Eternal Life… Attainable? Dear Rachel,
My problem is so “out of the box” that you might choose not to address it. I am a man considered immensely successful. Indeed, I am fortunate to have lucked out both where money and romance are concerned — contrary to that old saying that goes something like “no luck in love, luck in money.”
I have also been blessed with good health and a beautiful family. So what could possibly be bothering me, you must be thinking…
Bluntly stated, it is the thought of having to leave my fabulous fortune behind one day. Oh, I know my prosperity will benefit my children and grandchildren down the line, but somehow it still seems futile to me to have amassed such opulence and to be unable to be around forever to enjoy it.
As crazy as it sounds, I crave eternal life. How do I overcome this fixation (which, by the way, I have divulged to no one)?
I am fully aware that our religion espouses eternal life in the hereafter and that the only possessions we carry with us beyond this existence are the merits we have accrued in our lifetime. (I mention this to spare you the trouble of lecturing me on what I am already well acquainted with.)
Please don’t recommend that I seek psychiatric counseling — out of the question! I’d have a lot of explaining to do to my wife; besides, I have no intention of sharing my hidden preoccupation with anyone.
I was rather hoping you would have some words of wisdom for me in your arsenal of advice.
Middle-aged and graying quickly Dear Graying,
It’s only fair to say that the majority of us share your reluctance to leave this world behind. Our reasoning, however, is where we part company. Whereas most of us hope to live long productive lives and to be around to reap the fruits of our labor in the form of nachas for generations to come, we readily concede that our ultimate fate is not in our hands.
Nevertheless, believe it or not, you are in good company. There once lived a king who had everything money could buy, and then some, and in his legendary reign he too experienced a stage remarkably similar to yours.
At the apex of his monarchy, as he was luxuriating in a lifestyle none of us could ever fathom, he began to bemoan the fact that he’d one day need to leave his lavish lifestyle and vast kingdom behind.
One day, as he strolled the grounds of his lush estate and dwelled upon man’s inevitable bitter end, a beautiful bird with a small golden pitcher in its mouth caught his attention. Shlomo HaMelech, who had the ability to communicate with the creatures of the earth, inquired about the origin and content of the pitcher.
The bird let the king know that it had just arrived from Gan Eden and that the pitcher held a small amount of water of “eternal life” for the one who would drink it. The bird then placed the pitcher at the king’s feet and flew away.
The king exulted in this unexpected turn of events, his melancholy mood lifting instantly. The wisest of all men, however, felt his heart and mind cautioning him to be wary of taking a life-altering step that may prove to be irreversible.
After concealing the little golden pitcher behind a giant old tree, Shlomo HaMelech left for the Bais Hamikdash to confer with his trusted advisers. Upon hearing of the king’s wondrous find, they urged him to go for it, genuinely wanting their beloved king to be happy and to live forever.
The king suddenly noticed that his most trusted confidante was not among them. Since he wouldn’t undertake such a serious move without the input of Nosson HaNavi (who was ill at the time), the king instructed that the old prophet be brought to him on his bed.
After confiding his feelings of late to the prophet, as well as the incident that had recently transpired, Shlomo HaMelech posed his all-consuming question: to drink [the special water] or not to drink. Nosson HaNavi asked him whether anyone was permitted to drink it, or only the king…
When the king replied that the bird had specified the water to be strictly for him alone, the prophet advised him not to drink any of it and to pour the water out.
He further advised the astonished king to give the matter some somber thought and to face the reality that his children, family members and friends would all eventually leave this world, and that he, the king, would remain here forever, possibly even against his will — for none of the departed would be returning to this world and the king would be left standing alone, like a tree whose fruit have fallen and whose branches are dry and brittle.
“Moreover,” warned the prophet, “the people who will inhabit the earth hundreds and thousands of years from now will be worlds apart from those you are acquainted with and may not even desire or regard you as their monarch.
“You will yet rue the day you allowed the water of eternal life to touch your lips, and you will wish for death in order to unite with your loved ones in the next world, to sit with them under the wings of the Holy Presence of G-d.”
Shlomo HaMelech perceived the sagacity of the old prophet and determined he would spill the water out and keep the pitcher as a reminder for the future… but as the king returned to his garden, he saw the little bird flying off with the pitcher in its mouth.
From that time on, Shlomo HaMelech vanquished all thoughts of eternal life and joyfully thanked Hashem for the years bequeathed him to spend with his nearest and dearest.
May you be equally blessed — as you drink the waters of our holy Torah and thereby gain eternal life in the World to Come.
Wishing all readers a wonderful and insightful Shavuos!
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