Delivered by Rav Zev Smith on Chol Hamoed Pesach 5775 in the Stoliner Beis Medrash
The Gemara Taanis (22a) relates a story: Reb Beroka met Eliyahu Hanavi in the marketplace and asked him an interesting question: “Who here is a ben Olam Haba?” To which Eliyahu Hanavi responded, “Nobody.”
Shortly afterward, Eliyahu told him, “These two who are passing by us are bnei Olam Haba.” Reb Beroka went over and asked the men what they did for a living. They answered him, “We are badchanim. We cheer up depressed people and settle arguments between quarreling people.”
The questions are obvious. Doesn’t all Klal Yisrael have a portion in the World to Come? Furthermore, how can Eliyahu guarantee these jesters will keep their portion in Olam Haba?
Perhaps we can resolve these questions by realizing that Eliyahu Hanavi pointed out that these two jesters, who spent their lives helping others, are people who enjoy Olam Hazeh to the extent that they have “Olam Haba” in Olam Hazeh. Only by focusing on others can people live a truly happy existence, the concept of Olam Haba.
Why do we see a generation that has access to all pursuits of the world and yet so many people are depressed and not happy? As a psychiatrist quipped, half the world is on anti-depression medication and the other half should be. Perhaps our generation is missing the lesson learned from the above Gemara: Spend time helping others.
Ours is the “me” generation. The Gemara teaches us that living true happiness is when one cares for another Yid. Examples of giving are bestowing compliments on a child’s rebbi, giving a mazel tov to someone who has a simchah and extending a warm shalom aleichem when meeting a stranger.
The Alter of Kelm said the purpose of Torah is to make life sweet in this world because Torah is not only sam hachaim but derech hachaim — the way to a fulfilling and happy life. In Tehillim it says “Olam chessed yibaneh — the world is built on chessed.” The purpose of this world is to be giving. This is the way we live as described in Kriyas Shema (Parashas Eikev 11:13): “K’yemei haShamayim al haaretz — Heavenly days on this world.”
Someone said he likes to treat himself, and will give a $10 bill to a tzedakah collector in shul instead of spending it on a meal in a restaurant. This is living Heavenly days in this world.
The Rambam, in Hilchos Megillah (5:17), writes: “It is better to increase in matanos la’evyonim or giving more mishloach manos to his friend than making a bigger Purim seudah. There is no greater or more beautiful simchah than to make happy the poor, the orphans, widows and converts.” This is a Yid’s DNA, as the passuk in Mishlei (19:22) says: “Taavas adam chasdo — the nature of a person is to make another person happy.”
The Rambam states in Hilchos Yom Tov (6:18): “Whoever closes the door of his room and eats the Yom Tov seudah with only his family and excludes the poor and the depressed from joining his seudah, [it] is only a simchah for filling his own stomach.” When a person is only for himself, it is not a simchah but a curse. Which nation is like the Jewish nation that gives millions of dollars for Purim and ma’os chittim?
A Jamaican man once approached a certain Rav in Flatbush and requested permission to ask him a question. The man told the Rav he was locked out of his van and somebody advised him to call Chaveirim to open the van’s door for him. He called them and they unlocked the van’s door. He asked them how much he owes them. They replied, “Nothing.” The man asked the Rav if that was normal behavior from Chaveirim, to which the Rav said yes.
The man proceeded to ask the Rav another question. He told him he sees Hatzolah cars and ambulances all day in Flatbush and asked the Rav if they get paid. The Rav said no. Then the man exclaimed, “If G-d has you guys, why does G-d need the rest of us?!”
The world around us is largely comprised of the “me” generation. Its members even wear “I Love Me” T-shirts. Their focus is on the first word of the Aseres Hadibros, which is Anochi. If the center of the world is “me,” everyone around “me” is a threat and a contradiction to “my” happiness. This type of person sees another and wonders “What can you do for me?” rather than “What can I do for you?”
When a person lives with thinking “What I can do for you?” he is constantly thinking of how he can make others happy. However, because of the “me” attitude he only thinks of himself, which leads to actions such as honking his car horn unnecessarily or leaving his car double-parked.
