He Chose Heaven Over Earth

Can we find areas in our lives where we’re willing to forego materialism for the sake of spirituality? For some, it may be closing their business in order to keep Shabbos, and for others, it may be closing their phone in order to daven properly.

By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier – The Beis Medrash

The Maharam of Rothenburg was famously imprisoned and refused to allow the Yidden to pay a ransom for his release—lest they set a precedent for the authorities to imprison other Rabbanim for ransom. He passed away in prison after seven years. For another 14 years, the authorities would not release his body until one day a wealthy Yid, Alexander Wimpfen, sold almost everything he owned and paid for the Maharam’s body to be released, and finally brought him to kevuras Yisroel.

The night after the Maharam was buried, he appeared to Alexander in a dream and offered him a choice of rewards for his great deed. Either he and his descendants could forever be wealthy, or he could choose to pass away now and have a place together with the Maharam in Gan Eden.

Alexander chose the latter. He passed away several days later and is buried right next to the Maharam.


This week’s sedra begins, “Listen, O Heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Chazal note that the word “listen” is used when talking to someone in close proximity, while the word “hear” can be used when talking to someone farther away.

But wasn’t Moshe standing closer to Earth than to Heaven? It seems like the words should have been paired differently.

Chazal explain that in fact, even while on this earth, Moshe was always closer to Heaven; his reality was dictated by Heaven, never by the material world.

Although we’re not on Moshe’s spiritual level, we can still apply this in our lives.

In the case of Alexander, he demonstrated that material wealth didn’t hold a candle to spiritual wealth. To him, Heaven was closer than earth.

Can we find areas in our lives where we’re willing to forego materialism for the sake of spirituality? For some, it may be closing their business in order to keep Shabbos, and for others, it may be closing their phone in order to daven properly.

No matter our level, we are constantly presented with the opportunity to choose between heaven and earth.

But there’s another layer of depth here.

When Reb Hiller Paritcher repeated this story, he added:

Alexander certainly made the most noble choice possible at the time.

However, had he lived after the times of the Baal Shem Tov—who introduced the idea that the ultimate purpose is to serve Hashem here, in this physical world—he would have chosen material wealth, and utilized it to serve Hashem.[1]

The premise remains the same: Heaven should always be closer and dearer to us than Earth. However, through studying the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, we no longer have to go to the sky to find Heaven; we can find Heaven right here on earth.

Yizkor is one of the best-known prayers amongst all Jews today, regardless of their religious affiliation. In it we ask, “May his/her soul be bound up in the bond of life with the souls of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, and with the other righteous men and women who are in Gan Eden.”

How are we so certain that’s where this soul wants to be? Perhaps it would prefer to hang out elsewhere, in the company of people who weren’t so righteous, especially if the person never showed significant interest in righteousness while alive?

Every Yid has a natural inclination to do the right thing, and to cleave to goodness and holiness. Material pleasures can temporarily mislead us, but once the soul is free of its physical body, we can be certain it wants only righteousness.

The trick is to realize this while we’re, baruch Hashem, still alive and well!

May we all be blessed with a year of abundant material prosperity and the clarity to utilize it to enhance our avodas Hashem. And may we finally witness the culmination of all that has been accomplished by Yidden throughout the generations with the coming of Moshiach, now![2]

[1] Reshimas, Devarim

[2] Based on the Rebbe’s talks on Shabbos Shuva, Parshas Ha’azinu 5741 (1980) and 5750 (1989)

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