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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tzav- Shabbat Hagadol - Pesach: The key to happiness
"A person is obligated to make a blessing when something bad happens just like one makes a blessing when something good happens." "With any measure that He [G'd] provides for you, you should thank Him." Rabbi Akiva believed and practiced what he himself would preach "that whatever G'd does He does for the good." When a person reaches the level of belief of Rabbi Akiva he can accept everything lovingly and rejoice all the time. G'd orchestrated the rise of Haman, as well as Mordechai's leading the Jewish people, in order to bring about that the Jewish people should lovingly renew their acceptance of all the commandments of the Torah. Rabbi Akiva did not need to stand in judgment or suffer anything to be purified before entering the World to Come. The key to a happy life is to understand that this world is just the hallway before the banquet hall of the World to Come. The sole purpose of "sufferings of love" is to enable a person to reach a higher level of enjoyment in the World to Come. The famous parable of the kind nobleman and simple worker illustrates this concept. Often a person's suffering is related to the person's earlier life in this world. The Cantonists were reincarnations of the priests who had served the idol Baal during the time of the Prophet Eliahu. The Jewish slaves in Egypt were reincarnations of the generation of the Great Flood who had sinned gravely. "In the month of Nissan our ancestors were redeemed and in the month of Nissan we will be redeemed."
Last week we mentioned that one should strive to recognize that any pain and suffering that one goes through is a communication from G'd, our Merciful Father above. Only in this way can we accept any situation lovingly. The Talmud (Berachos 54a) teaches that we are all expected to reach this level of understanding. The Talmud says: "A person is obligated to make a blessing when something bad happens just like one makes a blessing when something good happens. As it says [in the Shema, Devarim 5:5], 'And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources.'" The Talmud elaborates on this and continues to explain, "With all your heart, with your two inclinations, your good inclination and your evil inclination; with all your soul, even if He takes your soul; and with all your resources, with all your assets."
"With all your measures"
The Hebrew words for "all your resources" is "uvchol meodecha". These words can also be read as "uvchol meedecha" meaning "with all your measures". Based on this the Talmud continues with a second interpretation and says, "With any measure that He [G'd] provides for you, you should thank Him." The Talmud (Berachos 61b) relates the horrible death Rabbi Akiva suffered at the hands of the Romans to illustrate the obligation to serve G'd even if He takes one's soul. The Jerusalem Talmud elaborates on this and relates how Rabbi Akiva's flesh was torn with iron claws. While this took place, the time for reciting the Shema arrived. Rabbi Akiva's face radiated tremendous joy as he recited the Shema with great devotion. His disciples could not believe what they saw and asked him, "Even now you are happy?" Rabbi Akiva answered, "All my life I longed for the opportunity to fulfill the verse of serving G'd with all my soul, even if He takes my life. Now that it came my way how can I not rejoice?"
This is how Rabbi Akiva lived all his life. He saw something positive in every situation. The Talmud (Makkos 24b) relates that when Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues came to the Temple mount and saw a fox coming out of the place where the Holy of Holies had been, the other rabbis cried, but Rabbi Akiva rejoiced. When they questioned him what this joy was all about, he explained that just as he saw with his own eyes the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Micha of the total destruction of the Temple site, so too he was convinced that the day will come when the words of the Prophet Zachariah will be fulfilled with the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. He fully believed and practiced what he himself would preach "that whatever G'd does He does for the good."
Accept everything lovingly
It is clear from Rabbi Akiva's answer that he did not look at his situation as dealing with the Romans. He referred to it as G'd taking his life. And as such it could only be good. When a person reaches this level he can accept everything lovingly and rejoice all the time. Throughout the generations many people rose to the situation and were happy to give up their lives to sanctify G'd's name.
This is the deeper meaning of what the Talmud (Megillah 7a) teaches that on Purim a person should reach a level of intoxication where he sees no difference between the curse of Haman and the blessing of Mordechai. Between the two of them, they brought the Jewish people back to repent for their wrongdoings. As the Talmud (Megillah 14a) says: "The removal of the ring [that Ahashvarous gave to Haman] was greater than the 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses that prophesized to the Jewish people. For they all did not manage to bring the Jewish people completely back to do what is right, whereas the removal of the ring accomplished that." G'd orchestrated both the rise of Haman, as well as Mordechai's leading the Jewish people, in order to bring about that the Jewish people should lovingly renew their acceptance of all the commandments of the Torah. In this way, both Haman and Mordechai were instrumental in bringing about what G'd wanted to happen.
