Month: September 2013

Paradise Found

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Paradise_Found_(medium)_(english)“Rebbe, please pray for me not to be drafted into the army,” a young man beseeched the Viznitzer Rebbe in the years before World War I. Although non-observant, he knew the Rebbe to be a miracle worker, a man whose prayers were really answered.

The Rebbe’s method was to have the person in need tell him one mitzvah, one good deed, they had done; then the Rebbe would say in his prayers, “Master of the Universe, this person is keeping kosher… or Shabbat, etc. – in that merit please save him.”

The Rebbe looked at the young man now asking him to pray he not be drafted in the army. “Do you pray every morning?” he asked.

“No,” he said, “I don’t wake up till long after noon and then I go to play soccer.”

“Do you keep the Sabbath?”

“How can I? Saturday is reserved for the most important soccer games.”

“Do you eat kosher?”

“It’s cheaper to eat pork.”

The Rebbe persisted, but time and again received the same answer. The young man did not have one single point of merit. Finally, the Rebbe said to him, “I envy you.”

“You do?”

“Yes. Can you imagine, in one moment you can become a greater tzaddik (righteous person) than I.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes. You see, anyone who does teshuva (repentance) out of fear of God has his sins erased. But anyone who repents out of love of God has his sins turned into merits. And you definitely have more sins than I have merits. In one minute, you can turn everything around and end up with more merits than I.”

A reflective, thoughtful look flashed across this young man’s face. Without batting an eyelash, he said, “Rebbe, wait another year and you will envy me even more!”
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The Liberating Experience of Judgment

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ImageAccording to Judaism,1 each of us undergoes three different types of Days of Judgment Days:

  1. Rosh Hashanah, which is an annual review of one’s actions over the previous year used to determine one’s material circumstances for the upcoming year;
  2. Day of death, which reviews the deceased person’s life and determines whether it is ready for Paradise;
  3. The Great Day of Judgment, which is an event in the future, at the end of history as we know it, when all who lived are resurrected, and are judged whether they are worthy of everlasting life in a spiritualized renewed physical world (according to most authorities) to frolic in the splendor of God’s Presence.

All this judgment strikes the contemporary mind as backward, even offensive. It only reinforces the stereotypic image of “Old Testament” Judaism as a religion of fear, not love.

Well, yes, judgment — whether on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Death, or the “Great Day of Judgment” — contains the general air of awe and seriousness. There is no sense trying to sugarcoat or diminish the magnitude of these events.

Nevertheless, what’s often lost to the contemporary mind is the liberating experience judgment entails. Perhaps the best illustrations of this are found in a surprising place.
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