THE ACTUAL JUDGMENT on Rosh Hashanah is with respect to being a Ben Olam HaBa. As the Leshem explains, the Heavenly Bais Din decides if the person is currently worthy of going to the World-to-Come in order to decide how they should be treated in the upcoming year.
If a person is basically a Ben Olam HaBa, destined for the World-to-Come, then Heaven will give them whatever tests and suffering they require to complete their rectification while in this world. If the person is not a Ben Olam HaBa, Heaven will give them good for the time being, and save their tikun for the seven levels of Gihenom. They will then wish they had gotten it right in this world.
What does it mean to be a Ben Olam HaBa? Obviously, it is someone who has achieved a sufficient level of righteousness in this world to warrant eternal reward in the next one. They stayed focussed on what counts most in life according to God, unlike most others who live in this world as if it is the last one.
Why? Simply out of obedience to God? Because of fear of missing out on something extraordinarily wonderful? In other words, might they have enjoyed this world like everyone else, but chose to do without temporal pleasures because they were afraid it would cost them eternal pleasures?
Not, it was more than that. A Ben Olam HaBa is on a higher level than that.
The World-to-Come is about more than eternal pleasure. It is about a way of looking at life which, from our perspective, does not yet apply. But the din on Rosh Hashanah said differently, and so does this gemora:
Rebi Yehoshua’s son became weak and his soul left him. When he recovered, his father asked him, “What did you see?”
He answered him, “An upside-down world! [Over there], whoever is esteemed here was down, and those who are down [here] were esteemed.”
“My son,” he told him, “you saw a clear world!” (Pesachim 50a)
Rebi Yehoshua’s son thought he had seen an upside-down world in his near-death experience. His father corrected him and told him that he actually saw the world right-side-up, making our world the upside-down one.
After all, we started off in Gan Aiden, and only entered our world as part of an exile from Paradise. In a short while we got used to it, and people born into this world have known no others. It became the default world, and mankind has accustomed itself to its rules and realities. As Rebi Yehoshua’s son found out, that is a mistake.
A MISTAKE AND the source of sin, as the following indicates:
Rebi Yehudah taught: In the future, God will bring the yetzer hara and slaughter it in the presence of the righteous and the evil. To the righteous the yetzer hara will appear as a high mountain, and to the evil it will appear like a mere strand of hair. These will weep and those will weep. The righteous will weep and say: “How were we able to overcome so high a mountain?” The wicked will weep and say: “How were we unable to overcome this strand of hair?” (Succah 52a)
Half full glass, or half empty glass? What difference does it make if you end up with the same amount of water? The difference is that the person who sees a half-filled glass will enjoy it more than the person who sees it half-empty, feeling grateful for what he has. The half-empty-glass person will feel he is missing something, and that creates discontent. Attitude and approach to life creates a very different experience for each.
Likewise, a person who understands and appreciates that spiritual pleasure is the real pleasure—a Ben Olam HaBa perspective—will not be amused or influenced by the temptations of the yetzer hara. But for someone who thinks that material pleasure is the real thing—a Ben Olam HaZeh perspective—and giving it up for something spiritual is a great sacrifice, the yetzer hara will be a fearsome foe to confront and battle.
But when everyone gets to the world that Rebi Yehoshua’s son did during his NDE, the truth will be revealed to all. The tzaddik will be able to see the world they left through the eyes of a Ben Olam HaZeh, and will see the yetzer hara from that perspective. It will appear very large and quite overpowering.
The Ben Olam HaZeh will see the yetzer hara from the perspective of a Ben Olam HaBa, and it will appear small and harmless. They will have a difficult time understanding then how they could have been so deceived while in this world.
As the Gemora says, the Aseres Yemai Teshuvah are not for the righteous or the wicked. Their judgments were already sealed at the start of Rosh Hashanah. The Ten Days of Repentance are for everyone else who might be stuck somewhere between being a Ben Olam HaZeh and a Ben Olam HaBa. The beinoni—average person—wavers between the two, depending upon the situation and on their level of understanding. It is at this time of year that we have to make up our mind about the direction we lean to the most.
It all comes down to pleasure, and what you think it is. The vast majority of people think that the greatest pleasures in life can only be had through the physical world, and think that spiritual pleasures are just a cheap knockoff. A small minority know and appreciate that the opposite is true, that every physical pleasure is just a watered-down version of the real, spiritual pleasure, alluded to here:
In the World-to-Come there is no eating or drinking…just the righteous sitting with their crowns on their heads. They enjoy the splendor of the Shechinah, as it says, “And they gazed at God, yet they ate and drank” (Shemos 24:11). (Brochos 17a)
“No eating or drinking? No physical pleasure? What kind of a world will that be…” asks the yetzer hara of a Ben Olam HaZeh. “Are you kidding?” answers the Ben Olam HaBa. “You will be able to have the greatest pleasures without them being bound and limited by things like food and drink, etc. You will just soak in it, and to extent that all the physical pleasures of this world could never give you!”
