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Understanding Olam Haba (The World to Come) Part 2 – Jewish Clarity

Understanding Olam Haba (The World to Come) Part 2

What is the preparation for Olam Haba?

The Medrash Rut (3:3) tells us:

In Olam Ha’zeh, whoever is crooked is able to become straight, and whoever is straight is able to become crooked, but in the future to come, whoever is crooked will not be able to become straight, and whoever is straight will not be able to become crooked, and anything  lacking will not be able to be repaired.

Two reshayim (wicked people) may work together in this world, one of them may do teshuva before his death, and one of them may not do teshuva. The result will be that this one [who did do teshuva] will be among the group of tzadikim (righteous), while this one [who did not do teshuva) will be among the group of reshayim.

The [second] one will then see [the first one] and say — “Woe is to me! Perhaps there is favoritism (mashveh panim) with this one! He and I stole together and murdered together. [And yet,] he is among the group of tzadikim, while I am among the group of reshayim!”

They will answer him and say — “You are a fool! Three days after your death, your body was disgusting and covered with worms. Your friend understood this, and he returned from his path. While you may have thought about doing teshuva, you never [actually] did do it.”

He answers — “Leave me and I will go do teshuva [now].”

They will respond to this and say to him — “You fool! Don’t you know that Olam Haba (the world to come) is compared to Shabbat and Olam Ha’zeh (this world), which precedes it, is like erev Shabbat? If a person doesn’t prepare on erev Shabbat, then what will he eat on Shabbat? Furthermore, Olam Haba is compared to the ocean while Olam Ha’zeh, which precedes it, is like the shore. If a person doesn’t prepare [while he is still] on the shore, then what will he eat [when he is later] on the ocean? And finally, Olam Haba is compared to the wilderness while Olam Ha’zeh, which precedes it, is like where people live. If a person doesn’t prepare [while he is still] where people live, then what will he eat [when he is later] in the wilderness?”

He will say — “Leave me, and let me [at least] see my friend in his glory.”

They will respond and say to him — “Fool. We are commanded by G-d that reshayim  should not stand by the tzadikim, and the tzadikim should not stand by the reshayim, and not the t’mei’im (impure) by the side of the tehorim (pure), and not the tehorim by the side of the t’mei’im.

The Yerushalmi (Peah 1:1) tells us that:

One with a majority of merits and a minority of transgressions, will have his minority of light transgressions dealt with in Olam Ha’zeh, so that he can be paid completely [for his majority of merits] in Olam Haba.

Rav Dessler points out: 

On the ultimate day of judgment of Olam Haba, rachamim (mercy) will not be relevant at all. The whole concept of mercy is different types of help to prepare us. But the essential existence and level of man is in terms of the true reality… We do, however, find some aspect of mercy within the justice of Olam Haba. Beit Hillel explains that the middah (trait) of “rav chessed” means that if one has exactly half zechuyot (merits) and half aveirot, he will be judged to the side of chessed, and his half zechuyot will be considered to be the majority. (Michtav M’Eliyahu — Alah b’machshava l’barah b’din — 3:226).

The Medrash spells this out: Hashem says to the wicked — “I created two worlds for you — one to do good deeds, and one to give s’char. If you did not do good deeds here in Olam Ha’zeh, then what do you want [from Me] now?” (Medrash Socheir Tov, Mishlei 11).

Olam Haba is really just the actualization of Olam Ha’zeh

Rav Dessler explained:

A person merits Olam Haba only through what is actually inside of him. Everything which is external… is irrelevant for the purity of Olam Haba, Olam Haba expresses who one truly is. (Michtav M’Eliyahu — Yayin haM’shumar — 3:289).

Rebbe Chanina ben Tradyon was moser nefesh (risked his life) to teach Torah publicly during a time of Roman persecution. And yet he asked — “What will be my situation in Olam Haba?” And the key to him getting Olam Haba was ultimately what happened when the money for his Purim meal became mixed up with tzedaka money, and he gave all of the doubtful money away to the poor. Why was this the ultimate determinate of him getting Olam Haba?

The big actions are never the true indication of the level of the penimiut (internal aspects) of a person, since they may be done with only a superficial inspiration. It is rather the small actions, which may seem unimportant, which reveal the true internal level of a person.

