If the World to Come (the afterlife) is the ultimate perfect world that we aspire to go when we die, then why are we constantly wishing everyone to "have a long life"? Surely if the afterlife is so wonderful, shouldn't we wish less years in this world, in order to sooner reach the World to Come?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
You are asking a very important question. The explanation is as follows:
The reward that we receive in the World to Come is a direct result of the effort that we put into doing the will of God ("mitzvot") while we are alive on Earth. A person who dedicates his life to mitzvot and spirituality will get a qualitatively better "World to Come" than a person whose commitment was peripheral.
We are living in a world of free choice (between good and bad), and whatever level you attain in this world is eternal. That's why the holy people performed mitzvot even till their dying breath. The great Vilna Gaon was crying on his deathbed, and his students asked him, "Why are you crying?" He held up his tzitzit fringes and said, "Every moment of wearing these fringes I am able to fulfill another mitzvah. But soon I will be dead and I will no longer have this great merit."
In "Path of the Just," Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (17th century Italy) warns of an attitude that a person might have in regard to how much effort he should put into mitzvot. A person might say, "Why should I involve myself in so many mitzvot? Why do I need such a large portion of the World to Come? Rather, I'll take a small portion in the World to Come, and live more leisurely here on Earth!"
This, Rabbi Luzatto points out, is shortsighted. In the afterlife such individuals will experience tremendous grief and shame in realizing that their potential in the World to Come could have been far greater. And that's for eternity.
Our attitude toward performing mitzvot should be like someone who enters a room full of diamonds. You are allowed to grab as much as you can, and you don't know how much time you're given to do so.
In 2001, Elana Rosenblatt, a 28-year-old Aish rebbetzin in London, passed away from cancer. In her final days, barely able to breath, Elana asked to see a young woman who needed guidance with some dating issues. The woman hesitated to come, fearing that she may react emotionally to the site of a dying person. Not to be deterred, Elana used whatever drops of strength she had to sit up, get dressed, hide her oxygen tank, and go outside to the garden - to make a less worrisome appearance for her guest. (See www.aish.com/sp/pg/48890727.html)
Every moment contains the potential to perform another mitzvah, another eternal jewel. For this reason, we wish people "long life" so that they may perform many mitzvot, and attain a large share in the World to Come.