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Story: Shabbat Pesach, 4/10/20

04/12/2020 11:45:54 AM

Apr12

Rabbi Charlie

On Passover we share the story of freedom and we pray that Elijah will come, ushering in redemption for all. Right now, it can be hard to imagine what redemption might look like, but this story – an old favorite of mine that’s been attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok - can point us in the right direction.

After a full and long life, a wise, pious man dies and goes to heaven. There he is greeted and welcomed. But like so many of the truly pious, he never expected to be allowed to enter heaven, for even though he has led a righteous life, he has been a very humble man.

Just as he is about to enter heaven, he is asked if he has any requests. He ponders the question for a while and finally speaks. “The one thing I would like to know,” he says, “is what hell is like. Heaven means nothing to me without something to compare it to.”

The pious man is quickly ushered into hell. It’s nothing like the TV show, the Good Place. As he enters, he immediately sees a great banquet hall. In the hall is a wonderful table laden with the most glorious foods and beverages. The mouth-watering aromas are over whelming. The pious man is so focused on the beauty of the place and the expanse of the great feast that a moment passes before he notices the people. He looks around and sees that everyone sitting at the table is wasting away, starving; everyone is in agony. All of that food lies in front of them, yet they do not eat. He then notices that in place of forearms and hands are long wooden spoons six feet long, attached to their arms above the elbow. So while the people can reach for the food, they cannot bring it to their mouths to feed themselves. All of that wonderful food and drink lies in front of them, yet there they sit, starving and wasting away.

The pious man realizes that this is indeed hell, and he indicates that he is ready to go back to heaven.

Upon returning to heaven, the man is ushered into a banquet hall. It is the same banquet hall as the one he has seen in hell. The same table is laden with the same attractive food and drink, accompanied by the same mouth-watering aromas. But this time the pious man sees that on both sides of the table are people who are satisfied, people who are happy, people who are smiling and well fed. He looks carefully and notices that they, too, have long wooden spoons attached to their arms above the elbow. And they, too, can reach out for the food yet cannot feed themselves. But instead of going hungry, each person has chosen to feed the person who is sitting across the table. In this manner, everyone gets fed because everyone is helping one another. This then, the pious man realizes, is truly heaven.

(As told in Three Times Chai, edited by Laney Katz Becker, Story by Rabbi Samuel Gordon)

This story seems so relevant right now. First, it reminds us of the difficulty and challenge when someone feels all alone. David Brooks of the New York Times shares in his latest column how many people - college students, senior citizens, those with mental health issues and more – are struggling.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/opinion/covid-anxiety.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Given that reality, our story teaches us that we each have the power to help others. Feeding others through donations – and with over 750,000 people applying for unemployment in Texas this past month – this could not be more important for those who can give – I’ll say more about this when we count the Omer.

https://www.texastribune.org/2020/04/09/761262-texans-filed-unemployment-claims-first-month-coronavirus/

And of course we all have the opportunity to bring a reprieve from isolation with letters, texts, and phone calls. We can’t reach out our physical hands, but we can reach out.

Third, this story reminds us that when we help others, we’re helping ourselves. To write a letter means that we’re spending our time expressing good wishes and positivity to someone we care about. When we connect with others, it means that we get to feel the benefit of that connection.

And finally – it’s one thing to know the story… it’s another thing to put its lessons into practice. Like so much of Torah, these are lessons not just to learn, but to live.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thu, July 9 2020 17 Tammuz 5780