FREE PASS TO HEAVEN
THE POWER OF THE HAFTARAH
[Midrash Tanchuma Parshat Noach]
The great Rabbi Akiva once saw a strange man running swiftly as a horse. He had a charred complexion and on his head, he was carrying a load heavy enough for ten men. Rabbi Akiva ordered him
"Why do you do such hard work?" R' Akiva asked. The man answered, "Do not detain me lest my
supervisors be angry with me; I am a dead man. Every day I am punished anew by being sent to chop wood for a fire in which I am consumed.''
''What did you do in life, my son?'' asked Rabbi Akiva. ''I was a tax-collector. I was lenient with the rich and oppressed the poor.''
Rabbi Akiva persisted, ''Have you heard if there is any way to save you?'' The man replied, ''I heard that if only I had left a son who would stand before the congregation and call out 'Bless HASHEM, the blessed One' - to which the people would respond, 'Blessed is HASHEM, the blessed One, for all eternity!'
He then continued: "And if only I had left a son who could proclaim to the congregation, 'May His great Name be exalted and sanctified, to which the people would respond, 'May His great Name be blessed!' I would be released from my punishment. When I died, my wife was pregnant. I do not know if she gave birth to a son, and if she did there would be no one to teach him!"
At that moment, Rabbi Akiva resolved to find out if a son had been born, and if so, to teach him until he could lead the congregation in prayer. He went to Ludkia and inquired about the despised tax-
collector, but the people wanted no part of that wicked man. To Rabbi Akiva's inquiries about the widow, they responded, ''May her memory be obliterated from the earth! And his child - ''He is not even circumcised.''
Rabbi Akiva took the child, had him circumcised, and personally taught him Torah and the order of prayers. When he was ready, Rabbi Akiva appointed him to lead the congregation in prayer.
Yesh Nochalin cites a beautiful ending to this story in Zohar Chadash -
After his son lead the Services, the deceased father came to Rabbi Akiva in a dream and told him:
"When my son read the Haftarah they lightened my punishment in Gehinnom.
When my son led the public Prayer Service and recited Kaddish, they completely tore up my sentence. And when he became wise and acquired Torah, they gave me a portion in Gan Eden."
A DEDICATED TEACHER'S REWARD
The Tamud in Eruvin 54b tells the story of an especially dedicated teacher.
Rabbi Pereida had a student whom he taught his daily lesson four hundred times before he
One day the Rabbi was summoned to attend to a matter involving a Mitzvah. He taught the
student four hundred times as usual, but this time the student did not master the lesson.
"What is different today that you don't catch on?" asked Rabbi Pereida. "From the moment they came and asked you to take care of the Mitzvah matter my thoughts began to wander,"the student replied, "for every moment I imagined: Now the Rabbi will get up; now the Rabbi will get up."
"All right, pay attention, and I will teach it to you again," R. Pereida said; and so he taught him another four hundred times.
A heavenly voice came forth asking the Rabbi, "Would you prefer to have four hundred years added to your life, or would you rather that you and your generation enter the World to Come?"
Replied Rabbi Pereida,"I prefer that I and my generation should merit to enter the World to Come."
"Give him both,"said the Holy One, blessed be He.
ENJOYING THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT
As found in our Morning Prayers, the Talmud in Shabbos 127a teaches: These are the precepts, the fruits of which a man enjoys in this world, while the principle (reward) remains intact for him in the World to Come.
They are: honoring one's father and mother,
performing deeds of kindness,
early attendance at the House of Study morning and evening,
hospitality to strangers,
visiting the sick,
providing for a bride,
escorting the dead,
concentration in prayer,
bringing peace between man and his fellow [and between husband and wife (Sefard)].
And the study of Torah is equivalent to them all.
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