The “anochi” stands between the person and his relationship with others and Hashem. However, a ben Olam Haba lives for others and enjoys true pleasure in doing chessed, as taavas adam chasdo. Every person he meets is another golden opportunity to feel the pleasure of chessed, not a threat.
Harav Shimon Shkop said that loving somebody else is not a contradiction to loving oneself. When helping out another person, he gives himself simchah. Then his anochi is enjoying the chessed and giving tzedakah.
Harav Avraham Pam was in aveilus when he was in his 60s. Yet he traveled to wedding halls to wish chassanim mazel tov. When asked why he exerted himself to go every night, he responded, “For me it is every night, but for the chassan it is once in a lifetime.” His simchah was their simchah.
The Midrash says that Adam Harishon was in Gan Eden and the malachim were roasting meat and pouring wine for him. Yet Hashem said, “Lo tov heyos haadam levado — It is not good for Man to be alone.” We see that living for oneself — even with all the pleasures of Gan Eden — is not good.
Every good thing in Olam Hazeh is not completely good. Only Olam Haba is pure good. Is there a ben Olam Haba in Olam Hazeh? This is the question that Reb Beroka asked Eliyahu. His response was that for the jesters, who were devoted to helping others, every moment was an opportunity to savor the pleasure of taavas adam chasdo.
All problems between one person and another stem from his “anochi.” The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos says that “kinah, taavah v’kavod remove a person from the world” — his world of taavas adam chasdo.
The Toras Chaim explains that the Gemara talks about a ben Olam Haba who is devoted to doing chessed like those badchanim, who go straight to Gan Eden without going through the purification process. Isn’t it amazing that a devoted baal chessed is living Olam Haba in this world and is a ben Olam Haba in the True World? A ben Olam Haba thinks about another person and begins with giving a nice compliment or a warm shalom aleichem.
By nature, a person is selfish, like a baby. A person can transform this selfishness to become a giver and turn the “adam” into “adamah l’Elyon” (like Hashem) by doing chessed. Parents love their children more than children love their parents because parents are always giving, which creates love. The word ahavah — love, comes from the word hav — give.
The place to start to give is at home. The purest form of chessed is giving to one’s wife. The breakdown of marriage today is because of the “anochi.” The foundation of marriage is based upon “Tov lagever ki yisa ol b’ne’urav … ol ishto — It is good to carry a yoke when one is young … the yoke of a wife” (Midrash Eichah 3:37). The Brisker Rav said the primary benefit of having children is to have the opportunity to do chessed with them day and night. The institution of marriage is to be giving, giving and giving — which is quite different from how it is understood by today’s “me” generation.
Harav Shlomo Wolbe said the kavanah of the chassan under the chuppah should be “Tov lagever ki yisa ol b’ne’urav,” which includes all the help that is necessary at home, such as washing the dishes, dressing the children, etc. Family life is a constant exercise in v’halachta b’drachav, which is olam chessed yibaneh.
The minhag of giving a chassan and kallah many gifts should not mislead them to believe that marriage is all about receiving. There was a story of a kallah who went to the hospital on the day of her wedding to give brachos to all the patients. That kallah certainly lived happily thereafter.
The chassan and kallah should be told by their parents that the baal simchah is one who can give simchah to others — by warmly greeting everyone at the wedding and dancing with those who might otherwise be neglected.
A famous story of Harav Chaim Shmulevitz tells how he went to Kever Rochel, after first calling his wife from a phone booth to tell her that he would be late. When he entered the holy site he called out: “Mama, Chaim’ke dayn zun iz da. Mama, vein, vein — Mama, Chaim’ke your son is here. Mama, cry, cry for those who need salvation.” The most amazing point about this story is not how he cried for Klal Yisrael — but rather that he called his wife before he went to Kever Rochel. He was a thinking person.
Once a person with shalom bayis problems went to the Steipler Gaon and submitted his petition for advice. The person saw the Steipler marking up his paper, and when he finished he handed it back to the person and screamed, “Your problem is that you are too focused on yourself! In this short note I circled 13 times the word ‘ani’ — indicating that your problem is that you are too self-absorbed!”
We find ourselves in the days of Sefirah when we have to focus on treating one another with the proper respect. One must take out the anochi from himself and think of another person and experience living Olah Haba in this world.
Credits: Ben-Tzion Jaffe and Yaakov Yosef Holzler