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Rebbe Yaakov says: This world is comparable to a corridor before the world to come. Prepare yourself in the corridor, in order that you should enter the palace.

He used to say: greater is one hour of teshuvah and good deeds in this world, than all of the world to come. Greater is one hour of tranquility in the world to come than all of this world (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. Together, the statements define the focus and goal of life in this world.


A Mere Corridor

Rebbe Yaakov begins by comparing our world to a corridor that leads to a palace – Olam Haba. Olam Hazeh is not the end goal. There is a better and more meaningful place – the “palace” – we reach after passing through this world. We are, of course, familiar with our world and drawn to its pleasures. Rebbe Yaakov teaches that this world is essentially just the “promo,” the hallway.

The sefer Mesillat Yesharim begins by explaining (based on our mishna) that we need to realize that we were not created (mainly) for this world. Our souls ultimately seek things more meaningful than what this world has to offer; we should ensure that we are not lured astray by the non-spiritual aspects of our world.


Ultimate Reward

This concept connects to two other teachings 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 in this world, where one can never be satisfied, the next world offers true peace, satisfaction, and tranquility. Reward is given only in the next world because one moment of serenity there is more significant than a lifetime of pleasure in Olam Hazeh. Knowing and appreciating this should help us avoid pursuing pleasure in this world. Doing so would be selling ourselves terribly short.


The Way In

All this does not mean there is no importance to Olam Hazeh, the hallway. Though not the ultimate end, life in the hallway is significant, and we must maximize our time here. 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 are 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 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 Olam Hazeh is the only way to reach 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 when he urges, “Prepare yourself in the corridor, so that you may enter the palace.” We earn the right to enter the palace of Olam Haba through our efforts in Olam Hazeh.

The Gra expressed this idea 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 life in this world offers. Only here can we perform mitzvot and enhance our eternal life in the palace of the world to come.

Rebbe Yaakov’s teachings aim to 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 world. In the words of Rav Saadyah Gaon (Emunot V’Deot 10), “The tzaddik loves this world, not for itself, but only because of the level he reaches through it that serves as his springboard to Olam Haba.”


Sha’ah Achat

Rebbe Yaakov’s words teach two additional valuable lessons. The first is 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 (Avodah Zara 17a), “Some acquire their share in the next world through one moment (as opposed to others who require many years).” Each moment can and should be of great significance and impact.


Action and Reflection

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

Though we greatly value Torah learning and accumulating wisdom (talmud Torah k’neged kulam), actions are more important. As Rabbi Shimon the son of Rabban Gamliel taught in Avot’s first perek (1:17): “Lo hamidrash hu ha’ikar, ella ha’maaseh.”

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

Rava (Berachos 17a) emphasized the importance of both teshuvah and maasim in asserting that “teshuvah and maasim tovim are the tachlis (goal) of chochma.” Torah study and the pursuit of chochmah 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 with the Gemara that explains the Torah’s emphasis on the need to do mitzvot today with five words (Devarim 6:6): “Ha’yom la’asosam; machar l’kabel secharam – Today (this world) is when we work. Tomorrow (the next world) is when we receive reward” (Eiruvin 22a).

May we maximize every day of our lives by realizing 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.