by Rabbi Heshy Grossman
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|"VaYeshev Ya'akov B'Eretz Migurei Aviv, B'Eretz Cana'an" (B'reishis 37,1)
"Bikesh Ya'akov Leishev B'Shalva - Ya'akov wanted to dwell in tranquility, pounced upon him the excitement of Yosef. Says Hashem: 'Is it not enough for the Tzaddikim that Olam HaBa is prepared for them? They search for tranquility in this world as well?' " (Rashi, ad loc.)
Ya'akov is being rebuked for the desire to rest peacefully in the land of his fathers. What precisely is he doing wrong? Certainly, Ya'akov Avinu has no wish to retire. If he asks for respite, it is only to serve G-d more efficiently, undisturbed by the upheavals that have marked the past twenty years of his life.
In our shiur this week, we will answer this question, demonstrating why there is no easy path to the world-to-come.
"They [the elders of Athens] said to him [Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chanania]: 'We have a well in the field, bring it into the city!' He brought bran, and threw it before them: 'Weave me rope from bran and I will bring it in.' They said to him: 'Is it possible to weave rope from bran?' He said to them: 'And is it possible to bring a well from the field into the city?' " (Bechoros 8b)
The Vilna Gaon clarifies this mystifying debate, where Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chanania defends the Jewish faith before the wise men of Greece.
Underneath the surface of the earth, hidden to the human eye, is something that sustains all life: water; or Torah, it's spiritual parallel. The B'nai Yisrael claim that it is our forefathers who dug this well, it is from there that we drink to satisfaction, to this very day.
Presently, the well is covered by a great stone, man's evil inclination, and we patiently wait for redemption. Salvation will arrive in the merit of our three righteous forefathers, those who first uncovered this well, deep within the Jewish heart.
"The idea is this: From Avraham came Yishma'el, and from Yitzchak: Esav. They are the chaff and straw to the wheat kernel....and this is as Esav asked his father: How does one tithe straw? [to show that even the straw, Esav, is holy]....and ben David will not come until they [Klal Yisrael] are separated from the nations, who will be 'as the chaff, battered in the wind' (Tehillim 1, 4). Therefore, two Messiahs will come, parallel to Avraham and Yitzchak, and separate the chaff and straw."
"And still, they will be unable [to bring redemption] until the bran is separated from the flour, they are greatly attached to the kernel. These are the Erev Rav, who are the waste products, from the position of Ya'akov. This is 'the great stone [at the mouth of the well]' (B'reishis 29, 2), which is the delay [in redemption]. Therefore, 'And Ya'akov approached, and uncovered [the stone]' (B'reishis 29,10)."
"And this separation [from the bran] has ceased, with our many sins, in exile, and the 'Erev Rav' are very much attached, in their midst. And 'the grinding [of the grain] has ceased...' (Koheles 12, 3). Therefore, 'Im Ein Kemach, Ein Torah' (without fine flour, there is no Torah) (Avos 3,17), for the bran is still attached to the grain."
"And this is [the purpose of] all of exile, to be broken in exile, until the separation, [as in] the three days of darkness [during the plague of darkness]....and then will be separated, and die, all the wicked of Israel." (Vilna Gaon, Peirush Al Kammah Aggados)
The elders of Athens ridicule the faith of the Jews. Do you truly have access to hidden wells? Where are they? Can you bring them in from the fields, the portion of Esav, 'man of the fields'?
"Can you make rope from bran?", retorts Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chanania.
"Where there is bran in the house, there is poverty in the house" (Pesachim 111b), and furthermore, "Ein Ani Ela B'Da'as" (true poverty is in regards to wisdom) (Nedarim41a). "What is poverty? Poverty of Torah." (Kiddushin 49b)
The hidden wells are the secrets of Torah, waiting to be uncovered by the man who partakes of pure, white bread, distinguishing the kernel of wheat from the irritating bran. Redemption will come, Rebbi Yehoshua says, when the children of Ya'akov cast aside the evil inclination standing between them and the sweet, clear water of their forefathers' well.
