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If Only We Could SeeDedicated to J. whose sister just passed away.
The following story, created by R. Yom Tov Ehrlich, is based on the writings of R. Chaim Vital, who learned it from his Rabbi, the Arizal. It is taken from Yalkut Lekach Tov, vol. 1, p. 284.
Yosef, a young man who was married only a few years, left the shul after Shabbos services one Friday night and made his way to his mother's house to wish her a "Gutten Shabbos." The house glowed with a pleasant warmth, and the candles burned brightly, as if they were proclaiming that the holy Shabbos had descended upon the world. The younger children were seated around the table, but the chair at the head of the table, where their father used to sit, was empty. He had passed away two years before, and his empty chair still disturbed the tranquility of the house. Wistfulness mixed with pain filled everyone's heart. Their mother, Rachel, sat in her place as usual, reading a sefer.
"Gut Shabbos," Yosef greeted them.
"Gut Shabbos," the children replied.
"Gut Shabbos," said Rachel, as she attempted with all her strength to hide the tears welling up in her eyes.
"You're crying again," Yosef said. "There has to be a limit to this, Mother. Today is Shabbos and you're not allowed to make yourself suffer. "
"But Yosef," his mother replied, "exactly two years ago your father left this world. How can I not cry today?"
Yosef sighed. "Today you have a good reason, Mother. But what about yesterday, and the day before? Yes, it's been two years already, and you are still constantly grieving. Think about Abba in Gan Eden - certainly he wouldn't be happy with all this! And what about the Borei Olam? God surely isn't pleased with this either. The Shulchan Aruch tells us when we should mourn deeply, when our grief should lessen, and when to stop. Acting like this is like showing that you don't agree to what Hashem wants." Yosef finished his speech. "Please forgive me, Mother, for talking to you like this."
Rachel rose, wiped the tears from her cheeks, and said, "I know you're right, Yosef. I do try, with all my strength, to forget - but I just can't." And again she wiped the tears away.
"Imma!" little Shoshana piped up. "We want you to always be happy!"
"So do I," answered her mother, "and I promise you that I'll really try."
Yosef wished his mother a Gut Shabbos again and set out for his own home. David, his younger brother, made Kiddush over wine, and throughout the meal everyone felt a real Shabbos peace. Rachel even laughed a bit. The children talked about the weekly Torah reading, and Rachel smiled proudly.
Everyone went to sleep late, and Rachel felt an inner peace that she had not felt since her husband had left her. She began to think that, after all, she wasn't alone in her plight; she knew other young widows, and they were happy. She would try to make peace with her lot. Her thoughts turned to the shidduch that had been proposed to her recently. In the past whenever she had thought about it she had cringed. But now she dozed off into a peaceful sleep, and she dreamed.
In her dream, people all around her were running. She ran with them and they all entered a dense forest. They ran through the forest, disappearing into the darkness. She continued to run and as the forest ended, a burst of light suddenly surrounded her. The sun shone more brightly than usual, and she saw that she was standing at the entrance to a beautiful garden filled with exquisite flowers of marvelous fragrance. All around were gleaming ponds. The whole garden was bathed in the glow of intense sunlight.
Suddenly she noticed a man with a long silvery beard, wearing a white robe. He approached her and asked if she wanted to see her husband, and she followed him with her heart pounding. The old man stopped beside a large fruit tree, and in the distance she saw a wide field, enclosed with a golden fence. Inside were a group of people wearing brightly colored clothes, sitting in rows and studying Torah. In the midst of them stood a young man who was giving the shiur.
The old man turned to Rachel. "Wait here a few moments," he said. "Soon the lesson will be over and then you'll be able to see him." The shiur ended, and the teacher began walking toward her. Suddenly Rachel recognized her husband's suit. Her head spun as she realized that this was actually her husband standing in front of her.
"Avraham!" she cried faintly, and leaned against the tree for support.
"Yes, here I am," her husband answered gently. "Please calm down."
Slowly she regained her composure. "Why did you leave me so young, Avraham?"
"You must understand," he began softly, "that in the world you live in, souls are sent to complete certain missions and to endure hardships because of sins they committed previously. I was already in the world once before, you see, in another lifetime. I was a talmid chacham and a tzaddik, but I didn't want to marry and have children, so that my learning would not be disturbed. When I left the world and came here, at first they made me the head of one of the yeshivos in Gan Eden, and I started rising from level to level. But when they found out that I had never married or had children, they sent me back to the world. There I married you, and when we had our seventh child they called me back to Gan Eden to return to my yeshivah, where everybody was waiting for me. Your merit is great and when the time comes, we will be together again in this world, the real world."
"But," asked Rachel, "how can it be that you were such a talmid chacham, for you never had much time to learn?"
