by Rabbi Leib Pinter
[Note: The following story is about a woman named Rachel whose husband had died young, leaving her to care for their seven children. She was distraught and depressed, feeling as though she had been dealt a bad hand in life. The story appears in the 17th century writings of Rabbi Chaim Vital, who heard it from the famous kabbalist, the Arizal.]
One night, as she was lying in bed, she began to ponder the fact that she was not alone in her plight; there were many women who had been widowed at a relatively young age. They had accepted their bitter lot and were happy. With thoughts such as these, she drifted into a sweet slumber and soon began to dream.
In her dream, she saw people running, and she began to run as well. She ran and ran until she left the city and found herself in a dark forest. She continued running when suddenly, shafts of brilliant sunlight began illuminating everything around her.
Ahead of her, she saw a large garden, full of beautiful flowers that gave off a heavenly scent and gentle brooks of water bubbling merrily all around. Then she beheld an elderly Jew dressed in a flowing white robe. He asked her if she wanted to see her husband. Her heart beating wildly, she answered in the affirmative and began following him. After a few moments, he stopped beside a giant tree that was full of beautiful blossoms. In the distance, she saw a manicured lawn, surrounded by a fence made of pure gold. In the middle of the lawn, a group of Jews dressed in colorful clothing sat around a table studying Torah. At the head sat a young man who was teaching them. The old man said to Rachel, "The class will finish in a moment, and then you can see him." She looked all around her and could barely believe her eyes.
The class finished and the teacher began walking away. All of a sudden, Rachel recognized him! "Avraham!" she called out, and leaned weakly against the tree next to her. "Yes, it's me," replied her husband. The moment stretched out, and when she collected her senses Rachel asked, "Why did you leave me at such a young age?"
Avraham answered gently, "Know, my precious wife, that the world in which you live is a barren land, where people are sent either to conclude certain matters, or to [rectify mistakes] that they committed previously. The True World is the one I am in now.
"Before the lifetime in which I was married to you, I had already lived in the world. At that time, I was an outstanding Torah scholar, and well known for my piety and righteousness. I never married, because I didn't want to be interrupted from my studies. When I passed away, I was given permission to establish a yeshiva in Heaven. I began to ascend there, but when I rose to the highest level, and they found that I had never married and had children, I was sent back to the world to complete these tasks. I married you, and after our seventh child was born, I was called to return to my yeshiva in Heaven, where everyone was waiting for me.
"I want you to know that it was a tremendous merit for you to have been married to me, for I am accorded much honor here, and eventually, we will be reunited and live here as one, in great joy and happiness."
Rachel listened wide-eyed to all this, and when he finished speaking, she exclaimed, "I had no idea you were such a great scholar. The whole time we were together, you never had any time to study Torah!"
Avraham replied, "Believe me, I didn't know either. Everything was concealed from me, and my sole purpose in being reincarnated was to fill one lack, by raising and supporting my children in a respectable fashion. When I left the world, my head was suddenly overflowing with Torah."
Rachel then asked, "Why isn't our son Yosef successful in his business endeavors?" Her husband answered, "I'm sure you recall that a few years ago, Yosef was involved in a court case with another man. Even though he won, it caused pain to another person. Because of this, Heaven wanted to give him a severe punishment. I spoke up on his behalf, and requested that he only be subjected to four years of difficulty in making a living. In one more year, this period will end, and he will begin to have success."
Rachel then queried, "And what of our David, who is 24 years old and still unmarried? And even if he became engaged, there is no money to marry him off."
At that, Avraham smiled and said, "The reason he can't find anyone is because his mate came into the world later than he did. Right now, she is only 13 years old, and she lives in a different country that he does. In five years, she will come to your city, marry him and pay for all of the wedding expenses!"
Rachel then began shaking, as a painful memory rose to the surface of her mind. In a trembling voice, she asked, "And why was it decreed that our 3-year-old son die such a painful death, killed by a drunk?"
Her husband answered, "Follow me!" In a short time, they came to another garden, more spectacular than the last. A radiant, shimmering light shone on everything, and birds flitted all around...
Rachel fainted from the wonder of it all, and her husband passed some fragrant herbs under her nose to revive her.
In front of her, she saw a wedding canopy built of precious stones that glittered spectacularly with all the colors of the rainbow. Underneath it stood an angelic figure whom she recognized as her beloved son. Overcome with joy, she fainted again. When she came to, she saw that her imagination hadn't been fooling her - her precious son was standing before her. With tears in her eyes, she asked him, "Why did you leave me at such a tender age?"
The boy answered, "Everything is done according to the will of the Almighty. Before I was born to you, Mommy, I had already lived in a previous lifetime. In that life, I was born to a respectable Jewish family. When I was but half a year old there was a pogrom in our village, and all the Jews were slaughtered except for me. A gentile woman had mercy on me and took me to her home. She raised me as her own child for three years, and even provided me with a nursemaid for the entire time. Eventually, some Jewish people found out about my situation and managed to redeem me. My fortunes changed from that point on, and I lived a life of tranquility. Moreover, I became an outstanding Torah scholar, known far and wide for my righteousness and intellectual acuity.
"When I passed away, I was received in Heaven with great honor. Like Father, I ascended higher and higher, until I reached a level where I was not allowed to rise further. The reason was because of the time I had spent [eating non-kosher food]. However, I could rectify this blemish by coming back down to the world for few years. That is why I was born to you, and that is why I left you at such a young age. When I was three years old and the blemish was gone, I could finally ascend to the highest of heights, my purpose on the earth having been fulfilled. Know, Mommy, that my having been born to you was a great source of merit for you."
Rachel was still not completely satisfied, and she asked, "But why were you taken away in such a violent fashion?"
Her son answered, "When it was my time, a terrible decree hung over the Jewish community of our city, wherein everyone was going to die. My soul was offered the honor of atoning for everyone with my death, and accepted. Because of this, I merited the great honor given to me here..."
With that, the boy began to laugh joyfully and faded from view before Rachel's incredulous eyes.
Rachel's husband then turned to her and said, "You see that all of your questions have answers. Everything that the Almighty does is good! And now I have to return to my students." He then led her back to the tree where she first saw him and said tenderly, "It is very good for me here, my precious wife, but I can't bear your sighs and tears. Don't mourn for me anymore, Rachel! If you will become happy again, you will meet another husband, a good man who will take care of you!"
Avraham then mysteriously disappeared from her view. Suddenly the old man was before her once again, and he escorted her out of the forest. Exactly when she reached the outer edge, she woke up with a start. She was full of joy and felt as if she had been reborn. For the first time in as long as she could remember, a smile of complete happiness lit her face. As she recalled the wondrous dream, the smile grew even wider, and a huge weight was lifted from her heart. Finally, she had been consoled. In a short while, she remarried and lived out her days in happiness and tranquility.
Every single thing in the Creation is like an individual part in a great machine, with the Almighty constantly removing old parts and replacing them with different ones. Each thing works in accordance with a master plan and plays its own unique function. G-d sends different souls down to the world, all with their own special tasks. When a particular soul's job is done, it is recalled to the Upper Worlds.
This World and the Next are intimately connected, both working toward the same goal. In This World the soul works together with a body, and in the Next World, it works alone. If we knew the secret of how everything worked, nothing would disturb us.
Reprinted with permission from InnerNet.org and excerpted with permission from "DON'T GIVE UP." Published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.