When Bnei Yisrael stood at Har Sinai and heard the thunderous voice of HaKadosh Baruch Hu proclaiming the Aseres HaDibros, they were so filled with terror that their neshamos left them, and their lifeless bodies needed to be revived.
Why was it necessary for Bnei Yisrael to experience techiyas hameisim at kabalas HaTorah? What implication does this have for us in our personal acceptance of the Torah?
Perhaps Hashem wanted Bnei Yisrael to internalize the concept of techiyas hameisim in order to motivate them to accept the Torah and observe the mitzvos in preparation for the Next World. Awareness that This World is temporary was integral to the kabalas HaTorah of the generation that stood at Har Sinai, and is equally integral to the personal kabalas HaTorah of each individual on Shavuos.
When we say Modeh Ani every morning, we tell Hashem, Rabbah emunasecha. “We have great trust in You. We trust that when we go to sleep at night and relinquish our neshamah to You for the night, You will return it to us the next morning, and we trust that when we leave this world and relinquish our neshamah to You forever, You will return it to us in the Next World.”
Why, immediately upon awakening, do we think about leaving This World and entering the Next? Isn’t that a gloomy way to start our day?
On the contrary. Thinking about the Next World gives meaning and direction to our day and focuses our energies toward our mission in this world — preparing for Olam HaBa by dedicating ourselves to Torah and mitzvos.
Rav Mottel Pogromansky (Rav Mordechai Gifter’s rebbi) compared the consciousness of our mortality to the rejuvenating powers of the Carlsbad spa. People from all over Europe would travel to Carlsbad to bathe in its hot mineral springs, and would emerge feeling healthier and stronger. What is the “spiritual spa,” he asked, from which we can derive inner strength? The realization that we will eventually die. This awareness has the power to energize us and motivate us to accomplish and to prepare for the Next World.
Making the Next World a Reality
How can we make Olam HaBa a reality in our lives? How can we remind ourselves to never lose sight of our ultimate purpose in this world?
As we know, everything in the spiritual world has a parallel in the physical world.
In Osios D’Rabi Akiva, we are told of a discussion that took place prior to Matan Torah. Hashem said to Klal Yisrael, “My children! I have a mekach tov, a good acquisition, for you, which I will give you if you accept My Torah and keep My mitzvos.” Klal Yisrael asked, “What is the mekach tov that You have for us?” Hashem responded, “It is Olam HaBa.” Klal Yisrael said, “Ribono shel Olam, show us an example of Olam HaBa.” Hashem replied, “I will give you Shabbos, which is one-sixtieth of Olam HaBa.”
It’s difficult to relate to the abstract concept of Olam HaBa. The Ribono shel Olam, in His great kindness, provided us with a tangible representation of Olam HaBa in the form of Shabbos. By requiring us to prepare for Shabbos, He also provided us with a weekly reminder of our need to prepare for Olam HaBa.
Whatever we prepare during the week, we can enjoy on Shabbos. If we don’t have the time or energy to prepare something, we won’t be able to have that pleasure on Shabbos. The food that we eat is not a reward that is graciously bestowed upon us. Rather, it is the direct consequence of our own actions.
In the same way, our reward in Olam HaBa is not an external reward that we are given as payment for doing mitzvos. It is not, as we sometimes imagine, like cashing in prize tickets at a carnival. Rather, the pleasure and pain in Olam HaBa is the pleasure and pain of who we are, of our very essence.
If we have made ourselves into people who are connected to Hashem in This World, then we will be able to enjoy the spiritual pleasure of connecting to Hashem in Olam HaBa. If we go through our lives without having developed the capacity for ruchniyus, then we will live with that for eternity. We create our own Olam HaBa by creating ourselves.
Who has not experienced hectic, frenzied Friday afternoons? Who has not made resolutions to begin Shabbos preparations early enough in the week to avoid the chaos of Erev Shabbos? The current campaign to greet Shabbos by chatzos on Erev Shabbos is predicated on the idea of preparing for Shabbos all week long.
Remembering Shabbos throughout the week is actually a mitzvah in the Torah. HaKadosh Baruch Hu commands us, “Zachor es Yom HaShabbos l’kadsho – Remember the day of Shabbos to make it holy.” Beis Shammai says we fulfill this mitzvah whenever we purchase a special item and save it for Shabbos. Ramban explains that we fulfill the mitzvah of zachor by calling the days of the week “the first day toward Shabbos,” “the second day toward Shabbos,” and so on, instead of referring to them by individual names. Sforno explains the mitzvah of zachor as keeping Shabbos in mind when we are involved in our business and daily activities during the week. A person should arrange his business affairs in such a way that he can leave them behind — in his thoughts and actions — on Shabbos.
In each of the above explanations, we are enjoined to remember Shabbos always, not only on Shabbos itself. The word “zachor” is used, rather than “zechor” (a direct command), to teach us that the mitzvah is a constant one.
Remembering Shabbos throughout the week reminds us to remember Olam HaBa, the day that is entirely Shabbos, throughout our lives. Remembering, however, is not enough. We must move from the abstract knowledge of “V’yadata hayom – And you shall know” to the emotional connection of “V’hashivosa el levavecha – And you shall place it [i.e., the Torah and mitzvos] in your heart.”
It is said that Olam HaBa was as real to the Chofetz Chaim as the house around the corner from our home is to us. He couldn’t see it, but he felt its presence with every fiber of his being. How can we possibly accomplish this awareness in our own lives?
Pirkei Avos provides us with an approach. “Akavia ben Mehalalel says: Look at three things … Know where you come from, and where you are going to, and before Whom you will eventually give an accounting” (Avos 3:1). The Chofetz Chaim points out that the word “histakel,” look, teaches us that we should use the power of our imagination to visualize Olam HaBa and actually “see” it in our mind’s eye. He would often say to himself, “Yisroel Meir, they are calling you to Beis Din,” and proceed to visualize himself facing the Beis Din shel Maalah.
Actualizing the Vision
When Yaakov Avinu blessed his sons at the end of his life, he said regarding Yissachar, “He saw that menuchah, tranquility, was good, and that haAretz, the land, was pleasant. He bent his shoulder to accept the yoke [of Torah]” (Bereishis 49:15).
Yissachar needed to choose between menuchah, the tranquility of the Next World which is eternally good, and the aretz, the comfort of This World, which is pleasant. What gave him the ability to choose? Menuchah is abstract and far away; the aretz is here and now. The pasuk says, “He saw.” Perhaps it was visualizing the menuchah and making it a reality that enabled Yissachar to reach the decision to devote himself completely to the study of Torah in This World.
Psychologists today have just begun to discover what Chazal knew long ago — the tremendous power of visualization. What if we harnessed our powers of imagination to visualize Olam HaBa and make it real for us? What if we envisioned the person we want to become in preparation for Olam HaBa, and then set out to actualize that vision?
As we labor each week to prepare for Yom HaShabbos, let us at the same time remind ourselves of our ultimate purpose in this world, and redouble our efforts to prepare ourselves for the day that is entirely Shabbos.