The Talmud continues to relate that as Rabbi Akiva's soul left his body, a Heavenly voice rang out and said, "Fortunate are you Rabbi Akiva that you are ready to enter eternal life of Olam Haba." Tosafos (Ketubos 103b) explains that this means that, unlike most people, Rabbi Akiva did not need to stand in judgment or suffer anything to be purified before entering the World.
Key to happy life
This is the key to a happy life. Whoever goes through life without understanding that this world is just the hallway before the banquet hall of the World to Come cannot possibly be happy all the time. No one is spared some form of suffering or pain in this world, so how can one be happy? But if we understand, and truly believe, that there is a constructive purpose in our sufferings and challenges, as a preparation for the World to Come, then we can be at ease and even rejoice all the time.
Sufferings of love
Our sages have provided us with another tool that can help us when we go through suffering. They explain that there is a concept of a person suffering even without having sinned. The Talmud (Berachos 5b, see also Zohar 3:46a) refers to these sufferings as "sufferings of love", as their sole purpose is to enable a person to reach a higher level of enjoyment in the World to Come.
The kind nobleman and simple worker
There is a famous parable that illustrates this concept. A simple worker was employed by a kind nobleman who dealt with his workers with honesty and integrity. One summer the nobleman informed his workers that he was going to a different estate of his for a few months, and that he had appointed a manager to take care of his local interests. This manager turned out to be very mean and he disliked the simple worker and treated him in a horrible way. Often he would get mad at him and whip him for no good reason. Finally, the nobleman returned and the worker decided to complain about the mistreatment he had suffered while his boss was away. He approached the nobleman and showed him all his bruises and wounds. The nobleman was enraged at what he saw and called in the manager to investigate what had happened. He realized that the manager had abused his power and he ordered him to pay 1,000 rubles for every time he had whipped the poor worker. When the worker came home, his wife noticed that he was still quite upset. She asked him, "Why are you still upset? Don't you think that this is a fair compensation for what he has done to you?" Sure", said the worker, "but I just wish that the manager would have given me a few more lashes." This might very well be how we are going to feel in the World to Come. Every pain and every suffering we go through in this world has great value there. So it is not unlikely to assume that once we are there we will think and wish that we suffered a little more in this world.
Rectify previous wrongdoings
Rabbi Chaim Vital (Gates of Reincarnations) elaborates on a different dimension to understand people's suffering. He explains that often a person's suffering is related to the person's earlier life in this world. Based on the Zohar, the Kabbalists teach that most people alive today have lived earlier lives. As such our purpose is to rectify our previous wrongdoings and complete our mission that we did not accomplish in our earlier lives. We therefore often find good and righteous people, who do their utmost to fulfill every commandment possible, nevertheless go through suffering and challenges in their life. Obviously, their suffering has nothing to do with their present situation. Rabbi Vital further explains that this is why we find innocent people passing away at a young age, sometimes even as infants.
Reincarnations of idol worshippers
Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman once asked the Chofetz Chaim about the Cantonists. These were young Jewish children snapped away and taken to the Russian army at the time of the Czar and kept there close to 25 years. They suffered terribly and obviously hardly had any connection to the faith of their fathers. How could G'd allow such a tragedy to happen to such innocent children? The Chofetz Chaim answered that these children were reincarnations of the priests who had served the idol Baal during the time of the Prophet Eliahu. With their present suffering they atoned for their sinful lives then (see Melachim 1:18). Only the Chofetz Chaim on his high spiritual level was privy to this information. Everyone else had no clue why these innocent children had to suffer.
Reincarnations from the Great Flood
Next week, we are celebrating the Festival of Pesach to commemorate the exodus from Egypt. On Seder night, as we read the Haggadah, we discuss in detail how our ancestors suffered during the slavery. Again, the question arises, why did the Jewish people have to go through so much suffering? Many of these people were born into slavery. What had they done wrong that they had to suffer so much? Again, the Kabbalists explain that these slaves were reincarnations of the generation of the Great Flood who had sinned gravely. Through their suffering in Egypt, they rectified their earlier sins, and many of them merited to experience the exodus and subsequently the revelation at Mount Sinai.
Redeemed in the month of Nissan
As we learn about these issues, we gain a better understanding of what Rabbi Akiva said, "that all that G'd does, He does for the good." We already quoted from the Way of the Righteous, that only someone who believes in G'd and trusts Him can live with happiness all the time. The Festival of Pesach strengthens our belief in G'd as we internalize all the miracles that took place before and after the exodus. These miracles teach us that, not only did G'd create the world, but He takes an interest and cares about everyone. May we all have a happy and kosher Pesach. And may we soon experience the fulfillment of the words of the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 11a) that "in the month of Nissan our ancestors were redeemed and in the month of Nissan we will be redeemed." Amen.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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