A Taste of Heaven

Learning about the avos and the imahos in the current parshiyos of the week, there is something that stands out clearly. Most of what the Torah says about them involves their hardships and nisyonos. Yet, there are pesukim that tell us about their riches and that they were held in high esteem by their neighbors. But those are few and far between. Starting with Avrohom Avinu, who was tested by Hakadosh Boruch Hu ten times, passing with flying colors, and then Yitzchok, who had his difficulties living amongst the Pelishtim and having a son like Eisav, this week we come to Yaakov and the beginning of his series of hardships.

Maasei avos siman labonim. The avos paved the way for us to be able to endure our own personal challenges, to persevere and to grow from them. But how are we able to do this? How can we survive in a harsh world so full of disappointments? How can we maintain our equilibrium and grow from all of our experiences? There is something that we can glean from this week’s sedrah to invigorate us, to help us cope, and to rise above the hardships.

Yaakov Avinu had his own personal Gan Eden living in Be’er Sheva. What could be better than living with his parents, Yitzchok and Rivka, who cherished and nurtured him? There he was able to imbibe so many important lessons in life. At the same time, he sat in the tents of Sheim and Eiver, deeply engrossed in limud haTorah. What pleasure! What bliss! Suddenly and unexpectedly, his mother, Rivka, tells him to take the brachos from Yitzchok instead of Eisav. Despite his strong hesitations to do so, he listens to his mother and now finds himself in a most difficult situation.

Eisav is out to kill him and he must flee for his life. And where should he go for refuge? His father, Yitzchok, sends him to Padan Aram, home of Lavan, his uncle. He knows that Lavan is a sneaky individual and anticipates that it won’t be pleasant to live there. The Gan Eden of his youth is lost. He is now on the run and the future does not look bright. On the way there, he is chased down by his nephew, Elifaz, who was sent by his father, Eisav, to kill him.

Yaakov redeems his life by giving him all of his belongings and is now left both homeless and emptied of possessions. So distraught is Yaakov that he is oblivious to his passing Har Hamoriah, the place where his fathers davened, and doesn’t stop to pray there. He wonders, “From where will my help come?” (Tehillim 121:1).

He reaches Choron and realizes that he passed Har Hamoriah without stopping there. He turns back and suddenly, with kefitzas haderech, finds himself there. “He lay down in that place and he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven, and behold the angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it” (28:11-12).

Many messages were conveyed here. There are numerous Medrashim of prophecies about the future, about the golus and the geulah. But there is also a simple message here, words of chizuk to help Yaakov survive. Before we hear the message, however, here is a short anecdote.

Rav Yaakov Galinsky, the maggid of Bnei Brak, was returning home from his yeshiva in Chadeira. The bus was very crowded and many of the passengers were standing tightly cramped. It was hot and muggy, and the ride was quite uncomfortable. The man standing right next to Rav Yaakov, a chareidi Jew, was humming a chasunah niggun to himself. Pretty soon, he started dancing in his place. Obviously, the discomfort wasn’t bothering him. Rav Yaakov, appreciating the man’s simcha, smiled at him. The man told him happily, “I am on the way to Bnei Brak to take part in the chasunah of my nephew.”

“So that’s it,” thought Rav Yaakov. “He’s on his way to a chasunah, so he already feels the simcha now. Because his mind is on the chasunah, he is unmindful of the discomfort.”

Always on the lookout for a devar mussar, Rav Yaakov’s keen perception picked up a lesson on this bus ride. This is a key to survival in this world. Life is full of discomfort, hardship, challenges, and disappointments. But if you view life on this world as a mere bus ride to a simcha, the joy that we will feel in Olam Haba, then we can already begin to feel that simcha down here. If we realize this, we won’t get so caught up with our various difficulties and won’t worry so much about them.

Chazal tell us that when a righteous person leaves this world and his neshamah ascends to Shomayim, Hakadosh Boruch Hu rejoices with it like one rejoices with a new kallah (Moed Kotton 25b). If so, our entire life is merely a bus ride to the chasunah. If we try to envision what it will be like – and there are numerous Gemaros that speak about Olam Haba – it should instill in us a sense of purpose, a feeling of direction and simchas hachaim. With a strong perception of the broader picture, the difficulties in life are merely temporary and don’t seem as burdensome and distracting.

