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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Parshas Vaeira 2002

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

"I have come to set you free! G-d has made me a messenger to facilitate the Geula!” But the hopeful and encouraging words of Moshe fell flat.  “They did not listen to Moshe because of shortness of breath, kotzer ruach, and because of strenuous work”

What is this “Kotzer Ruach” syndrome that prevents man from wanting to go free and to resist happiness? It seems that sometimes we want to help ourselves or be helped, but we are so exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually, we are so deeply enslaved, that we cannot grasp the possibility of a better reality. This was our situation in Egypt, and we could not listen to Moshe. The Zohar teaches that the ruach or spirit referred to in this verse is the ruach found in the second verse of the Torah, “...and the ruach (spirit) of Elokim was hovering above the waters.” We were short on G-d’s ruach. We became so entrenched in Egypt that we became disconnected and unexcited about anything spiritual. We didn’t have the ruach to listen to Moshe or to even think about freedom. The less we are connected to Hashem, the more we are short of breath and spirit. The Torah begins with G-d’s ruach and ends with Hashem telling Moshe to pick a successor who is full of ruach.

In a number of places the Talmud talks about a “Ben Olam Haba”. “ Whoever says Ashrei three times a day is a Ben Olam Haba. Whoever says “Yehei Shmey Rabba” with a lot of kavana is a Ben Olam Haba, and so many more. How seriously can we take this? All of life is a struggle and a challenge for getting into Olam Haba. Mitzvos and good deeds, a wholesome, healthy and spiritual lifestyle, all get us to Olam Haba. If we go too far off the track, I’m sorry to say - you’re out. So what does saying Ashrei or answering Kadish have to do with this? Recently, I found myself struggling to find the real meaning of a “Ben Olam Haba.”

To my mind, when the Talmud speaks of “Ben Olam Haba” it is not referring to a destination or a future geographical location. When the Talmud refers to a “Ben Olam Haba” it refers to a type of person, in the same way the Talmud speaks of a Ben Torah (a person who has integrated Torah into the fiber of their life) or a Ben chayil (a very strong individual). A Ben Olam Haba is an Olam Haba person; as opposed to an Olam Hazeh person. It refers, to a spiritual human being, a person with ruach, who is focused on higher concerns. A Ben Olam Hazeh may do mitzvos, give tzedaka and in fact have a portion in the World to Come.

But if his or her focus is Olam Hazeh, than he is a Ben Olam Hazeh! By contrast, a Ben Olam Haba eats, sleeps and has a good time but his or her concerns are far above the ground! The Talmud is teaching us that we have to become Bnei Olam Haba right here in this world and in this life. We have to reach a level of maturity that makes us focus on the big things, on the deep things and on the soul of the Universe.

I recently had the privilege of watching an old rabbi ascend a podium to speak. I asked myself how anybody expected him to have the strength to invigorate the audience. He was hardly awake himself. But as he started to talk Divrei Torah he became thirty years younger right before my eyes. He stood straighter, his voice became more powerful, his mind was sharper, and he was suddenly plugged in! I understood that this man is a “Ben Olam HaBa”—he gets excited and derives energy from another world.

I pay careful attention to what gets people excited. Some people wake up when they talk about their business, some people wake up when they talk about sports, some people only wake up when they talk about others, and some people wake up when they talk about Torah.

For the Jewish people to survive we need people with ruach. We need bnei olam haba. We need people that are focused more on where they are going than what they are driving. We need to maintain the ability to think big, to think Eretz Yisroel, to think community and not to get bogged down with the “olam hazeh” stuff. 

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