What does a person do when he realizes that his time in this world is running
out? Some give in to despair. Others go on fatalistic last flings. It's the idea
that one might as well enjoy things as much as possible while there's still time.
It's the same spirit that motivates people who send their kids who are terminally
ill for a trip to Disneyworld. "Let him experience the world of Disney before he
leaves this world!" Or arrange for him a meeting with Michael Jordan and get the
great man's signature on his basketball. Ah, that's the tachlis of life!
It's heartrending to think that this is what life is all about. Here is someone
who for some reason has to leave this world early; but they think that if he has
Michael Jordan's autograph, then all the suffering was worth it. If you think into
it, it's absurd. I don't mean to say that you shouldn't try to make the child happy,
but there must be more to give the child than just to make him happy in this way.
The truth is, we all have a terminal disease—it's called life. Once you're born
and you contract that terminal disease called life, you're going to die from it
sooner or later. The fatality rate from SARS may be 5% or 10%, and people are really
frightened. Well, for this disease called life it's 100%. It may take 120 years,
but nobody survives.
Therefore, one may think, enjoy as much as possible while you're here. "Eat,
drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" (Which by the way was not made up by Robin
Hood or some such, it's in Yeshiyahu. And the navi does not mean to
advocate it, he's just saying that that's what people think.)
The Jewish attitude is far more positive: That I have a tremendous opportunity
in this world to create my Olam Haba. Every second in this world I can do
a little bit more. And the seconds are limited, so I have to get down to work!
The mishna in Avos says, "If not now, when?" That doesn’t mean that I may not
have the next minute. "Repent one day before your death." It’s not the idea that
do you should do teshuvah today because tomorrow you may not be here. And
if it turns out that I don’t die tomorrow, retroactively I didn’t have to repent
yesterday. Rather, it applies even if you know for sure that you’re going to live
The Gemora says that Rabbi Eliezer ben Durdai was an infamous rasha who
had succumbed to his evil inclination in phenomenal ways—he simply couldn’t control
himself. Finally, at one point, something happened that jolted him. He did such
a tremendous teshuvah that he died as a result of its intensity. A heavenly
voice issued forth and said, “Rebbi Eliezer ben Durdai is summoned to Olam Haba!”
Not only is he destined for Olam Haba, but he’s honored with the title
Rebbi, meaning that people should learn from him.
When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi heard of this, he wept, and said: “A person can acquire
his portion in the next world in a single moment.” Why was he crying? Because he
had to labor an entire lifetime for his portion, while somebody else got it in one
go? Was he jealous? Of course not. And of course Rabbi Yehuda’s Olam Haba
was far greater than that of R. Eliezer ben Dudai.
The Telshe Rosh Yeshiva said that he was crying because everybody can do that
every moment. There’s no limit to how much Olam Haba you can get. Every second
has the potential for eternity, and in Olam Haba there is an infinitude of
Rav Simcha Zissel said: "Yom shekulo tov, yom shekulo aruch."That Olam
Haba is totally good, we can understand. Butwhat does it mean that it’s totally
long? Only rabbis’ drashos are totally long. In this world, the accretion
of brief periods of time make long periods of time. In Olam Haba there are
no brief periods of time. Every unit of time there is eternal. It’s all eternity.
R. Yehuda HaNasi cried because he could acquire eternity every second, and yet
so many seconds are wasted.
An analogy to the above is the shmorgasbord at American weddings, especially
in New York or Miami. All the pleasures of this world in food are laid out on a
gigantic table. People are lined up like they’ve never eaten before, kicking, pushing,
to make sure that they get.
That's the attitude we should have to this world, making sure we do what we have
to for our Olam Haba.