Getting Ready

TeshuvahRav used to say, “There is no eating or drinking in the World-to-Come…tzaddilkim sit with crowns on their heads and enjoy the glow of the Shechina.” -17a

Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch illustrated the lesson of this Gemara with the following parable. A man planned to move to America. In those days, the only way to go from Israel to America was by boat. The trip was too long for one excursion, so the boat first stopped in France for two weeks, as the crew prepared the ship for the longer leg of the journey across the Atlantic. The traveler did not know English nor French, and he wanted to prepare himself for the journey, so he began by teaching himself French. When he arrived in France for the two week stay, he began to enjoy conversing with the natives. After the two weeks elapsed, he once again joined the other passengers and crew for the rest of the trip. When the finally arrived in America, the man tried to use his new skill of speaking French, but no one understood him, and he also did not understand the English speakers. Upon observing this, one of the French travelers who was with him on the boat smirked and commented, “It seems quite foolish for you to have spent your time learning French, which you knew you would only use for a total of two weeks, instead of learning English which you knew you would need for the rest of your life!”

This pearl of wisdom in our Gemara which Rav was used to say taught this lesson. A person is in this world for seventy or so years. His permanent abode will be in the eternal world to come. There, the language spoken does not include mundane matters such as jealousy and hatred. Nor is the topic discussed involve eating or drinking. Yet, what do people spend their time doing in this world? They busy themselves becoming inundated with concerns which are of this world, which is only temporary. The language spoken in the World-to-Come is simply where “the tzaddikim sit with their crowns upon their heads, and they radiate in the glow of the Shechina.” When a person comes to the עולם האמת , he will have to explain the language he studied, and whether he is prepared to communicate as is done in the World-to-Come.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Preparing for the World-to-Come”
Berachos 17

Even though I may not comment or otherwise indicate my presence, I visit a fair number of “religious” blogs on a daily basis and sample their content. A significant number of them indulge in various controversies (think Titus 3:9) and debates that are almost always swept into virtual “black holes;” like immense gravity wells in space that swallow all light and life but return nothing.

It’s like the Jewish gentleman in the above-quoted parable who learned a “language” that would serve him for only two weeks and ignored the greater requirement of learning the “language” he would need for a lifetime. Now imagine learning that the debates and discussions we deem so important in the here and now aren’t what’s really important to God and to our fellow human beings in the long run.

Today is 1 Elul on the Jewish religious calendar. It is, as I previously mentioned, a month in which observant Jews (and perhaps the occasional Christian) all over the world prepare themselves for their most important annual encounter with God.

You can think of the month of Elul in terms of the life you lead. Jews use this entire month to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but our lives, from birth to death, are also a time of preparation.

During Elul, Jews take a frank spiritual assessment of themselves, dedicate themselves to turning away from willful sin, give generously to charity, make increased efforts at Torah study, perform more frequent acts of lovingkindness, and diligently repair relationships that have been damaged. Imagine if all of us did that all of the time? Imagine if doing so was our highest priority?

If you return, O Israel … you shall return unto Me. –Jeremiah 4:1

Today is the first day of Elul, a period of time which is particularly propitious for teshuvah, for it precedes Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment.

Elul and ShofarThe Sages say that the Hebrew letters of the word Elul, form an acrostic for the verse in Song of Songs: I am devoted to my Lover and He is devoted to me (6:3). Song of Songs utilizes the relationship between a bridegroom and his betrothed to depict the relationship between God and Israel. Any separation between the two causes an intense longing for one another, an actual “lovesickness” (ibid. 2:5).

The love between God and Israel is unconditional. Even when Israel behaves in a manner that results in estrangement, that love is not diminished. Israel does not have to restore God’s love, because it is eternal, and His longing for Israel to return to Him is so intense that at the first sign that Israel is ready to abandon its errant ways that led to the estrangement, God will promptly embrace it.

Song of Songs depicts the suffering of Israel sustained at the hands of its enemies, and we can conclude that the Divine distress at this suffering of His beloved Israel is great. Teshuvah is a long process, but all that is needed for the restoration of the ultimate relationship is a beginning: a sincere regret for having deviated from His will, and a resolve to return.

Today I shall…

seek to restore my personal relationship with God by dedicating myself to teshuvah.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 1”

Imagine taking the time during the month of Elul, but ultimately with the rest of your life, to restore your relationship with God and with all of the people around you. Now take that imagination and put it into action, turning thoughts and wishes into a tangible reality.

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