Friday, July 10, 2009

The World To Come In This World - Does One Experience Olam Haba While Alive?

The first Mishna in Avot reads – כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא – every member of Israel has a part in Olam Haba. The popular understanding of these words is that it talks about afterlife and that once a person dies something of him remains after death. Here is how Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner (January 21, 1749 - June 14, 1821) explains it in his Pirush on Avot, Ruach Chaim. In a discussion about the effects of a Mitzvah and an Aveirah on a person using a lot of kabalistic terminology, R. Chaim summarizes as follows:

ועל כן לא אמר התנא כל ישראל יש להם חלק בעולם הבא ואמר לעולם הבא כי בעולם הבא מובן כי הוא דבר בפני עצמו המוכן ומי שיזכה במצוות נותנים לו משם ואמר לעולם הבא שהוא עושה עתה העולם הבא במעשה המצוה והוא מעשה ידי האדם עצמו כי המצוה הוא עצם השכר והאור הוא בגן עדן בחיי האדם ולעתיד זהו שכרו

The Tanah therefore did not say that every member of Israel has a part “in” Olam Haba but instead said “to” Olam Haba, for [in Hebrew] “in” would connote that Olam Haba is something out there ready, and anyone that merited through Mitzvot is given thereof. On the other hand, saying “to” means that the person through his own deed is creating Olam Haba now, through the act of the Mitzvah. The Mitzvah is the reward itself and the light is in the Gan Eden while the person is alive and in the future that is his reward.

R. Chaim is saying that Olam Haba is experienced while the person is alive and that experience stays with him forever - ולעתיד זהו שכרו.

Rambam in Hilchot Teshuvah 8:8 writes -

[ח] 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 call it Olam Haba [the world to come] is not that it is not extant now and will arrive after this world is no longer. That is incorrect. It exists now as it says…. The reason they [the Rabbis] named it Olam Haba [the world to come]; it is because that life comes to a person after the life of this world, in which we exist in a combination of body and soul. That same [life] is found in every man at first.

Are R. Chaim and Rambam on the same page? I suspect not. However, I will leave the question hanging for a while. I hope to address these issues in future post.

Shabbat Shalom


  1. Quick question:
    We are commanded to walk to God's ways. I was asked the Torah describes God as a jealous, vengeful, etc, God. Why doesn't this mitzvah apply to such attributes?

  2. this is a vry good question and deserves more than a short comment answer. I hope to address emulating God in a series of posts