This was the message given to Yaakov Avinu in his dream. There is a ladder standing earthward and its top reaches heavenward. This is the pathway that connects this world to the next. And Malachei Elokim ascend on it, this refers to ovdei Hashem. One must look at himself as a malach, a messenger of Hashem whose purpose is to serve Him and ride the journey that eventually leads to Heaven. The nature of man is to have times of aliyah and times of yeridah, but, ultimately, if he looks at himself as a messenger of Hashem, he will succeed. This would remind Yaakov that whenever he feels overwhelmed by the challenges, he should remember that he is on a journey to a simcha and this will embolden him. Picturing the simcha that will await him at his final destination will cheer him up in times of strife. Indeed, right after this astounding dream, it says, “And Yaakov lifted his feet and went toward the land of the Easterners” (29:1). He was encouraged and he proceeded to take on the challenge with new vigor.

Rav Beroka Hoza’ah met Eliyahu Hanovi in the marketplace. He asked Eliyahu if there was anyone there who was a ben Olam Haba. Eliyahu answered in the negative. Afterwards, two men appeared in the marketplace and Eliyahu pointed them out as being bnei Olam Haba. Rav Beroka asked them what their occupation is. They answered that they were jesters. When people are sad, they cheer them up, and when people have an argument, they work at making peace between them (Taanis 22a).

The seforim ask: Is it possible that no one in the entire marketplace was a ben Olam Haba? Doesn’t the Mishnah say that every member of Klal Yisroel has a cheilek in Olam Haba?”

Rav Yaakov Galinsky explains that yes, all of Klal Yisroel has a portion in the World to Come, but they wait to enjoy it when they actually reach it after death. There are select individuals who are able to perceive the goodness of Olam Haba while they are alive down here. They are full of simcha themselves and they are able to bring joy to others who are depressed. From their Olam Haba vantage point, they can clearly see how any arguments over matters in this world are trivial, and this motivates them to make peace between those in conflict. This is what Rav Beroka asked Eliyahu about. Is there anyone in the marketplace who is a ben Olam Haba down on this world? To this, Eliyahu pointed out the two jesters.

The Chofetz Chaim says a similar machshava regarding the bracha that Yaakov Avinu gave Yissochor. “He saw tranquility that it was good and the land that it was pleasant, and he bent his shoulder to bear and become an indentured laborer” (Bereishis 49:15). Normally, one who craves tranquility sits back and relaxes. Yet, regarding Yissochor, seeing menucha had the opposite effect. It motivated him to work harder. How do we understand this?

The Chofetz Chaim explained that there are times when we face nisyonos, when things get difficult and we are afraid that we will slacken off in our avodas Hashem. The best advice for this is to picture the tremendous reward he will get in Olam Haba, the pure joy he will experience there, to think about it until it is very real to him. This gives us strength and invigorates us to continue working hard. This is what the Torah says about Yissochor. What motivated him to learn Torah and serve Hashem with such dedication? He saw tranquility that it was good. He looked at Olam Haba and pictured it in his mind. And because of this simcha that he could already feel down here, “he bent his shoulder to bear.” This gave him a boost of energy to continue serving Hashem with all of his energy.

In Birkas Hamazon, we ask Hashem: “The Compassionate One! May he bless…ours and all that is ours just as our forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, were blessed bakol mikol kol.” What is the meaning of this bracha, “in everything, from everything, with everything”?

The Gemara derives from these words mentioned in the pesukim that the avos hakedoshim were granted a taste of Olam Haba in this world (Bava Basra 16b). Rashi explains that they were lacking nothing. While they did experience hardships and pain, they did not feel like they were missing anything, because they were tasting Olam Haba. This gave them the strength to persevere and look at the hardships as trivial distractions that would very soon be forgotten. We, too, ask Hashem that we be given this perception of Olam Haba down here, so that we are overwhelmed by simcha and don’t become distracted by the hardships.