Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Olam Haba - the Coming Existence.

After lowering our expectations in his preamble and dissuading us from any hope that he will offer any great innovative explanation of Techyat Hametim, Rambam now addresses the issue. He differentiates between Olam Haba (hereafter OH) and Techyat Hametim (hereafter TH) – Resurrection of the Dead. OH is a natural outcome of a person’s development. As the person gains knowledge of HKBH and an understanding of His creations, something happens to that person’s mind and at death, when the bodily needs no longer exist, there is an integration of the knowledge and understanding one has attained during a lifetime with the Sechel Hapoel – the Active Intellect. This is the most mystical part of Rambam’s philosophy and is one of the underlying arguments of professor Blumenthal, who I have discussed in the past (see the labels), for rational mysticism. As I discussed many times, Rambam looks at the physical world as composed of matter and Form. I visualize it in my mind as Form being the science behind a thing, the concept that gives matter its physical attributes. The science that brought that thing into existence was there before it existed. That science when looked at it in the macro, the science that is responsible for the whole of physical existence, is how I understand the idea of the Active Intellect. God being the First Cause, the Active Intellect would be the closest thing to the transcendental God, the immediate source thereof. In a metaphorical sense, one could say it is the mind of God. As our minds grasp knowledge, it becomes absorbed and integrated with the Active Intellect, with the “mind of God” so to say.

OH is a concept that we can understand inductively but it cannot be grasped by our minds bound by physicality. As Rambam in Hilchot Teshuvah (8:11-13) explains it, (excerpts – not the full text),

יא הטובה הגדולה שתהיה בה הנפש בעולם הבא, אין שם דרך בעולם הזה

להשיגה ולידע אותה, שאין אנו יודעין בעולם הזה אלא טובת הגוף, ולה אנו


אבל אותה הטובה גדולה עד מאוד, ואין לה ערך בטובות של עולם הזה

אלא דרך משל

There is no possibility, in this existence [traditionally: world but see below], to apprehend and know the great good that the mind [traditionally: soul but see below] will experience in the coming existence. For in our current existence we know only physical good and we strive for it. However, that good [the OH one] is very great and can only be compared allegorically to the current existences’ good.

(I have chosen to translate the word “Olam” as “existence” rather than the traditional “world”. I base it on the last Halacha quoted below. I have also chosen to translate “nefesh” as “mind” rather than “soul” based on the opening statement in Shemona Perakim –

דע, שנפש האדם אחת, ויש לה פעולות רבות, חלוקות, יקראו קצת הפעולות ההן, "נפשות"

Although I realize that it is a translation from the Arabic, I believe it to be how Rambam understands nefesh as opposed to Neshamah. But this is a subject for another day.)

כבר הודיעונו חכמים הראשונים שטובת העולם הבא אין כוח באדם

להשיגה על בורייה, ואין יודע גודלה ויופייה ועוצמה אלא הקדוש ברוך הוא לבדו

The early sages have already informed us that the good of the coming existence cannot be thoroughly apprehended by man. Only HKBH alone knows its greatness, beauty and awesomeness.

(Note the addition of על בורייה “thoroughly” apprehended in this context. Apparently as we grow in apprehension by studying the ideas of the early sages, we can get a sense of OH though not a real understanding.)

אבל טובת חיי העולם הבא, אין לה ערך ודמיון, ולא דימוה

הנביאים, כדי שלא יפחתו אותה בדמיון. הוא שישעיהו אומר "עין לא ראתה,

אלוהים זולתך--יעשה, למחכה לו

כלומר הטובה שלא ראתה אותה עין נביא, אלא עשה אותה האלוהים לאדם שמחכה

אמרו חכמים, כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא לימות המשיח, אבל העולם

הבא,עין לא ראתה, אלוהים זולתך

But the good [we experience] while living in the coming existence, cannot be valued or imagined. The prophets have not [described it] metaphorically [literally: imaginatively] so as to not lessen it in our imagination. That is Yeshayahu (64:3) saying “no eye has seen it besides God. It was made for those who wait for it.” Namely, the good that the eyes of a prophet have never seen, God has made for the person that waits for it. The sages said, all the prophets prophesized regarding the days of Mashiach, but the coming existence has not been seen by any eye except for God.

זה שקראו אותו חכמים העולם הבא, לא מפני שאינו מצוי עתה וזה העולם אובד

ואחר כך יבוא אותו העולם. אין הדבר כן, אלא הרי הוא מצוי ועומד, שנאמר "

מה רב טובך, אשר צפנת ליראיך" (תהילים לא,כ).

ולא קראוהו העולם הבא, אלא מפני שאותן החיים באין לו לאדם אחר חיי העולם

הזה, שאנו קיימין בו בגוף ונפש, וזה הוא הנמצא לכל אדם בראשונה.

The reason the sages refer to it as the “coming” existence is not because it does not exist now and it will come after our current world is destroyed. That is not so. It exists and stands now as it says in Tehilim (31:20) “how great is the good You have hidden for those who fear You!” They called it “coming” existence, because a person does not experience that life only after the life in this existence, which is composed of body and mind. A person has that too at first.

Clearly, OH is not a physical experience. To the contrary, it is only experienced once a person abandons physical existence.

My problem with this understanding of OH is the issue of individuation. If OH means becoming one with the universal Active Intellect, how is one person’s OH different from another’s’? But as it has been my experience with these issues, with time and thought, coming back to the problem repeatedly, eventually an insight moves me closer to a new understanding.

Be it as it may, OH as described above is a kind of ecstatic and transcendental experience that is eternal because it is not bound by matter and physicality thus the idea of time does not apply. On the other hand, Techyat Hametim, the Resurrection of the Dead, is a physical event. It is the idea that people who died somehow come back to life, to a physical existence that is also time bound. Rambam categorizes it as a miraculous event and does not necessarily see it as a reward for good deeds. I will address this and the concept of miracles in my next post.


  1. The definition of "olam haba" is part of the Rambam-Ramban contrast. Accordung to the Ramban, it refers to post-resurrection life. See the last columns of http://www.aishdas.org/mesukim/5764/shemini.pdf


  2. R. Micha - correct. The subject is long and I try to keep posts manageable. That is the subject of Sha'ar Hagemul in Torat Ha'adam.

  3. David, do you think you should refrain from discussing metaphysics in blogs? (if you question whether discussions of Olam Haba and the Active Intellect are classified as metaphysics, I refer you to the comment of the Rambam in Hagiga in his definition of metaphysics "...and that which will be after death...." Most people who read your blog are certainly not ready to engage in such speculation, and either way not in public.

    "D'vash v'Chalav tachas Lishonech....")

    (ps many scholars have discussed the problem you are investigating. If the memory serves well, I believe Kreisel has an article on it. They also discuss it by prophecy and III:51, among the living...though they're academic scholars, not metaphysicians, so the chances of most of them understanding such an abstract matter clearly approaches zilch as time goes on....)

  4. Anon,

    I think about it many times. However I am discussing the Ma'amar TH where Rambam says he is writing it for women and children. He discusses OH at length. True he does not address AI but he does do it in MT Yesodei hatorah and Teshuvah. My quotes arte mostly from there and he wrote that too for all. I have refrained discussing the first chapters in MN part 3 not that I could.

    If you want to discuss it furthewr email me.