Rebbi Tanchum Bar Abba lived approximately 1500 years ago. He was part of the chain of the Oral tradition – he learned from his Rabbi and taught what he learned to his students. The following Medrash is taken from Medrash Tanchuma which is a compilation of teachings that were heard in the name of Rebbi Tanchum Bar Abba……..
Medrash Tanchuma Parshat Pikudei Chapter 3.
(I have skipped several sections of this very long Medrash to keep it short)……
When a woman conceives, Hashem appoints an angel to watch over the Fetus for the duration of the pregnancy.
Hashem knows whether the baby will be a boy or a girl, whether he/she will be weak or strong, rich or poor, short or tall, ugly or beautiful, fat or thin. But, whether the person will do good or bad, that is in the hands of the person.
Hashem signals to the Angel that is appointed over the Neshamas, and says to him “bring Me that Neshama (He calls the Neshama by his name) from the world of the Neshamas.” The Angel brings the Neshama to Hashem. When the Neshama is brought before Hashem it bows down to Hashem in complete awe. Hashem tells the Neshama to enter inside the fetus. The Neshama says to Hashem “Master of the Universe, I was happy being in the world of Neshamas, why do you want me to go inside that earthly body? - I am holy and pure, I have come from a place that is way beyond the physical world.” Immediately Hashem forces the soul into the body against his will, and appoints 2 Angels to guard over him, and a spiritual candle is lit above his head.
The Neshama is able to see from one end of the world to the other. The Angel shows him the place where all the Tzadikim go and he sees them sitting there in honor with their crowns on their heads, enjoying pleasures that cannot even be compared to the pleasures that we have in this world.
The Angel asks the Neshama – Do you know who these are?
The Neshama replies – No.
The Angel explains – These that you see were created just like you in the womb of their mother, they came into the world and they kept the Torah and the Mitzvot, therefore they are worthy of the great reward that you see they are enjoying. You should know, soon you will go into the world. If you are worthy and you do good deeds, you also will receive the great reward that these Tzadikim are receiving.
In the evening the Angel takes the Neshama to another place where all the evil people are. Angels of destruction are beating them with fiery staffs without mercy.
The Angel says to the Neshama – do you know who these are?
The Neshama replies – No.
The Angel explains – These are the evil doers. They were created just like you were and they came into the world and they did terrible evil things. Therefore, they are suffering this terrible torment.
……In the end you will go out into the world, be a Tzadik and turn away from doing wrong so that you will be worthy of the world to come.
The fetus remains in its mother’s womb for 9 months, when the time comes for it to come into the world, the same Angel comes and says to him – Your time has come, the time for you to go into the world.
He replies to the Angel – Why do you want me to go out into the world?
The Angel says to him – Know my son, that against your will you were created, and against your will you are born, against your will you will die and against your will you will be asked to give an accounting of all of your deeds before the King of all Kings.
But he doesn’t want to leave the womb until he is kicked out, the spiritual candle is blown out and they force him into the world against his will.
Immediately, the baby forgets everything that he knew.
Why does a baby cry when he is born? Because he was kicked out from his comfortable place and he is severed from the world that he came out from.
On the last day of his life in this world the very same Angel comes and asks him – Do you remember me?
He replies – Yes! Why do you come here today?
The Angel replies – In order to take you out of the world, because the time for you to pass on from this world has arrived.
Immediately he begins to cry and his cries can be heard from one end of the world to the other. It’s not a cry that living creatures hear or understand.
He says to the Angel – But you already took me away from 2 worlds and you put me in this world (The world of the Neshamas and the world inside the mother’s womb).
The Angel replies to him – Didn’t I already explain to you, against your will you were created, against your will you were born, against your will you live, against your will you die and against your will you will be asked to give an accounting before the King of all Kings.
We cannot imagine the pleasure that our Neshama will receive in the next world from doing even the smallest Mitzva in this world. Whether we go out of our way to help a friend, or do a Mitzva that doesn’t seem to have any meaning or value to us, we are doing something that is way above the physical realms of this world.
Do a small Mitzva TODAY and take pleasure in the fact that you are doing something that has eternal value. Eternal means forever - and that’s a very long time!
Rabbi Yaakov Sandler is the Director of Project Development for Shorashim Outreach Centers - a popular outreach organization that brings Torah values to unaffiliated Israelis in an informative and non judgmental way.