Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Rebbe Yaakov says: this world is comparable to a corridor before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the corridor, so that you may enter into the banqueting hall.

He used to say: one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than the entire world to come and one hour of tranquility in the world to come is great than the entirety of this word (Avot 4:16-17).


At the end of Avot’s fourth perek, Rebbe Yaakov makes two statements about the relationship between this world and the next. The two statements are connected and together define the focus and goal of life in this world.


A Mere Corridor

Rebbe Yaakov begins by comparing this world to a corridor that leads to a palace – Olam Haba (the next world). Olam Hazeh (this world) is not the end goal. There is a bigger, better, and more meaningful place – the “palace” – we reach after passing through this world, which is actually a mere corridor.

We are, of course, familiar with this world, drawn to its pleasures, and focused on its reality and challenges. Rebbe Yaakov teaches that this world is essentially just the “promo,” just the hallway, for the “main event” of the next world.

Mesilat Yesharim (1) begins by explaining (based on our mishna) that we need to realize that we were not created just for this world. Our souls ultimately seek things more meaningful than what this world has to offer. We should remember this and ensure not to get led astray by the non-spiritual aspects of our world.


Ultimate Reward

This concept connects to two other statements of Rebbe Yaakov. The first is his assertion that Hashem rewards mitzvah observance only in the next world, not in this one (Kiddushin 39a). Understandably, the reward is given in the palace, not the corridor.

Rebbe Yaakov also expresses this idea in the second mishna (above), where he teaches that “one hour of tranquility in the World to Come is more precious than all of life in this world.” Unlike this world, which does not offer complete happiness, the next world offers us true peace, satisfaction, and tranquility. Reward is given only in the next world because one moment of peace and calm there is more significant than a whole life of this world’s pleasures. Spending our lives pursuing those pleasures would be selling ourselves terribly short. Knowing that the next world is the ultimate destination should help us avoid that mistake.


The Way In

This does not mean that there is no importance to this world, to the “hallway.” Though not the ultimate end, life in the hallway is significant, and our time here must be maximized. We see this from the first part of the second mishna, where Rebbe Yaakov asserts that “one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is more precious than all of the World to Come.” Though the next world is the world of reward and satisfaction, we earn this reward and satisfaction through our actions and personal growth in this world. Though only a corridor, it is where we prepare to enter and earn our place in the palace.

Kohelet Rabbah (4:5) adds that “the next world is earned only by what we do in this world.” Like passing through a corridor that is the sole entry to the palace, preparation in this world is the only way to gain access to the next one. Our efforts in this world are not just one way forward; they are the only way to earn and enhance our portion in the next world.

Rebbe Yaakov emphasizes the need to take advantage of life in this world in the first mishna as well when he urges, “Prepare yourself in the corridor, so that you may enter the palace.” The right to enter the palace of Olam Haba is earned through our efforts in Olam Hazeh.

The Gra expressed this idea with the last words he spoke while crying on his deathbed. His talmidim asked him why he was crying. Was he afraid of facing his Maker? What did he think he would be punished for? The Gra responded that he was crying because he would soon be unable to perform mitzvot and earn reward. The Gra appreciated the unique opportunity offered by life in this world. Only here can we perform mitzvot and enhance our eternal life in the “palace” of the World to Come.

Rebbe Yaakov’s teachings help us develop the proper perspective on our world. We should realize that it and its pleasures are not the ultimate goal. That said, this world is important as the venue through which we earn our place in the next one. In the words of Rav Saadiah Gaon, “The tzaddik loves this world, not for itself, but only because of the level he reaches through it that he can use to rise to Olam Haba” (Emunos V’Deios, Maamar 10).


Sha’ah Achat

Rebbe Yaakov’s words teach two additional important lessons. We learn the first lesson from his usage of the term “sha’ah achat – one moment.Each and every moment has significance and thus needs to be taken advantage of. Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi famously quipped, “Some acquire their share in the next world through one moment (as opposed to others, who need many years)” (Avodah Zarah 17a). Each moment can and should be of great significance and impact.


Action and Reflection

A second lesson is about the primary importance of deed and self-reflection. Instead of Torah and chochma, Rebbe Yaakov focuses on teshuva and ma’asim tovim (good deeds) as our world’s meaningful content.

Though Judaism attributes great value to Torah learning and accumulating wisdom (Talmud Torah k’neged kulam), actions are more important. As Rebbe Shimon the son of Rabban Gamliel taught in the first perek of Avot: “Lo hamidrash hu ha’ikar, ella hama’aseh” (Avot 1:17).

In fact, ma’asim are learning’s ultimate aim. Later in Avot (Avot 4:5), Rabbi Yishmael ben Berokah defines ideal learning as that which is done in order to facilitate action. Ultimately, it is the ma’asim our learning inspires that make our learning of supreme importance. In the Gemara’s words, “Learning is great(est) because it facilitates ma’aseh” (Kiddushin 40b).

Rava emphasized the importance of both teshuva and ma’asim in asserting that “teshuva and ma’asim tovim are the tachlis (goal) of chochmah” (Berachot 17a). Torah study and the pursuit of chochma are a central focus of our time and energy because they help us build our identity and live our lives properly.


Today and Tomorrow

We can summarize Rebbe Yaakov’s teachings using the Gemara which explains the Torah’s emphasis on the need to do mitzvot today (Devarim 6:6) with five words: “Hayom la’asosam; machar l’kabel secharam” (Eiruvin 22a). Today (this world) is when we work. Tomorrow (the next world) is when we receive reward.

May we maximize every day of our lives in this world by realizing that we are here to prepare for the next world through reflection and growth!


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Rav Reuven Taragin is the Dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel and Educational Director of World Mizrachi - RZA. He lives with his wife Shani and their six children in Alon Shvut, Israel.