And even if we might also be willing to do the same thing, and donate all of our doubtful money to tzedaka, that would not necessarily make us into b’nei Olam Haba. With us, it might not be such a small and obvious thing; we would probably feel it was something special. Therefore, this may not be the indication of our level in Olam Haba. But with Rebbe Chanina ben Tradyon, it was really nothing special in his eyes. This explains the words of the Rambam who wrote that one who does even a single mitzvah lishmah (purely for its own sake) will merit life in Olam Haba. And he brings a proof from this ma’aseh (story) with Rebbe Chanina ben Tradyon, who received Olam Haba through his complete dedication to tzedaka, and not the one-time mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) of teaching Torah publicly which actually resulted in him being killed by the Romans. (Michtav M’Eliyahu — 3:107–9). 

Rav Chaim m’Volozhin added:

The s’char in Olam Haba is simply the actions which we did. After the separation of the nefesh (soul) from the guf (body), the nefesh is elevated to be able to have pleasure and satiation from the radiance of the lights, powers, and sanctified worlds which were added and multiplied from one’s good actions. In truth, Olam Haba is really the product of the person himself. This portion is broadened, increased, and fixed by the actions of every single person himself. For all of Yisrael, every one of them, have a portion which is sanctified with its illumination and shine, and was established and added to Olam Haba  from his positive actions. And, similarly, the onesh of Gehenom (the place of spiritual cleansing) is also that one’s chet (transgression) itself is his onesh. (Nefesh HaChaim 1:12).

Rav Yerucham also said:

The entire secret of man and his avodah is the matter of netiah (leaning), and that is also the secret of Olam Haba. What are tzadikim compared to in Olam Ha’zeh? To a tree which is standing completely in a place of purity. And everything depends upon netiah (leaning). We are generally accustomed to understand the matter of Olam Haba as the place where we receive s’char. And although this is also the truth, this is still not the secret of Olam Haba. The secret of Olam Haba is that a person needs to be a ben Olam Haba, i.e. to have a leaning towards Olam Haba. Adam HaRishon, before the chet, was completely leaning. His body was [entirely] in Gan Eden and he had no other leaning at all. The level of our neshama (soul) is now in the same category as the body of Adam HaRishon, even though it is presently in Olam Ha’zeh. The understanding of Olam Haba  (the world to come) is not that eventually this world will be revealed. Rather, the secret is that here in Olam Ha’zeh [everything depends upon] the netiah, and that is [also] the secret of Olam Haba, as the verse says — “All of Yisrael has a portion towards Olam Haba.” (Da’at Torah — Bereshit, pg.158).

The Ran records this opinion of the Rambam, that through doing any single mitzvah, among all of the mitzvot [with complete purity and dedication], a person can merit to Olam Haba. And this is the opinion of the Rosh as well. (Drashot HaRan #6).

The language of the Rambam, in his commentary on the Mishnah at the end of Makkot is: Among the foundations of emunah in the Torah is that when one fulfills [any] one of the 613 mitzvot fittingly and properly, without mixing in any other intention of this world at all, but only lishmah [purely for the sake of G-d and] from love, he then merits life in Olam Haba. Rebbe Chananya, therefore, explains that since there are so many different mitzvot, it is impossible that one will not fulfill [at least] one of them properly and completely. And when he does that particular mitzvah, his soul will [then] exist [eternally in Olam Haba] through that single action.

Rav Dessler explained this:

The spiritual reality that one forms through Torah and mitzvot is exactly what his Olam Haba is, as the Mishnah says — “S’char mitzvah mitzvah.” (Michtav M’Eliyahu — Alah   b’machshava l’barah b’din — 3:226).

Development in Olam Haba is not really a new experience. All development is the totality of the experiences we acquired through our fulfillment of the mitzvot. Therefore, any aliya (elevation) that the neshama makes is never a free gift. One is rather eating the fruits of his own labor. All of the development is really a direct result of the Torah and mitzvot, and was fully acquired when the Torah and mitzvot were first accomplished. (Michtav M’Eliyahu — 1:287–288).

Rav Dessler also discussed the implications of the Gemara Pesachim (50a):

Ashrei mi she’ba l’kan v’talmudo b’yado — Fortunate is the one who comes here [to Olam Haba] with his learning in his hand” — i.e. [only] that which has been acquired through effort and toil. This teaches us that one’s Torah in Olam Haba is not evaluated based on his natural intelligence, but rather based on his toil with the Torah. Only that which we toiled in will become ours as an acquisition within our nefesh. As was discussed previously [1: 217], the seichel is merely a tool given to man to use in Olam Ha’zeh (this world). In Olam Haba, however, we will no longer have this tool. We will have only whatever we transformed into a spiritual acquisition within our nefesh. Therefore, a chacham with a quick mind, good memory, and who knows a great deal, but his toil with Torah was minimal, will be an am ha’aretz (ignoramus) in Olam Haba — while one with a weak mind, poor memory, and knows little, but has an enormous degree of work and toil in his Torah, will attain much in Olam Haba, since whatever he possesses through hard work is entirely his own. This is what the Gemara (Pesachim 50a) means when it says Olam Haba is an upside-down world — those on the top [in this world] will be on the bottom [in Olam Haba], and those on the bottom [here] will be above [there].” In other words, one with a quick mind but without zerizut (excitement and enthusiasm) and ameilut (effort) to learn will have a weak understanding in Olam Haba, while one with zerizut and ameilut will be able to learn easily in Olam Haba. That is the s’char (eternal benefit) for his zerizut. (Michtav M’Eliyahu — 3:20).

Whatever we do in Olam Ha’zeh, we will have for eternity in Olam Haba

Rav Dessler pointed out:

Those very middot and spiritual acquisitions which we acquire for ourselves in Olam Ha’zeh — they are what we will bring with us when we enter Olam Haba. We cannot add any new abilities there. [Rather,] the Torah we learned in Olam Ha’zeh will enable us to acquire the true outlook. And then, afterwards, we will be able to recognize His revelation, and to learn the true path from it. Furthermore, through the Torah and mitzvot which we acquired in Olam Ha’zeh, we will become sanctified and prepared to derive pleasure from the ruchniyut. But one who never got pleasure from spirituality during his life, from Torah or good things in Olam Ha’zeh, will be lacking the ability to [then] enjoy them in Olam Haba which is entirely ruchani (spiritual). (Michtav M’Eliyahu — Ayin lo ra’atah — 3:101).

This is found in both Medrash and Gemara:

Whoever learns Torah in Olam Ha’zeh will merit to teach it in Olam Haba. (Sanhedrin  92a).

These Talmidei Chachamim (Torah Scholars) who are involved with divrei Torah (the words of Torah) in Olam Ha’zeh, Hashem reveals the secrets to them in Olam Haba. (Chagiga 14a).

All mitzvot which are done by Yisrael in Olam Ha’zeh, will come and be established in Olam Haba. (Avodah Zara 4a).

Whoever answers “amen” [i.e. affirming the truth of a blessing] in Olam Ha’zeh will merit to answer “amen” in Olam Haba. (Tanchuma Tzav 7).

Whoever says Shira (a song of praise to G-d) in Olam Ha’zeh will merit to say Shira in Olam Haba. (Tanchuma Tzav 7).

All mitzvot done by Yisrael in Olam Ha’zeh, will come and give them [spiritual] pleasure in Olam Haba. (Avodah Zara 5a, 6b).

Negative choices in Olam Ha’zeh, will also last eternally in Olam Haba

Rav Dessler discussed this:

Onshei Gehenom (negative spiritual consequences after death) are categorically different from onshim in this world. In this world, the onesh comes to a person from the outside and against his will. With Gehenom, however, the person is [really] bringing the negative consequences upon himself. (Michtav M’Eliyahu — Ha’adam meichin l’atzmo et efsharut ha’onesh — 3:232).

We have already explained in many places that a physically oriented person remains with his physical nature even after his death. He accustomed himself to a material life, to feel the continuation of self only in terms of physical matters. But there [in Olam Haba], he will no longer be able to chase after these [physical] aspirations. If so, what will now fill up his sense of self? He will feel himself without any substance for an eternity of hours, days, and years, without change, nothing of interest, and with no relationship to anything. Is there any affliction more difficult than this? [Think about] the punishment of prison [in Olam Hazeh]. Its essence is to separate a person from the busy external world. However, one still eats, drinks, sleeps, and sees other prisoners. And, even so, one suffers from a great longing. All the more so, one who will be locked up, all by himself, eternally, with nothing. Only spiritual content gives meaning to life, but if one never incorporated spiritual content, Torah and mitzvot, into himself in Olam Ha’zeh, he will now be left with nothing [in Olam Haba]. With the prisoner [in Olam Ha’zeh], even if he is not able to see or speak with others, in any case, he will still occasionally hear some noise from the outside, and this will settle him a bit, even while he is in isolation. But with nothing at all [in Olam Haba], it will be impossible to bear it. These will be horrific afflictions, when one feels he has no substance or meaning for eternity. (Michtav M’Eliyahu — Chayei netzach — bli tochein — 4:148).

