A burst of life
During the weeks between Pesach and Shavuot, we have adopted a tradition that every Shabbat we read a chapter from Pirkei avot. One reason for this is, since the Pirkei avot brings fundamental advice on how to work on character growth and serving Hashem, it is only appropriate that we recite these words of wisdom before reliving the receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai. This week, we read the second chapter which brings Raban Gamliel who says “An abundance of Torah, (leads to) an abundance of life”.
When we are born, our soul enters a body with a desire to have pleasure from Hashem, it’s creator. The soul, however, is completely spiritual and has a drive for spiritual pleasures. It enters a physical body which only understands the pleasure as physical. Lost in translation, the body lives a life of desire for physical pleasure, but the soul will never be placated by that pleasure. The Chafets chaim expands: ״חיי עולם נטע בתוכנו״ – “Hashem planted into us an eternal life”. Hashem, in his kindness, gave us the Torah, which contains an abundance of mitzvot, and many opportunities to come closer to our creator. Through these Mitzvot our soul can receive the pleasure it longs for. This is the eternal life we speak of. Our soul is eternal and needs sustenance, the only thing that can give it life is our Torah. The reason that abundance of Torah leads to an abundance of life is because the Torah is the only source of life that can satiate the soul for what it needs. Ultimately, when we reach the next world where our soul returns to the creator, the only ‘currency’ that they will be dealing with is spiritual eternal life. Only one who, some way or another, has acquired Torah and Mitzvot is privy to this eternal life.
Rav Yerucham Levovitz has a slightly different approach. During life we are constantly presented with opportunities to fulfill Hashems will. If we seize an opportunity, whether we are asked to or not, by doing a mitzvah – kindness, tefillah, tsedaka etc. – that moment is considered as if we have lived and so to speak we have banked a moment of ‘life’ for our arsenal. However, if we take that moment and do a mundane action that has no relation to Hashems will whatsoever and has no ramifications to spiritual growth, that moment is considered dead and there will never again be an opportunity to resuscitate that moment of time. Our task is to build ourselves with an abundance of Torah and mitzvot because that will accumulate all our moments of life together giving us an abundance of life.
In Parashat Nitsavim Hashem says ״החיים והמות נתתי לפניך…ובחרת בחיים״ – “life and death I have placed before you…choose life”. Evidently, the pasuk is not referring to life and death as we know it because one cannot choose to live or die. Rather the pasuk is telling us that we have two modes of living and it is in our power to grab the opportunity to receive life.
This sheds light onto another Mishnah in Avot (Chapter 6, Mishnah 9) “…Rabbi Yossi Ben Kisma says: “once I was walking on the street and I met a man…he said to me, “Rebbe, would you like to come live with us (decreasing Torah study) and I will give you thousands upon thousands of gold coins and precious stones and gems.” So I told him. My son, if you gave me all the silver, gold and precious stones and gems in the entire world, I would still remain only in a place of Torah. Because at the time that a man leaves this world, he is not led out with any silver, gold or precious stones and gems, rather they lead you out only with your Torah and good deeds.”
Life throws at us countless challenges. We are installed with a drive to chase mundane matters. However that very same drive is only seeking one thing, the Torah. May we use these lessons to strengthen us in these areas and receive eternal life.