There was once an advertising campaign for the Club Med Vacation. A panoramic scene of blue ocean, blazing sun, and people enjoying themselves at varied forms of recreation. The pitch was something like this: "Come to Club Med, and relax! You can play golf at our magnificent course, or eat at one of our fine restaurants! You can go snorkeling, or diving; swim at our isolated beaches! You can walk miles of clean, white sand!"
But the key attraction was this: as the camera focuses on two people lying motionless, face down to the ground: "Or, you can come and do nothing at all!"
The most compelling argument is saved for last. Who can resist? Imagine, your dreams fulfilled! You can do absolutely nothing!
We view life a little diferently.
"HaYom L'Asosam U'Machar L'Kabel Scharam" - "Today is for the doing, tomorrow is to receive their reward" (Eruvin 22a)
Man was put on this world with a task to perform. Here, man works, preparing for the future, his eternal rest.
This world is compared to the six days of the week, hustle and bustle in the chase to earn our keep.
Winnowing is prohibited only on Shabbos.
In the meantime, we need to separate the grain from the chaff.
Let us explain.
If this world is known as Olam HaZeh, wouldn't it be more appropriate to refer to the next world as Olam HaHu, that world? Why the appellation of Olam HaBa, the world-to-come?
The next world comes after this; it follows as a result, a product of our actions here. Olam Haba is not an independent entity, but rather, we create our own place in eternity. After all, 'if one doesn't trouble himself on Erev Shabbos, what will he eat on Shabbos?'.
This world, as well, doesn't stand on its own. Its value is measured to the extent it is utilized in the pursuit of G-d's will. It exists as a tool, an instrument enabling man to reach his destination.
Olam HaZeh is the bran; the chaff and straw. They always come first. Their presence promotes the growth of the precious kernel that lies within. It is for this reason that the Zohar begins with the verse: "as a flower among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters" (Shir HaShirim 2, 2). It is this idea that is the basis of life's inner meaning, the wellspring of hidden secrets. By peeling away the layers of falsehood that define the physical world, the kernel of truth at the origin of existence becomes revealed to the chosen few. Casting aside the vanities of a facile world, Klal Yisrael, the 'flower among the thorns', discovers its own hidden glory.
The righteous man has a unique perspective on life. He understands that he cannot be complacent, even for a moment. He is a faithful servant, a diligent worker, loyal to his task. He weighs every word, and analyzes each action, painfully aware of the formidable obstacles that hinder his success. He has no time to squander, not a minute to waste. He is constantly sifting the sands of time, casting aside the wasteful chaff in the unceasing attempt to purify his world.
"The hay, straw, and chaff argue with each other. This one says: 'The field was planted for me!', and this one says: 'The field was planted for me!'. Said the grain of wheat: 'Wait until the harvest, and then we'll know for whom the field was planted'. They came to harvest, and the owner went out to winnow his produce. The chaff blew away in the wind. He took the hay and threw it to the ground. He took the straw and burned it. He took the wheat and formed it into piles. All who saw it, came and kissed it....."
"So too, the idolatrous nations. These say, 'We are the essence, and for our sake the world was created!', and these say: 'For our sake the world was created!'. Says Israel to them: 'Wait until that day comes and we will know for whom the world was created'."
"This is as written: 'For, behold, that day is coming, burning as a furnace, [and all the wicked, and all evildoers will be as straw, and that day that is coming will burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, and it will leave them with neither root nor branch]' (Malachi 3,19)." (B'reishis Rabbah 83, 4)
In a world where the goal of man is to sleep till noon and play until dawn, it is no coincidence that whole grain and bran have become the foods of choice. They may be physically nourishing, but our impoverished souls are unable to digest their coarseness and impurity.
Though this world is filled with sin and imperfection, the man of faith understands that a loaf of bread is produced only with great effort. Until Shabbos comes, he works and toils, refining the flour that will be his sustenance.
"Na'ar Hayisi, V'Gam Zakanti, V'Lo Ra'isi Tzaddik Ne'ezav, V'Zaro Mivakesh Lachem"
Any questions or comments? Please address them to grossman @actcom.co.il
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