Pleasure and the Next World
By Ezra Bergman
The Rabbis tell us that "One moment of regret (from doing a sin) or of doing a positive action (mitzvah) in this world is greater that all of the life in the next world." This is a pretty strong statement when we consider that the next world is a world of immense pleasure. Pleasure much greater, so the rabbis tell us, than any type of the most intense physical pleasure in this world.
Let us understand this statement. Why should one moment of regret in this world be worth more than the entire life in the next world? What pleasure is there in regret? Normally, there is no pleasure in regret, only pain! This statement requires analysis!
We normally look at life as a quest for reward. We work to earn money. We really do not desire money even though we say we do. What we actually want that which money can provide such as the basic necessities of life, and security, pleasure, etc. Money is merely a means to achieving these goals, but with the exception of strange people, it is unmistakably and unquestionably not the end goal. The true goal therefore is the pleasure (or other desired goal) that the person wishes, not the money that the job brings, and generally not the job itself.
With this in mind we can look at the concept of fulfilling mitzvot as being for the purpose of receiving a reward in the next world. Since this world is compared to a vestibule that leads to the main dining room, the distinct impression given is that the next world is the world of pleasure and that this world is the world of toil. Therefore it stands to reason that the next world and its pleasures are the goal of this world's work.
If what we have just stated be true, then what good is the good deeds and the regret in this world compared to the greatness of the pleasures of the next world. It should be the opposite, one hour of pleasure in the next world should be greater than all of the pleasures in this world ( and that is true)! So it seems that we only use the mitzvot of this world to gain admittance to the next world, the world of divine pleasures. Therefore our logic conflicts with the opening statement, that "one moment of regret (from doing a sin) or of doing a positive action (mitzvah) in this world is greater that all of the life in the next world."
The truth is slightly different than our logical deductions. Perhaps an example would be beneficial to explain what is happening here.
Let us compare our situation to a fictional case of a man who was Moses' valet. Although we have no record of Moses having a servant, for our discussion we will assume that he had one.
Every day this fellow would come to Moses and polish his sandals, clean and press his robe and take care of all of the necessary items that an important person such as Moses needed done. The man worked hard and diligent, and for his good service Moses paid him well and gave his a generous pension plan. After forty years of service wandering in the dessert with Moses, the man retired to savor that part of life which he chose to enjoy.
When he would meet a person who would ask him what was his occupation and he would tell them that he was Moses' personal valet and that he traveled with him in all of his journeys, to talk to Pharaoh, to the top of Mount Sinai, the episode of the Golden Calf, etc. People would be impressed and ask him what was the best part of his job. He would tell them that it was the solid paycheck that he would receive each week. He was really proud that he was able to make so much money and able to save a great deal; that is the reason that he is able to relax now and live in comfort and leisure with no worry because of his excellent pension plan.
But people would say wasn't it a great experience to work with Moses? What was Moses really like? They were not really interested in the fact that he made a good living with a solid income, what impressed the people is that he had such a close and intimate relationship with such a great person as Moses. The people wondered, how can he fix his thoughts on the money he made and ignore the great personage of Moses! Just being in the same room with Moses must have been a great experience, yet this fellow seems to be totally dense not to have any recognition of the special closeness that he enjoyed with Moses!
The same is true with our case in point. The next world is indeed a place of great pleasures, pleasures so great that we can not begin to understand them. But this world has its advantage over the next world. The advantage in this world is that in this world we can have a personal relationship with G-d. It is only in this world that we can get close to Him, for the next world is for receiving the reward for the work which we did for Him, but it lacks the ability of being close to Him.
"One moment of regret (from doing a sin) or of doing a positive action (mitzvah) in this world is greater that all of the life in the next world." Just regret from doing a sin, not to mention performing a mitzvah, means that we feel bad that we separated ourselves from Him. It is He to whom our desires are directed, and not the reward that He so generously gives. This in itself brings us close to G-d; what could be greater than that?
Because closeness to G-d is so great and reaching this closeness is only possible in this world through the performance of the mitzvot. Instead of being like the fictitious foolish servant of Moses to whom only the money was important and not having a relationship with Moses, so too are those who believe the entire goal of life is only to enjoy the next world and ignore the ability to connect with G-d in this world.
Let us not be like those servants who serve the Master for the purpose of receiving a reward. Let us be like those who serve Him without desiring a reward. Just the ability to serve G-d, to be His obedient servants should be enough for us.
from the January 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine