Saturday, August 10, 2013

Does A Non Philosophically Minded Person Partake In Olam Haba?

Shabbat, I came across by chance on an interesting Teshuvat haRashba (1:423) that opened an interesting train of thought and explained a difficult concept in Rambam. It is a lengthy Teshuvah that deals with certain aspects of Davening. Towards the end Rashba comments as follows: (my translation)

Regarding prayers where you stated that without Kavannah (mindfulness) it has no meaning for a worshiper  the truth is that mindfulness is the basis for everything. However the kind of mindfulness (in other words what one thinks about) vary and are divided into different levels, one deeper than the other, depending on the depth of the knowledge and apprehension of the worshiper from the simplest person to Moshe rabbeinu AH, according to each one’s apprehension [the prayer] will satisfy.
The first level of Kavanot upon which all Jews rely upon, is that all know and admit that there is a God, a non-contingent entity that created the world from nothingness with His will as He wished to do so, that He gave the Torah at Sinai, a true Torah with just laws and edicts. It is to Him we belong and worship, He commanded us to offer ourselves as we declare His name [teach His existence DG]. It is Him we thank, to Him we pray, for everything emanates from Him and He watches our deeds to punish or reward. It is with this Kavannah that all Jews pray even women and ignoramuses and are rewarded for their worship. Even those who don’t understand the words, does not pronounce them well, are rewarded for their worship when having this general Kavannah…. One should not stop one who cannot attain the higher levels of Kavannah from praying God forbid nor should one demoralize them. For if you suggest this then children, women and ignoramuses would not be able to pray or do Mitzvot, not only them but the majority of the Jews except for one or two individuals [who have a higher apprehension] and the Rabbis already told us all Jews have a part in Olan Haba.”

What caught my attention are the last few sentences in this part of the Teshuvah. Rashba argues that it cannot be that higher levels of apprehension are necessary because the Mishnah in Sanhedrin says that Kol Israel yesh Lahem Chelek Leolam Haba. In other words, once a Jew does the Mitzvot while subscribing to the basic theology outlined above, he  partakes in Olam Haba. The rest of the Mishnah then reads “and these [people] do not partake in Olam Haba, one who denies Techyat Hametim, denies the divinity of the torah etc…” The Mishnah is thus telling us that one that keeps Mitzvot but has an erroneous theology as defined further does not partake in Olam Haba. The act of the Mitzvah does not suffice unless it is done with a basic mindfulness that an erroneous theology does not permit.   

I believe that Rambam read this Mishnah the same way. Some scholars have argued that the way Rambam explains the ultimate goal of Mitzvot, which is to make us into perfect individuals who apprehend God and that achievement is Olam Haba, a kind of unification of the mind with knowledge of God, then unless one is perfected one cannot have Olam Haba. They therefore wonder how Rambam would deal with the Mishnah that suggests that ALL Jews have Olam Haba. The basic theology that Rashba has outlined allows for an apprehension of God that already gives the person a glimpse of Olam Haba albeit of a lower level. A person doing a Mitzvah with that apprehension partakes in Olam Haba.

See also Rabbi Buchman’s article in Hakirah on this subject