"I myself didn't know it," her husband replied. "I had been sent into the world only to correct what I had been lacking - to marry and have a family."
His wife continued to ask questions. "And can you tell me, then, why our Yosef is so unsuccessful in business?"
"Certainly you remember the din Torah he had? Yosef won the case, but in doing so he caused great pain to his fellow Jew. He would have been punished more harshly if I hadn't interceded on his behalf and asked them to give him only four years of difficulty in business. In another year the term of punishment will be up and he'll start to succeed."
"And what of our David, who is already twenty-four and still can't find a shidduch?"
Her husband smiled and said, "The reason for that is that his intended bride took her time coming into the world. Now she is only thirteen and she lives in another city. In five years she'll come to your city, she'll marry David, and she'll even pay for the whole wedding!"
Rachel began to tremble as a painful memory came to her. It took all of her might to ask her husband, "And why did that tragedy happen to us, when that drunken goy killed our precious three-year-old son?"
"Come with me," her husband replied gently. They walked together quietly, until they came to a sunny grove of little trees. From the sky emanated beams of light in different colors. Beautiful birds flew from tree to tree and she heard them singing, "Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart" (Tehillim 97:11), while others sang, "May my soul praise You, and not be silent" (Tehillim 30:13). Multicolored insects flew around and also sang into their ears, as did swarms of little creatures running in the grass. Even the grass itself, and the trees, sang.
Suddenly she saw balls of fire swinging on chains of colors. They stopped near her and above them were little angels with wings, flying right above her head. All around she heard wonderful music coming from all sorts of instruments and she felt as if her soul would fly out, as she was about to faint. Her husband immediately took some grass from the garden and held it to her nose. She came back to herself and looked around and saw a canopy made of precious stones shining with all the colors of the rainbow. Underneath the canopy was the form of an angel, who came and stood before her. She recognized her dead son and cried in joy. She fainted, and her husband again revived her with the fragrance of the grass. She opened her eyes and saw that it was no mistake. This was her son and none other.
"Oh, why did you leave me when you were so young?" she asked him.
The child answered, "Everything has been calculated by the Borei Olam. I had been in the world once before, before I was born to you, Imma. I had been born to a very special family. In our city there was a pogrom and the goyim murdered all the Jews. I was six months old and the only one left alive. A gentile family took me in and raised me until the Jews from a neighboring town ransomed me and brought me back to live among them. I became a great talmid chacham and lived the rest of my life peacefully. When I left the world, they received me here in the real world with great joy and I rose from level to level until I reached a place where I couldn't go any higher, because I had been nursed for one year by a gentile woman. The verdict was that I should be born again and nurse for three years from a Jew and then I would be able to attain my proper high place. That's when I was born to you, Imma, and that is a great merit for you. When I finished my three years, I was taken again to my real place, because there was nothing left for me to do in that lowly world."
"But why did you have to go in such a terrible way?" his mother asked.
"When I was about to pass from the world, a terrible decree went out on the Jews of our city, and all of them were about to be killed, including you and Abba. That's when I was honored by being able to atone for the whole city, and I was killed in their place. In that way I saved the whole city, and that's why I was able to merit all the honor you see here. No one in all of Gan Eden is allowed to see me, only Abba, whenever he wants. " The child laughed gleefully, flew up and was gone.
Then her husband said to her, "You have seen that all of your questions have answers. There is a Creator, and He creates no evil. Now I have to go back to my shiur." He accompanied her back to the place where she had first been, by the tree, and said to her, "It is wonderful here, but I cannot bear your constant grieving, Rachel. Please, for my sake, start to enjoy life again. You have been offered a good shidduch; don't oppose it." Her husband disappeared and the old man again appeared. He led her through the forest until they reached the city.
She woke up from her sleep as if she had been born anew. For a long time her face bore its smile, as she continued to see her fortunate husband and her smiling son. A heavy rock had been lifted from her heart and she finally was consoled.
She is now happily married and living a wonderful and pleasant life.
There is a note by R. Yom Tov Ehrlich, the creator of this story:
This story was developed from the writings of R. Chaim Vital, who learned it from his great teacher, the Arizal. It reveals to us deep concepts in the Torah, especially the concept of gilgulim (reincarnation). It teaches that all the creatures in the universe are like screws in the great machine called Creation. Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu tightens the screws or loosens them, and adjusts their actions according to the workings of the machine. He brings neshamos (souls) into the world to fulfill certain tasks, and He takes away those neshamos which need to be above in the Next World. For this world and the Next World are really one unified concept. The neshamos work together with the body in the lower world, while above the neshamos act alone. If we could only know how everything acts together, we would never feel any suffering.
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