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Thought for the Day: Olam HaBah -- Part I of Why It Matters, What It Is, How to Get There

One of the first reforms of substance instituted by the Reform Jewish Religion was to modify the second bracha of the sh'mone esrei from "m'chayei ha'meisim" (resurrects the dead) to "m'chayei ha'kol" (gives life to everything).  They made a lot of non-substantive changes also -- things like sitting together and driving on Shabbos; which are just yeitzer ha'rahs -- but this was a biggy.  What is so different about this one?  The statement is still true, and it's a heck of a lot easier to say for folks who don't like talking about death, heaven, hell, and the like.  And, after all, that stuff about after death is just faith, anyway.  Right; that's the problem.  It changes the way we live our lives.

I commute to work on my bicycle.  It's not the same kind of experience as renting a bike for an hour on a beautiful spring day and taking a leisurely ride along the lake shore.  It's an hour of real physical labor.  Sometimes it's cold, sometimes it's hot; it's always work.  I do it because I saw my father, alav ha'shalom, go from a major heart attack, terrible medical care (he was left overnight for 12 hours, misdiagnosed with indigestion), and triple bypass surgery to the picture of health with no medication in less than a year.  He then had 12 years of very high quality life.  The doctors all attributed his survival and astounding recovery to that fact that he had exercised all his life.  When I exercise, I am making an investment.  It may be hard, but I am investing in my future.  Moreover, now that I have been doing it for a few years, I have come to enjoy the actual ride itself; so it's a win-win situation.

If I knew I only had an hour to live, though, I would not spend it riding my bicycle.  Of course I enjoy riding, but that is secondary to the fact that it is an investment.  Take away the possibility of return, and I'm not investing.  That's what the Reform Jewish Religion did.  It took away the possibility of return, so those people who enjoy traditions kept doing them, those who didn't went bowling.  You need to believe, know, and understand that we are in this world for no reason other than as a preparation for olam ha'bah; that's the short and the long of it.

Understanding that I am living for olam habah is the tough part, I think.  After all, you want me to believe that if I do something wrong, there is going to be eternal suffering for it?  I have news for you, I am constantly doing things wrong.  Are you telling me that HaShem created me just to suffer for eternity?!?  How I am possibly going to feel motivated to even try?  I may as well go bowling and at least enjoy this world, as prospects for the next seem pretty grim at best.

So I could answer that existence itself is a gift, and G-d loves us, and G-d is Good; so that's not our concern and we just have to try our best.  That sort of misses the point, though.  I need some way to feel motivated.  I need some way to understand how my finite efforts in this transient world can have an infinite and unchangeable effect for eternity in the coming world that has no end.

Stay tuned; I have a thought on that.

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