Don’t Rush the Process, Good Things Take Time
Not all Biblical stories have happy endings. The Talmud tells us of Elisha ben Avuyah, one of the great Sages of the Talmud 2200 years ago who lost his faith and became a heretic.
A scion of a wealthy Jerusalem family, Elisha was a colleague of Rabbi Akiva and the teacher of Rabbi Meir, two of the greatest sages of the Talmud. He was well aware of the two times that the Torah explicitly promises us longevity—when we honor our parents and when we have mercy on a mother bird to send her away before taking the chicks or eggs from her nest.
If a bird’s nest chances before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and [it contains] fledglings or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the fledglings or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother upon the young.
You shall send away the mother, and [then] you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days.
(Devarim 22: 6-7)
One day, he watched a man instruct his son to ascend a tree and take the mother bird together with her eggs. The son complied, yet, despite fulfilling both directives of honoring his parents and having mercy on the mother bird, he fell off the ladder and died. Thus, he stopped believing in Torah (Jerusalem Talmud Chagigah 2:1)
The Babylonian Talmud (Kiddushin 39b) clarifies Elisha’s error: He failed to realize that the long life promised is referring not to this relatively short life, but rather to the World to Come—when the body and soul will be reunited for eternal life, after the Resurrection of the Dead. The belief in the Resurrection of the Dead is the Thirteenth Principle of the Thirteen Fundamental Principles of our Faith. You can read them all, by clicking here: https://JewishGardens.com/332555
While interesting and intriguing, this explanation is unsatisfying. In the Torah portion of Ki Seitzei, G-d commands us to pay our employees on time.
“You shall give him his wage on his day,” (Devarim 24: 15)
You shall not oppress your fellow. You shall not rob. The hired worker’s wage shall not remain with you overnight until morning” (Vayikra. 19:13)
We know that G-d himself fulfills all the commandments that He asks of us to fulfill (Medrash Shmos Rabbah 30:9). If G-d rewards us for our efforts only when the Resurrection of the Dead will take place with the coming of the Moshiach in the future, it turns out that some of our brethren are still waiting, thousands of years, to receive their ‘Divine wages!”
August 1985 was a tragic month of global disaster. On August 2, Delta Air Lines Flight 191 crashed near Dallas, Texas, killing 137 people. On August 12, the worst single-aircraft disaster in history took place as Japan Airlines Flight 123 crashed in Japan, killing 520 people. We can only posit that these world events might have prompted the Rebbe to redefine our perception of life and death in a sermon that he delivered on this Shabbos on August 31, 1985.
Pained by the question of the apparent Divine injustice of people dying without receiving their reward, the Rebbe broadened our horizons, readjusting our understanding of life itself as he clearly defined our cosmic role upon this Earth. The Rebbe explained that each individual is not isolated from the rest of humanity. We are a global organism working to achieve a collective goal. Only once that goal is reached will the payment come due. Day laborers need to be paid at the end of their working shift. But contractors who are working on a specific project, are paid only at the end of the job.
We were never placed upon this Earth in order to indulge ourselves in hedonistic pleasure. Our role here is clearly laid out by Joshua himself, Moses’ successor who successfully led our ancestors into the Promised Land. Joshua penned one of the most popular prayers of all of Jewish history— ”Aleinu Leshabeiach”, “It is incumbent upon us to praise.” This prayer, which marks the conclusion of nearly every single prayer service we ever recite, declares our mission on this Earth— ”Tikkun Olam Bemalchus Sh-D-Y,” “To repair the world under the consciousness of G-d Almighty.” Though you might have heard of Tikkun Olam—repairing the world—in the context of social justice, this is only half of the full instruction and a corruption of the actual directive which we recite thrice daily for over 3300 years.
The true meaning of Tikkun Olam is to make this world conscious of its Maker. It’s a work in progress, and each subsequent generation has made great strides towards our collective goal. Whilst Abraham was thrown into the furnace for refusing to bow to a king who declared himself a god, our great United States of America proudly declares her monotheistic faith upon her money—In G-d we Trust! Whereas the Biblical Israelites were ridiculed for refusing pagan practices, in America today your donation to Chabad is fully tax deductible! When women were treated like chattel for thousands of years, today they are given the dignity and respect they deserve as the world has come to recognize how each human being was created in the image of G-d. Indeed, the world is racing towards a state of awareness of a Higher Power that runs this incredibly intricate universe. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re certainly closer than ever before!
Thus, only once the task is done, will mankind, as a collective, be able to collect the reward for our accumulated efforts. Like a relay race, we have been passed the baton by those who came before us. Watching us in the grandstands are Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebbecca, David, Solomon and Bat-Sheva. Your Bubbies and Zaydes are right behind you, panting out of breath as they have successfully delivered the precious baton into your hands. It’s in your hands now—the efforts of millions who came before you. What are you going to do with it now?
Imagine you’re wandering through an enormous library. It has millions of books and you’re looking at all the titles of the books, and then suddenly you stop dead in your tracks.
There’s a book and it’s got your name on the spine. You pull it out of the shelf, open it up, and you see that there are several hundred pages of that book written by many different hands in different languages. You try and work out what this book with your name on it is, and with a shock, you realize that this book has been written by your ancestors.
Every single one of them has written a chapter in this book telling their story and handing it on to their children. And as you get to the end of the book, with a shock you see an empty page with your name on it, and you realize that it is the chapter that you have to write. Now you’re in the middle of this library. Can you just put that book on the shelf, walk away and forget it?
We are not individual pages randomly strewn together in a book. Collectively we make up the most magnificent story ever written. We’re not quite done yet, but the story is nearing the end as we will soon reach the goal of a world that is conscious and aware of its Maker. When that happens, we will all receive the Divine Reward that is waiting in store for us after the work is done.
Life has many different chapters of the story. One bad chapter doesn’t mean it’s the end of the book. Don’t close the book when bad things happen, just turn the page and begin a new chapter. You can’t go back and change the beginning of your story, but you can start where you are and change how it ends.
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens
6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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