Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Share in the World to Come

Chazal state that one who learns halachos every day is assured of his share in the world to come. Why should one be assured of such a great reward for doing what seems to be a very simple thing?
The students of Rav Chaim Vital, zt”l, once asked their mentor, “When the Mishnah (Shabbos, end of perek 5) discusses the cow belonging to the neighbor of Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya that went out with a strap between its eyes on Shabbos in violation of the will of the sages, the animal is attributed to Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya and not its actual owner. Why was it considered his? Because he could have protested the man’s actions and didn’t. The Yerushalmi brings that this only happened once, yet the Tanna fasted so long as part of his penitence that his teeth became blackened! If this is how one should repent of such a subtle flaw, how can we ever attain true repentance and sanctity? How can we ever fast enough to negate all of our many errors?”
Rav Chaim Vital answered, “The degree of difficulty of something teaches us about its worth. In the times of the Mishnah, the world was much closer to Sinai and there was much less spiritual darkness. Anyone who wanted to come close to Hashem therefore had to work all the harder. Nowadays, because of the abundant darkness of exile, even just crying out from the depths of one’s heart is as precious to Hashem as the fasts of earlier times!”
When the Yismach Yisroel of Alexander, zt”l, told this story, he applied it to learning halacha: “As we know, Hashem is not a tyrant; He doesn’t demand that which we cannot produce. (Avodah Zarah 3) Today is much darker spiritually compared with what it was during the time of Rav Chaim Vital. This is why one who learns halachos every day is assured of his share in the world to come. This could be referring to learning when one finds it very difficult to do so, as it is in our time!”

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