Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789-1866) was once explaining at a farbrengen (chassidic gathering) how “reality” is a factor of learning and behavior. The Rebbe illustrated his point with the following story:
Once there was a coachman—a coarse and primitive fellow—who did a great deed. When after his passing he came to stand before the heavenly court, the celestial judges were at loss at how reward him. Should he be admitted into gan eden, where the souls of the righteous experience the sublime pleasure of comprehending the divine wisdom of Torah? But what would he do in such a place? He would be bored out of his mind! Finally, it was decided to grant him the only reward that would be meaningful to him: he would placed in the world of fantasy, where he would be given a sturdy coach of the most coveted make and model, four white horses in the prime of health and vigor, and a well-paved highway, free of the ruts and mudholes he had to contend with in his lifetime.
“To this day,” concluded Rabbi Menachem Mendel, “the coachman speeds along his imaginary highway with his imaginary coach and horses. For every man creates his own reality. One who leads a real life—life as defined by the wisdom and will of the Creator—will ultimately experience the divine reality. But one who for a lifetime preoccupies himself with vain and frivolous matters is destined to inhabit a world of fantasy, no matter how ‘real’ it seems to him.”
One of those present at the farbrengen, who had a reputation as a “wiseguy,” asked the Rebbe: “But if this is the case, perhaps this is a fantasy? Perhaps I am only imagining all this—the farbrengen, the food on the table, the gathered Chassidim, and yourself speaking?”
Replied the Rebbe: “You can be rest assured that this is no fantasy. In your fantasy world, you won’t see me.”
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.