Daf Yomi Nedarim 23
Thursday mornings at shul is Breakfast at Bernie’s. Dr. Bernie Adler brings a delicious array of pastries and cookies from his daughter’s store, Bliss Baked Goods. We were sitting around one day at breakfast and I offered a donut to Slava. Slava is a fine young man who comes to minyan every morning and very much maintains his physical health and fitness.
“Are you kidding me, Rabbi?” responded Slava, “I’d love to have a donut, but I look at that piece and I see hundreds of calories. That little donut is about an hour and a half of cardio to work off!”
Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi was seeking to have a vow annulled.
He appeared before the Rabbis, who said, “Were you aware of all the facts when you made the vow?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Were you aware of all the facts when you made the vow?” they asked again.
“Yes,” he repeated. This exchange took place multiple times until a certain launderer realized that the Rabbis were bothered and so he got up and whacked Rabbi Yishmael with his laundry sprinkler.
Reeling from the blow, Rabbi Yishmael exclaimed, “Had I known I’d be whacked by the launderer, I would not have acted so rashly when I made the vow!” And thus, he released himself from the vow.
What happens after we die? Everyone knows: either you go to heaven or you go to hell, right? In Judaism, of course, the dichotomy is not as stark. There’s no actual place called hell; it’s a process we all go through until the soul is cleansed of its sins and one can enter heaven.
During the soul’s sojourn in this physical world, it does a lot of good things, for which it earns eternal reward. But along the way, it also does engages in worldly, non-spiritual activities, which cause physicality to attach to the soul. That physical coarseness (a.k.a. sin) is like a stain on the soul. The soul needs to be clean to enter heaven and so just like a soiled garment that must be put through the wringer in order to be cleansed of all the dirt, the soul needs to be cleansed.
In other words, just like Rabbi Yishmael, there will come a time when you will say ‘had I known I’d be whacked by the launderer, I would not have acted so rashly when I followed my heart’s physical desires whilst on earth!’ The problem is that we don’t see the consequences of our actions. Imagine we could all picture the consequences of our actions with the same vividness as Slava pictures the consequences of eating a donut! When donut equals an hour and a half of cardio, it is no longer as tempting! Likewise if a ham sandwich conjures up images of a heavenly washing machine, it’s no longer as tantalizing!
The good news, of course, is if you can utilize the imagery of the washing machine to deter yourself from the desires of the flesh, then how much more so you can utilize your vision of heaven to motivate your performance of mitzvos! Just think of the spiritual bliss and eternal reward each mitzvah brings – it’s like being told that donuts actually make you lose weight! Wouldn’t you be running to eat as many donuts as possible?!
This world is but an illusion, a hallway to the ultimate palace. May you merit maintaining the vision of the palace in its all glory with all the donuts you can eat with every choice in life you make!