IF ONLY I UNDERSTOOD WHY

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Chapter Two

Free will and the World-to-Come

And God created (va’yitzer) the man ... Genesis 2:7
[The two yuds allude to] two creations: the creation of man for this world, and the creation of man for the Resurrection of the Dead.
Rashi
... The ultimate end of all his [man’s] involvement is the tranquility in the World-to-Come.
The Way of God, 2:2:1

I believe with complete faith that there will be a resuscitation of the dead ...
Thirteen Principles of Faith, Maimonides Sanhedrin, Chapter 10

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Role play for a moment. Imagine you are a second-century Jew, born in Israel under the Roman occupation. One day, you are walking through the forest avoiding the Romans, when all of sudden you step into some sort of time warp. When you emerge, it is the year 1993.

After pulling yourself together, you notice that things look both familiar, and yet very, very different. You can’t believe your own eyes, but something tells you that you’re not dreaming, so you decide to scout around.

The forest you were walking through is now a condominium development in downtown Jeru-salem. Everywhere you look there are stores. The streets are full of small chariots (cars) and massive chariots (buses), but you wonder, where are the horses to pull them? All around you people are rushing and wearing clothes you’ve never seen before.

Hours pass before you ask a passerby about where you are. However, most people won’t stop to talk to you because they think you’re a lunatic. Finally, a little boy stops to ask you a few questions, and after exchanging a few words, you ask him your own. The answers he gives you lead to the inescapable conclusion that you are a long way from home, in time that is.

But just as you plan to make the best of the situation (it beats running from the Romans), poof! You’re back to where you started from: Israel 125 C.E. Instinctively, you run for cover and stealthily make your way back to your wife and family.

It becomes unbearable to hold back your secret. But whom should you tell, who will believe you? People will think that you’re crazy. One day, however, you can’t help it, and you blurt it out.

Sure enough, your worst fears come true, and people think you’ve lost your mind. The risk of being locked away for the rest of your life forces you to stay silent and speak about your experience no more.

* * *

The biggest difficulty about the idea of a ‘World-to-Come’ is not the logic of the idea. The spiritual essence (soul) we possess is the only rational explanation for our divine qualities, and not being physical, it makes sense that it should exist forever, somewhere.

What makes the World-to-Come difficult to accept for many is the Western idea that seeing is believing. According to that perspective, it follows that anything people can’t see can be assumed not to exist; if it is outside human experience, it must not be real.

However, is such a belief based upon knowledge, or the lack of it? How many ideas exist today that once were thought out of the question to generations that could not imagine them? How many ideas do we refuse to accept today, but which will one day become proven to exist, as we expand our understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live?

The experience of the World-to-Come will remain outside human experience as long as death remains within human experience. Nevertheless, the rabbis point out, there are aspects of life in this world that can give us a ‘taste’ of the quality of life in the next world.

Even so slight as these ‘tastes’ may be, combined with clues from the Torah, the concept of the World-to-Come becomes easier to intellectually accept. Eventually, it even becomes illogical not to believe in an eternal world.

One such ‘taste’ is Shabbos, and therefore, any insight into Shabbos is also an insight into the World-to-Come. Regarding Shabbos, the Torah states:

Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their legion. On the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work which He had done ... (Genesis 2:1-3.)
How does God rest, when no ‘effort’ is considered an exertion for him? Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler provides an answer to this age-old question, (Michtav M’Eliyahu,) one that is best understood by way of analogy.

When an artist paints, the canvas becomes an expression of his inner being. Even if the artist varies his style from painting to painting, still, each one is another aspect of the painter’s inner reality. Thus, to become familiar with the paintings of the artist is to become familiar with the painter himself.

Yet, when we look at God’s ‘canvas,’ do we see His ‘hand’? It should be possible to look at the world and immediately see God to some degree. Yet, that is not the case, and instead we see a physical world, an inanimate one, one that does not seem very spiritual at all.

