18 Shvat 5782 / Thursday, January 20, 2022 | Torah Reading: Va'era
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Anything but Whiskey!    

Anything but Whiskey!

Before Rosh Hashana, one of the drunks sighed and asked his friends, "What are we going to do when the time comes for us to stand trial and give reckoning in the Heavenly Court?


I never fully understood the following statement from Resh Lakish[1], "The wicked never do teshuva, even at the entrance of Gehennom (purgatory)", until I saw a peppered explanation by the famous Novardoker Maggid and Rosh Yeshiva of Hadera, Rebbe Yankel'e Galinski osb"m. He told the following story[2]:


There was a group of drunk loafers in Novardok, quite a contrast to the rabbis and students of the renowned yeshiva there. Once, right before Rosh Hashana while drinking and shooting the breeze, one of them sighed deeply and asked his friends, "My brothers, what are we going to do when the time comes for us to stand trial and give reckoning in the Heavenly Court? What will we say?"


For a moment, the gang became solemn and serious. Even the worst souls in Israel can have a quick contemplation of teshuva (penitence). No one had an answer to the probing question. Finally, one hiccupped and suggested, "Let's make a deal! We'll all vow to each other that the first one of us who dies will reveal himself in a dream to the rest of us, and tell us what's happening to him in the next world. That way, we can all prepare for what's coming." The group loved the idea, so they all shook on it and drank another l'chaim.


A short while transpired and the first of the group passed away. Just a few days later, he came to the rest of the group in a dream. He looked horrible – his whole body was sooty and charcoaled from the fire of Gehennom.


The others were aghast – what a nightmare! "What happened?" they all asked.


"Chevrei (guys)", he answered, "everything's fine down here. Keep on having a good time – just don't drink whiskey!"


"Whiskey? Why not?" they asked.


"Before I got sent down here, a couple of mean-looking angels dragged me up to the Heavenly Court. The first thing they asked me up there was if I set aside time to learn Torah. I asked the judges what I needed to learn Torah for."


"So what did the judges answer?"


"They said that I should have thought about my future."


"How did you respond?" the Chevrei asked, from their dreaming and drunken stupor.


"I said that I never cared about the future, only about having a good time in the present."


"What did you do with all your time?" asked the Heavenly Court.


"I sat with the guys, drinking, joking and talking politics."


"What did you drink?" asked the Heavenly Court.


"Whiskey, rum, vodka, cognac, wine, beer – whatever I could get my hands on."


"OK," said the Heavenly Court, "we can understand a fine red wine, an exquisite cognac or a thirst-quenching beer. Vodka too is fine, especially Nemerovskaya. But whiskey? It's bitter! It burns! It tastes terrible!"


"I laughed at them," the deceased drunkard said. "What does the Heavenly Court know about schnapps? Gornisht (nothing)! So I explained to them that at first, it's bitter and burning when it goes down the pipe, but afterwards, ahhh! It makes your whole body warm and your soul dances!"


"So then what?" the Chevrei asked.


"The Heavenly Court judges all yelled at me and said, 'Fool! So you did think about the future! You were willing to drink something bitter and burning now to feel good later. So why didn't you at least set aside a daily hour of Torah learning for the world that would come later?' That's when the gavel hit the table and I was sentenced to Gehennom."


"So what should we do? Should we start learning Torah?" the guys asked.


"No!" said the sooty deceased drunk from Gehennom. "Just don't drink whiskey!"


That's the conclusion of a drunk. Even at the entrance to Gehennom, when he could have pleaded for mercy, he didn't do teshuva.


We laugh at the deceased drunk and at his friends. But are we any different? When asked by the Heavenly Court on Rosh Hashana if we set aside an hour a day for learning Torah and/or for talking to Hashem in personal prayer, what will we answer, that we sat with our own group of drunks in an internet chatroom?


That's certainly not what we'd want to answer. Let's all start doing the things today that will help us tomorrow. May you and yours be inscribed in the Book of Life for a wonderful New Year, amen!




[1] Tractate Eruvin 19a

[2] "Vehigadta", Elul and Rosh Hashana, pg.160


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