Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Celestial Bank

It’s been a while since I last posted. I recently moved to a different state, and I’ve been busy packing, then unpacking.

DovBear had a post today about an email he received asking women to light candles five minutes early on Friday as a z’chus that a sick woman should get better. He asks, “the creator of heaven and earth be swayed if a lot of women light candles a few minutes earlier?” and waxes philosophical about how people can relate to God. I commented,

“This woman is from the group of people who, when they think about it at all,see s'char as currency. There’s a celestial banking system, where mitzvos and miracles have prices. So, say the recovery from disease costs $1000, and lighting candles early is worth $1 a minute, all you need to do is get 200 women to light candles five minutes early and donate their celestial money to pay for the miraculous healing.”

It’s interesting that learning Torah is contrasted in the mishnah with a carpenter’s work. The analogy to money goes way back. Of course, as my rabbeim were fond of pointing out, we don’t know what any given mitzvah is worth, which means we have no way of knowing if we have enough money to pay for miracles, or for a good seat in Olam Haboh. And we have to constantly worry about using up our money on mundane stuff here on Earth, like having a good parnassah, or having a near-miss with a car.

Midrashim describe many characters in tanach as worring about using up their z’chusim in Olam Hazeh. I wonder why, though. A dollars a dollar, right? Whether I spend it in this world or the next, I should get a dollar’s worth of benefit from it. So why the concern about using z’chusim in olam hazeh? It must be that to spend in this world the celestial z’chusim we earn by doing mitzvos, we first have to exchange them from olam habo z’chusim to olam hazeh z’chusim, and there’s a lousy exchange rate. :-)

More seriously, perhaps it’s the difference between buying something consumable vs. something permanent: a loaf of bread in this world vs. real estate in the next.

Then there are the Chassidishe stories about the horrible person who is wealthy because he is being paid off in this world for the single mitzvah he once did. So maybe the exchange rate isn’t so bad after all.

I think in the popular imagination, the celestial banking system works something like this:
* S’char/z'chusim = $
* Mitzvos pay s'char
* Extra mitzvos/chumros earn more s'char over the mitzva’s usual payout
* Kulos earn less schar than the mitzva’s usual payout
* Basic necessities cost some schar, but most goes into an account for Olam Haboh
* “Miraculous” events, like avoiding a car crash or recovering from a serious illness, cost extra s'char
** Sometimes one doesn’t have enough schar in his account, or Hashem decides to save the s’char for Olam Haboh instead of spending it on avoiding the car crash/healing the person.
** One can donate s’char to someone else to buy a refuah, usually by doing something extra specifically to earn s’char for that purpose. This can be used to buy someone’s health if the sick person’s account is inadequate or if Hashem doesn’t want to draw on the sick person’s account.
** If the sick person dies, it’s because either not enough s’char was collecte for him or Hashem decided that it was time for him to go, and the refuah simply wasn’t for sale. The s’char donated on the sick person’s behalf goes into a communal account that can then be drawn on the benefit other sick or needy people.
* Aveiros don’t really figure into the s’char balance, but doing a lot of aveiros may raise the cost of a miracle and/or make Hashem less inclined to sell you one.