Vayeira (Genesis 18-22 )
GOOD MORNING! Last week I wrote about the existence of the soul and the nature of the World to Come. This week I share with you my own journey to get evidence of the existence of the World to Come. I think that the most important question a person must ask in life is, "Is there a God?" because then there is the possibility of intrinsic meaning in life. The second most important question is, "Is there a World to Come?" because then there is the possibility of justice in this creation.
I grew up in Portland, Oregon and attended Temple Beth Israel, a reform temple where I received the John F. Kennedy award as top graduating student from the Sunday School. When I was 11 I remember seeing a photo on the front page of the Portland Oregonian of a starving baby with a bloated stomach. I asked myself, "How could this happen if there is a God?" And I came up with two possibilities: (1) There is no God and life happens. (2) There is a God and there are two more possibilities: (A) Life is one big "sit-com" and God is creating channels to entertain Himself, or (B) God is good and there is purpose and meaning in everything.
I sure hoped it was the latter, but I was troubled by the idea that if God is good, then how come one sees good people suffer and bad people apparently living well? I decided that if God is good, there had to be justice and since I did not see justice in this world, there had to be a World to Come to be the great equalizer - where good people would receive their just reward and evil people would receive their just desserts.
So, I would ask every teacher I had in Sunday School, "Does Judaism believe in a World to Come?" I figured there were three possible answers -"Yes", "No" or "I don't Know" - but ended up with 6 or 7 different answers; none of them were "Yes." I received answers such as "No, that's a Christian idea," "If you want there to be," "In the deeds you do," "In the name you leave behind."
Then I would ask my second question, "What's your evidence?" And one teacher after another would tell me, "That's my opinion and it's as valid as anyone else's opinion!" Being a precocious little kid, I knew that my teachers were right, but I also knew that the Jewish people didn't survive for close to 3,500 years because every Jew had his own opinion, but more likely in spite of every Jew having his own opinion.
For years I would ask each new Sunday School teacher and others my 2 questions to no avail; eventually I figured there were no answers to be had. When I finished my studies in Psychology at the University of Washington, I took the LSATs and applied to law schools. Then I took a year to tour the world to see if anyone had a more meaningful life than being a lawyer.
While I was working in the knife factory at Kibbutz Urim near Be'er Sheva, my high school friend, Ronnie Balshine, from Vancouver, BC, suggested that I study at a yeshiva since I had questions. He introduced me to Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder of Yeshiva Ohr Somayach and later the founder of Aish HaTorah.
The first thing I did in the Bais Medrash, the Study Hall, was to approach a rabbi and ask my time-wearied question, "Do we believe in a World to Come?" He replied, "Of course." I was shocked! This was the first time in my 22 years that I ever heard a Jew say that we believe in an afterlife! I almost forgot to ask him my second question ... but I recovered and asked for his evidence. He showed me a couple of allusions in the Torah (the subject for a future edition). I was impressed. Whether he was right or wrong, at least he had a reason and evidence and not just an opinion.
I spotted another rabbi in the Study Hall and sidled on up to ask him the same question (making sure that he didn't have a chance to collude with the first rabbi to give me the same answer!). When I asked, he replied, "Sure. The World to Come is a fundamental belief in Judaism; Maimonides includes it in the 'Thirteen Principles of Faith' and without it there is no way one could possibly understand God as being good and just." I was flabbergasted! Two for two after 22 years of strikeouts - and the last answer being the emotional and intellectual equivalent of a Grand Slam Home Run!
And then it hit me - these are the people who really believe the Torah is truly the word of God, who constantly study it and who live according to its precepts. If any place Jews would believe in a World to Come, it would be in a yeshiva. Finally, I had found people who could show me sources for their answers!
For more on "The World to Come" go to ShabbatShalomAudio.com!
Torah Portion of the Week
Avraham, on the third day after his brit mila (circumcision), sits outside his tent looking for guests to extend his hospitality. While talking with the Almighty, he sees three visitors (actually angels of the Almighty). Avraham interrupts his conversation with the Almighty to invite them to a meal. One angel informs him that in a year's time, Sarah, his wife, will give birth to a son, Yitzhak (Isaac).
God tells Avraham that He is going to destroy Sodom because of its absolute evil (the city is the source of the word "sodomy"). Avraham argues with God to spare Sodom if there can be found ten righteous people in Sodom. Avraham loses for the lack of a quorum. Lot (Avraham's nephew) escapes the destruction with his two daughters.
Other incidents: Avimelech, King of the Philistines, wants to marry Sarah (Avraham's wife). The birth of Yitzhak. The eviction of Hagar (Avraham's concubine) and Ishmael. Avimelech and Avraham make a treaty at Beersheva. Avraham is commanded to take up his son, Isaac, as an offering "on one of the mountains" (Akeidat Yitzhak). Lastly, the announcement of the birth of Rivka (Rebecca), the future wife of Yitzhak.
Do you want to know the reward for listening to the command of the Almighty? This is what the Almighty told Avraham: "... I shall surely bless you and greatly increase your descendants like the stars of the heavens and like the sand on the seashore; and your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemy. And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring, because you have listened to My voice."
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"And the Almighty remembered Sarah as He said He would ... and Sarah conceived and bore Avraham a son in his old age" (Gen. 21:1-2).
We read this section of the Torah on Rosh Hashanah to develop hope and trust in the Almighty. Nothing is impossible for Him. Sarah was already ninety years old and according to all the standard rules of nature, it would have been impossible for her to give birth to Isaac.
Even when a situation seems bleak and the probability for salvation seems unlikely, do not give up hope. The salvation of the Almighty can come in the twinkling of an eyelash! The Almighty's law is more powerful than the law of averages. This awareness is so important for our daily lives that at the beginning of each year we repeat this message: Never despair!
CANDLE LIGHTING - November 14
(or go to http://www.aish.com/shabbat/candlelighting.asp)
Guatemala 5:12 - Hong Kong 5:22 - Honolulu 5:31
J'Burg 6:15 - London 3:54 - Los Angeles 4:32
Melbourne 7:53 - Mexico City 5:39 - Miami 5:14
New York 4:21 - Singapore 6:33 - Toronto 4:35
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
If you realize that
you aren't as wise today
as you thought you were yesterday,
you're wiser today.
in loving memory of
my father's 16th Yahrzeit
-- Jeff Heilpern
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Click here for Rabbi Packouz's bio
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