THAT BRINGS US to Yom Kippur. According to Kabbalah, this holiday corresponds to the sefirah of Binah, the source of teshuvah and the level called Olam HaBa. To a Ben Olam HaZeh, Yom Kippur is a day of abstinence and long hours of prayer. To a Ben Olam HaBa, Yom Kippur is a portal to another level of existence altogether, Olam HaBa.
As Chazal say, we don’t fast on Yom Kippur. We just don’t eat because, like angels, we do not need food through a physical medium. Unlike the other 364 days of the year, we don’t whisper Boruch Shem kevod when saying the Shema on Yom Kippur, but we say it out loud, like the angels. On that day we can gain their level of spiritual clarity about God, hashgochah pratis, the purpose of life, etc. Free of the yetzer hara for the day, we have the opportunity to live as a Ben Olam HaBa even while still in this world.
The opportunity is automatic with the day, but taking advantage of it is not. It is a choice, but not one that a person can just make on the spot without previous work. Changing one’s mindset from Ben Olam HaZeh to Ben Olam HaBa is a life’s work that we can only do in increments. But that is a lot better than stagnating.
We have five levels of soul, and we are here to rectify the lower three. If we don’t do it in one lifetime, then we keep reincarnating until we have finished rectifying all three levels. When that is done, we do not have to reincarnate anymore, at least not for ourselves.
Yet the Arizal says that most people never make it past the level of Nefesh. They don’t know what they are doing here and what life is for. They just live out their lives as they are “served” to them, hoping to have a good one. They do not wake up in the morning wondering how they can rectify themselves a bit more that day. So they die having squandered another opportunity for personal tikun. That is stagnation.
Think about it. Now think about it some more, and then some more after that. Personal rectification is not a sideshow. It is the main event, and if you’re wondering how it can become so overlooked, just ask your yetzer hara. It’s responsible.
It does have help though. The Sitra Achra creates scenarios for the yetzer hara to use to its advantage. It makes sure there is chocolate cake around so that the yetzer hara can convince you to break your diet and eat it. It is a very distracting world, thanks to the Sitra Achra, and a very challenging one, thanks to the yetzer hara.
But not on Yom Kippur. That is the day God forces a day off on the Sitra Achra, and for that matter, the yetzer hara. It is a distraction-reduced day, a day of angelic clarity…if you choose to make it that, as it says:
This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so that you and your offspring will live… (Devarim 30:19)
As Tosfos says on the Gemora with which we started, life refers to the place of eternal life, Olam HaBa. Tzaddikim are judged for eternal life in the World-to-Come, though they may die in the upcoming year. Evil people die with respect to the World-to-Come, though they may live many more years to come.
The Torah is telling us then to make the choice between being a Ben Olam HaBa, and the eternal life it grants, or a Ben Olam HaZeh, and eventual death in this world and perhaps the next one as well.
We’re in the middle of that choice right now.
Ain Od Milvado, Part 20
AIN OD MILVADO is only a struggle for a Ben Olam HaZeh. They see everything in physical terms and have to remind themselves of the invisible spiritual element within everything. They believe in hashgochah pratis, but have a difficult time recognizing it in the moment, or at all.
A Ben Olam HaZeh can know that all that exists and works is only because of God. But they see the merchant sell a product in their store. They see the truck deliver it. They know that a factory prepared it. They understand that the farmer planted and nurtured crops to make the food possible. Yet it is difficult for them to see the hand of God through all of it.
A Ben Olam HaBa looks at the world differently. When they talk to people, they see them as messengers of God. They marvel at the miracle that brings food to their table, and their digestive system that uses it so they can do mitzvos. When they learn Torah, they learn with God, even if they have a chavrusa. When they pray, they pray to God, not at Him. God is not a million miles away in Heaven, He is there in front listening intently to every word…especially on Yom Kippur.
This, perhaps, is one of the reasons why we read about the Ten Martyrs during the repetition of Mussaf on Yom Kippur. There are many things to learn from the deaths of these great rabbis, but perhaps the most important lesson is the way they dealt with the crisis.
Personally, at least at first, I thought it bizarre that they spoke to the Caesar as they did, asking for three days to check with God about what they should do. Would you think it relevant to talk to Hitler, ysv”z, or Stalin ysv”z, the same way?
And then there was Caesar’s answer. “Okay, get back to me in three days.” And what? If they said, “No deal,” would Caesar have changed his plans?
Yes. This is what reality looks like on the level of a Ben Olam HaBa, and this is how it responds to those on that level. It only looks bizarre when you look at it from the position of a Ben Olam HaZeh. Hopefully, on Yom Kippur we will graduate from the latter to the former.
Because no day promotes Ain Od Milvado more than Yom Kippur. With the clarity of an angel, we not only know it, we see it. This is why we end off Yom Kippur with Hashem Hu HaElokim. It means the same thing, that God is everything and everywhere, where it is obvious and where it is not. That is the vision of a Ben Olam HaBa.
Gmar Chasimah Tovah,