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Parshas Chayei Sarah
This World - A Corridor
An excerpt from my sefer Trust Me!
Based upon the Maggid of Dubno (in Ohel Ya'akov, cited in Yalkut Lekach Tov vol. 1, p. 109).
The Dubno Maggid questions the seemingly contradictory terminology of the phrase "alien and resident." If one is a resident, he isn't an alien, and vice versa. The Maggid answers that this verse is providing us with an example of Avraham's wisdom. Even when Avraham found it necessary to speak diplomatically for the sake of peace, he was still careful not to speak falsely. His dilemma was that he couldn't tell the Hittites that he was a permanent inhabitant of their land. They would perceive this as a threat, thinking that Avraham was trying to take over their territory, and they might respond violently. Therefore, he employed ambiguous terms that could be taken two ways. The verse literally reads: "an alien [i.e., a visitor] and a resident am I with you." This means that one of them is an alien and one is a resident. The Hittites could take it as they wish and understand that they were the residents and Avraham the alien. Avraham knew the truth: as Hashem had promised, he was the true owner of the land, and they were merely visitors who would soon depart.
We can use this to understand another verse in the Torah, wherein Hashem addresses the Jewish People: "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are aliens and residents with me" (Vayikra 25:23). Chazal tell us (Pirkei Avos 4:16): "This world is like an anteroom leading to the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the anteroom before entering the banquet hall." The implication being that during man's time in this world, he is an alien in a foreign land, a visitor staying in temporary lodgings.
This idea is echoed in Tehillim 119:19, where we read, "I am a stranger in the land; do not hide Your mitzvos from me." David Ha-Melech is telling us that his entire existence in this world is like that of an alien in a strange land. He is here only for one purpose: to collect Torah and mitzvos to bring to the World to Come. Therefore he beseeches Hashem: "Do not hide Your mitzvos from me." Indeed, every Jew should try to emulate the behavior of David Ha-Melech. A person should strive to make Torah his primary occupation.
The Luxury Coatroom
The Chofetz Chaim related an excellent parable to illustrate this idea:
When a person wants to build a house, he doesn't plan it himself. Rather, he hires a professional architect to draw up a blueprint of his future home. This blueprint provides the builder with an exact model, showing the size and location of each room.
A wealthy man hired a prominent architect, and told him, "I have a certain piece of property, and I want to build the most spectacular mansion in town on it. I hear you do superb work, and I'd like to hire you to draw up a blueprint. Put special emphasis on making a large and luxurious living room. However, don't scrimp on the foyer either, because I want my guests to have a good impression as soon as they enter the house."
The architect's first step was to measure the size of the property. Realizing that there was a major problem, he immediately returned to the owner to report back.
"Listen, I measured your property down to the inch. Unfortunately, there just isn't enough room for both a spacious living room and a large foyer. If you want a luxurious living room, you'll have to make the foyer smaller, because whatever you add to the one will detract from the other. I'll do whatever you wish, but if you want my advice, I think you should choose a small entrance-way and a luxurious and spacious living room. Besides, this is the normal way people build houses. They put the accent on the beauty and comfort of the living room, and make the foyer secondary. If you do the opposite, you'll be the laughing-stock of the whole community. People will say to themselves, 'Look at that fool! He sits his guests in a cramped salon and puts their jackets in a luxurious coatroom!'"
The Chofetz Chaim concludes: The purpose of our time in this world is to build a mansion for ourselves in the World to Come. Yet what do we do? We invest most of our efforts in enlarging and decorating the foyer! We don't realize that this only makes our real, eternal home that much smaller. What foolishness!
I'm Only Passing Through
As is well known, the Chofetz Chaim lived a very simple and austere lifestyle. Until he was quite old, the floor in his house wasn't even tiled. The table was not much more than a wooden plank, and instead of chairs there were just some plain benches. Once, a rich Jew visited the revered tzaddik to receive his blessing. As he entered the simple dwelling, he glanced around and saw the plain furnishings. He was shocked to see this eminent and revered personage living under such impoverished circumstances.
"Rabbi," he asked, "how can you live under such conditions? Where is the courtly furniture that befits a person of your stature?"
Smiling gently, the Chofetz Chaim responded by asking a question of his own: "Tell me, where are you staying during your visit here?"
"In the village inn, of course! Where else?"
"I don't understand," replied the Chofetz Chaim, "You are quite wealthy, and must be used to only the best. That inn has only some old broken-down benches. It must be very uncomfortable for you there. Why didn't you bring all of your beautiful furnishings with you?"
"Bring them with me? That's absurd. When a person is traveling, he can't take along everything he owns. Most of his possessions remain at home. He understands that his journey is only temporary, and he lives much more simply."
"That sounds very reasonable," said the Chofetz Chaim - "and now you have the answer to your question. My time in this world is only temporary. I am only passing through on a journey to my ultimate destination. Therefore, I live very simply."
Once the Chofetz Chaim turned to one of the wealthy residents of the city of Charkov, to solicit a donation for an important mitzvah. The man received the Chofetz Chaim warmly, and led him through the main rooms of his home. He had ten rooms, and as they progressed further and further into the interior of the mansion, the furnishings became increasingly more luxurious. Finally, in the tenth room, the most lavish of all, the philanthropist sat down with the Chofetz Chaim, and gave him quite a large check. Even though the Chofetz Chaim's perceptive eyes took in all the grandeur and affluence, he made no mention of what he had seen. However, he noted everything in his memory.
Sometime later, the Chofetz Chaim happened to be in Charkov again, and this time as well he turned to his wealthy acquaintance. This was during the Russian Civil War, and the Communists had taken control of the city. When the Chofetz Chaim arrived at the mansion, he was brought into the second room. The Chofetz Chaim's perceptive eyes discerned that this anteroom now contained all the elegant furniture that he had seen in the opulent tenth room in the interior of the house. The philanthropist again gave a generous donation.
Before leaving, the Chofetz Chaim asked his host why his most luxurious furniture was placed in the anteroom. "Have you purchased furniture even more elegant than this for the interior living room, and you don't want to show it so as not to arouse jealousy?"
"No," answered his host, with a sad expression on his face. "The story is quite different. When the Communists came to power in our city, they confiscated the furniture from eight of my rooms, and left me only two rooms of furniture. That's why I had to put it in the second anteroom."
As the philanthropist accompanied the Chofetz Chaim out of the house, the Chofetz Chaim turned to him and said, "We have to learn a lesson from everything that happens to us. You should know that people don't put furniture in a corridor. And if you see furniture sitting in a corridor, it is a sign that he considers that his home.
"This world is merely a corridor leading to the World to Come. Only the most essential items are put in a corridor. Therefore, if you see someone adorning this world, that is an indication that he considers this world as his home and his main dwelling. One whose eyes view the World to Come as his real home uses only the necessities of this world and refrains from excessive luxuries."
Shema Yisrael Torah Network