As Chanukah is already in our rear view mirrors (believe it or not) and we on the eastern seaboard are facing what the Farmer’s Almanac is calling a harsh winter, let’s see if we can take a powerful message away with us from this year’s Chanukah.
If we count up the candles of all eight nights, they total 36. The Rokei’ach says that these 36 lights represent the 36 hours of Gan Eden that Adam and Chava enjoyed before they were thrown out on motzoei Shabbos. It was 36 consecutive hours of light, since even on Friday night there was no darkness because in Gan Eden there is only the ethereal light of the afterlife. This is why it does not say, “Vayehi erev vayehi boker, yom haShabbos,” that there was evening and there was day on the Shabbos, for on the Shabbos in paradise there was no evening.
We know from our great tzaddikim that it is beneficial and meaningful to stare at the lights of the menorah. One of the reasons is because it helps us to actualize in our minds the reality of the afterlife. Awareness of Olam Haba is a game-changer in the way we live our lives and a determining factor in how we make our decisions. The Gemara informs us that during the joyous water-drawing ceremony on Sukkos, great Sages like R. Yochanan juggled full goblets of wine, while others juggled up to eight knives at a time. One would be correct in wondering why, in the holy Temple, venerable Sages performed in front of massive crowds like circus acrobats.
I always felt that the deeper meaning behind the juggling routine is that it represents the many different responsibilities that a person has to juggle during the course of life. They have a responsibility to their spouse, their children, their parents, their grandchildren, their siblings, their friends, neighbors, employer or employees, shul, school, community, to themselves and of course to Hashem. The way they juggle these responsibilities without dropping the ball is the mark of one’s success in life.
How to prioritize what comes first and what deserves more of one’s attention is greatly colored by a constant awareness of Olam Haba. Let’s take a simple example. When you are approached by a family who is struggling to marry off a child and you are asked to help out, taking several hundred dollars out of your wallet can be as painful as a tooth extraction – unless you feel that the money you are giving away is actually the very best investment in your Olam Haba bank account. If this is actualized, it converts a painful experience to a matter of fulfillment and satisfaction. This is what we refer to as zorei’ah tzedokos, planting our charities.
The Gemara in Menachos teaches us that Olam Haba was created with the letter yud. It explains that yud is the smallest letter in the alphabet and, sadly, only a small percentage of people get to the afterlife. We should also take note of the fascinating fact that the letter yud is the only letter in the alef-beis that doesn’t touch the floor since it is not from this world but the maker of the next world. Further, the letter yud makes a noun possessive. Bayis is a house; beisi is my home. Shulchan is a table; shulchani is my table. Only what I put away for the next world, represented by the yud, is mine forever.
A smart person saves for their retirement and feels a great sense of satisfaction when they salt away their money in an IRA or some other secure investment. But how long is retirement? From 65 to 105? Forty years? It should be a thousand times more rewarding to salt away money, good deeds and Torah study for our retirement in the afterlife, which is trillions of endless years.
The great Reb Yehudah says that the first lesson of the Torah is, ‘Why does the Torah start with the letter beis?’ He explains that the first belief that will impact the direction of every facet of our life is that there are two worlds and we should constantly amass an Olam Haba portfolio, so that we should enjoy a superior afterlife forever. The Talmud cries, “Fortunate is he who arrives at the afterlife with the Talmud in his hand.” Fortunate is the woman who builds a home where her children are inspired to learn Torah, whose husband feels that it is her pride and joy.
May it be the will of Hashem that the goal of Olam Haba should be a driving force in all of our decisions and in that merit may Hashem bless us with two tables, a brilliant future in Olam Haba and good health, happiness and everything wonderful for a long stay in the world that we live in now.