldn’t be mentioned.
GEHENIM AT THE DINNER TABLE
They should be talking about Olam Habah at the Jewish table. And even more than that – how long will we have to wait to hear them talk about Gehenim at the Jewish table? Now that would be a Jewish table! The father and his family discuss Gan Eden and Gehenim. And the father is always pointing out that למחר לקבל שכרם, in the Next World, that’s where we’ll be rewarded for our life’s work. “Chaim’ll, in the Next World Hashem is going to give you everything! Only Hashem can make you truly happy.” And you should know, it’s not stam a reward. A person won’t be able to handle the simcha! Hashem is going to have to revive you again and again in order to continue bestowing His goodness upon you. Now that’s table-talk for the Jewish home!
How long will we have to sit in the synagogue and listen to the rabbi’s speeches before we hear a dissertation on the great subject of Olam Habah? The Next World – Olam Habah and Gehenim – is fundamental. A person who is not thinking of the Next World all the time is a wild beast! Notice that I didn’t say that if you don’t believe in the Next World, I said if you don’t think about. And I didn’t say once a week, on Shabbos, or when you hear about a tragedy, someone who died young, and you console yourself with superficial thoughts of Olam Habah. No, I said all the time! If Olam Habah is not in the forefront of your mind then you’re an unchained wild beast, you’re a dumb ox making your way through life without making the progress that you’re here for.
YOUNG ISRAEL OF SLOBODKA!
The Slobodka Rosh Yeshiva once came to America. He didn’t know what Young Israel means, so they invited him to a Young Israel convention – it used to be held here in a hotel in New York City. He didn’t know, otherwise he would have surely not gone. So he went and they asked him to speak. So which subject should he speak about? He thought, “I should speak about what the Jews of America need to hear most.” And so he spoke on the subject of Gehenim.
But you won’t always have the Slobodka Rosh Yeshiva to tell you those things. There aren’t many rabbis who are willing to tell you the truth. First of all, many of them are themselves weak in the emunah of Olam Habah. And even if not, they can’t tell you the truth. You’ll run to the other synagogue down the block, and this rabbi will lose all of his congregants. I told you once that in my shul, we make a “membership drive” once in a while. I tell my members the truth, and I drive them out to all the other synagogues in the neighborhood. That’s why the other Rabbonim love me.
And the most important truth, the one that is most ignored, is that this world is only a lobby before the World to Come, and therefore התקן עצמך בפרוזדור – prepare yourself in the lobby, כדי שתיכנס לטרקלין – in order that you should be able to enter the banquet hall. Olam Habah, that’s what we’re aiming for! Only that nobody thinks about it and it’s not even mentioned. Days and days pass by as if it doesn’t exist. How can you be preparing for Olam Habah if you never even think about it, no less mention it? Isn’t that a tragedy?
So we’re not going to let that happen to us. We don’t like tragedies. And so, we’re going to have to muster our resources, all of our energy, to fight this battle and sharpen our awareness of Olam Habah.
THIRTY SECONDS OF ME’EIN OLAM HABAH
Instead of just talking about becoming great, we’ll actually do something about it. We’ll take a small step – and actually, while it may seem small it isn’t small at all – a step towards perfection by starting a program to think every day about the Next World. We’re going to spend spend at least thirty seconds every day thinking about Olam Habah, reminding ourselves that we’re in this world only as a preparation for the World to Come. For a half minute remind yourself that this world is just a vestibule, a place to put your things in order, before the World to Come.
That’s going to be our first step on the way to greatness. Every day at least thirty seconds on the clock, we’re going to think about Olam Habah. Whether you’re hanging on a strap on the subway, or if you’re driving to work, or you’re waiting to see a doctor, or even if you’re standing on the corner waiting for the light to change – whatever it is – look at your watch and let it tick off thirty seconds while you are now in the World to Come, thinking about the purpose of life.
That’s where we want to end up, and therefore instead of being like people who just talk about doing things, we’re going to get busy immediately thinking about the World to Come. And then, when we come into the Next World so they’ll say, “What do you want here?” And you’ll say, “Well, I thought about Olam Habah in the world where I’m coming from. I worked on it; I prepared.” “Oh!” they’ll say, “Shalom Aleichem! Welcome!” Because you’re superior to everybody else. You’re דגול מרבבה, you’re one in ten thousand. You’re a head taller than everybody else because you think every day for thirty seconds about the World to Come.
BLEACHER SEATS IN OLAM HABAH
Now, whether they’ll give you a front seat, or a middle seat or a back seat, that will depend how much effort you put into the things we speak about here. But they are going to welcome you; that’s guaranteed. But I can also guarantee you that if you don’t think about Olam Habah, you won’t be getting that warm Shalom Aleichem. Because after all, what is this world really all about? Are we here just to exist? Just to eat and breathe and have children? Cows also live and breathe and eat and have children. And even to do mitzvos. Everybody who learns knows that שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא – there’s no payment for a mitzvah in this world. You’re not working for this world. You have to think about Olam Habah as you make your way through life. If you’ll be like all the frum people who go day after day without thinking even once about the purpose of life, then you’re going to be very surprised one day. Because you’re toiling in vain.
It’s only Olam Habah that counts! That’s your great joy! And do you know what’s going to happen when you train yourself to think this way? It’s going to illuminate your life. It will put a simcha, a deep and profound happiness, into your life. Because no matter what happens, from the smallest bumps of daily life, to the most terrible of tragedies, you know that you are being reminded by Hashem of your purpose in this world, and you know that you’re headed for success. And once you assimilate this idea of Olam Habah into your bones, then you’ll be capable of weathering all of the turbulence that life brings. And you’ll grow even greater from the constant lessons of אל תהולו that Hashem brings upon you as He prepares you for the great day when you will finally enter into the טרקלין, the great palace of the World to Come.