This is because during the first six days of creation God ‘veiled’ Himself behind patterns that give the illusion they are self-running, even though they are not. All of this was done to give mankind the opportunity to use its free will to ‘peel’ away the veils of nature in search of truth. However, for God to ‘hide’ Himself is, in a sense, against His nature, and therefore called melacha (work).

However, on the seventh day God stopped veiling Himself. On Shabbos, God is in this world as He prefers to be: obvious and easily accessible. This is what gives Shabbos its sense of eternity, for to be aware of God is to become attached to Him, to become attached to Eternity. (After all, what caused death in the first place? It was the consequence of breaking the will of God, by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What greater violation of a relationship is there than to break the will of the Relator, who, in this case was the Source of life? To become distanced from the Source of life is to court death, both physically and spiritually.)

But whereas this experience on Shabbos is only temporary, it is forever in the World-to-Come. And not only is it forever, but the actual pleasure is far beyond what one can ever imagine while part of the limited, physical world.

Better one hour of spiritual bliss in the World-to-Come than the entire life of this world.
(Ethics of Our Fathers, 4:22. Likewise, even the worst conditions for living in this world, even for an entire 120 years, are worth it when one considers the eternal reward for putting up with such intense suffering.)
However, why are there two worlds in the first place? The mishnah explains the two worlds in the following way:
This world is like a lobby before the World-to-Come; prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall. (ibid 21.)
The Talmud states the same idea as follows:
This World is like the eve before Shabbos, and the World-to-Come is like Shabbos. Those who prepare on the eve of Shabbos will have food to eat on the Shabbos. (Talmud Avodah Zora, 3a.)
The World-to-Come is the time of reward, or, as the case may be, punishment. Reward or punishment for what? And if the World-to-Come is the time for reward and punishment, what is the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ we experience in this lifetime?

The answer to the first question is that we are rewarded for what we accomplished spiritually in this world. This world is for saving ‘green stamps,’ the next world is for cashing them in, if you will. The quality of our free-will choices is evaluated, and we are allowed to eternally enjoy the spiritual benefits of such choices.

The answer to the second question is, the good and bad we experience in this world is not reward and punishment - it is cause and effect. Maimonides elaborates on this point when addressing the following contradiction.

Everyday we recite the words of the Shema, which emphasize the good that will result from living morally and the bad that will result by living without morality.

And it will come to pass that if you listen to My commandments ... then I will provide the rain in its proper season ... Guard yourself that you do not stray ... Then the wrath of God will blaze against you ...
The Shema seems to encourage us to focus on the reward for serving God and to keep in mind the punishment for disobedience. Yet, Maimonides points out, the mishnah demands just the opposite:
Do not serve God as a servant who anticipates a reward, rather, serve God as a servant who does not anticipate a reward. (Ethics of Our Fathers, 1:3.)
Maimonides therefore draws the conclusion that what the Shema is referring to is not the reward for moral behavior, but the positive effect of moral behavior. The reward for such behavior is in the World-to-Come; in this world, there is an inherent positive physical response to mankind’s spiritual efforts.

It’s as if to say that God says, if you are prepared to exert yourself for spiritual goals, then why should I allow the physical world to interfere more than your spiritual growth demands. On the other hand, if you are obsessed with the physical world, know that it will consume you - this is the way the world was created to respond.

Being a place of reward and punishment, the World-to-Come is also a place where there can no longer be striving and no more free will. What you ‘eat’ in the World-to-Come is what you prepared before going there, that is, what you accomplished in this world.

The biggest illusion of modern society is that this world is the world of reward and punishment. (Which is why we question what happens to both the righteous and the evil. If this world is in fact the time for reward and punishment, then of course the righteous would prosper and the evil would suffer. But then again, if this was the case, then there would be no evil people anymore.) This is why the mishnah encourages us to "not abandon hope in punishment." (ibid 7.) That is, do not be fooled by this world: see through the veil of nature, see the temporariness of this existence, never lose sight that this world is only the lobby and not the banquet hall.

This world may be a wonderful place to live, but more than anything else, it is wonderful opportunity for getting to the next world forever.

© by Mercava Productions

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