The Rambam adds:

The [ultimate] retribution, which has no retribution greater than it, is for the nefesh to be cut off and not to merit [eternal] existence. This is referred to by the prophets metaphorically as the pit of destruction, obliteration, the fire, the leech, and all terms of nullification and annihilation, since this is destruction with no resurrection afterwards, a loss which will never be undone. (Hilchot Teshuva 8:5).

The Great Importance of Hakarat HaTov (gratitude) in Olam Haba

Rav Dessler emphasizes this:

Whoever has the quality of hakarat hatov, will experience the giving of s’char in Olam Haba — a great and powerful revelation of the chessed of Hashem. And from this, the pleasure of the splendor of G-d’s presence will express itself with no limit. The very giving of the s’char reveals G-d’s wondrous chessed. Since even if one did merit to s’char  through his avodah and ameilut in this world, when one really thinks about the matter, one will realize that the good which he did was tiny compared to the siyata d’Sh’maya  (Heavenly assistance) he received while in this world, and in terms of the benefit of the powerful and wondrous s’char that was revealed to him in Olam Haba. The path of growth depends on recognizing the chessed from Hashem, which is the essence of the giving of s’char. And whoever has not properly developed this trait of hakarat hatov, will not recognize the chessed of Hashem. His Olam Haba will, therefore, remain in the category of an Omeid (one standing still), and will never be able to develop the quality of being a “mover.” He will completely lack this aspect of eternal life. (Michtav M’Eliyahu — Ayin lo ra’asah — 3:101).

The Ben Ish Chai adds:

There is no person who has s’char shaleim (complete benefit) [in Olam Haba] exclusively from his own efforts. Hashem helps us with all mitzvot, and if not, we would be unable to do them. Every single tzadik has only [earned] a fraction of his s’char, but, even so, Hashem gives s’char shaleim to every one of them through chessed and tzedakah. (Shnei Eliyahu of the Ben Ish Chai — 1:5).

What is the Minimum for Olam Haba?

The Rambam wrote:

All of the reshayim (evil ones) whose transgressions are great, are judged according to their transgressions, but they will still have a portion in Olam Haba, because all of Yisrael has a portion in Olam Haba, even though they transgressed. And similarly, the pious among the nations of the world also have a portion in Olam Haba. (Hilchot Teshuva 3:5).

But the Rambam then goes on to list the ones that don’t have a portion in Olam Haba —

These are cut off and destroyed, and judged according to the greatness of their evil and their transgressions, forever and ever and ever:

Minim (deniers of some essential aspects of G-d),

Apikorsim (denying prophesy or G-d’s knowledge of man’s actions),

Deniers of Torah,

Deniers of Techiat HaMeitim (the revival of the dead) or of the coming of Mashiach,   Mumarim (openly violating one mitzvah, or all of the mitzvot),

Causing many to transgress,

Separating oneself from the community,

Brazenly transgressing,

Handing Jews or Jewish property over to their enemies,

Placing fear upon the community improperly,

Spilling blood,

Habitual Gossipers and Slanderers, and

Trying to undo one’s circumcision.

Although they are from Yisrael, they have no portion in Olam Haba. (Hilchot Teshuva  3:6,14).

The Rambam concludes this with a key clarification:

One only loses his portion in Olam Haba if he does not do teshuva. If he does do teshuva, however, even in private, then he will have a portion in Olam Haba. And one can do teshuva even from one of the 24 things (discussed in chapter 4 of Hilchot Teshuva) which generally inhibit teshuva, and still have a portion in Olam Haba. (Hilchot Teshuva 3:14, 4:6).

Rav Dessler goes even further than this:

Hashem promises His nation that even one that went down very far, as long as he keeps some connection to Yisrael, his spiritual spark will not be severed. This internal spark is actually the essence of the person, which he will take with him to Olam Haba.

And even the Jews who lost their chelek (portion) in Olam Haba, and are no longer fit to earn Olam Haba through their service of G-d, still have the treasury of matnat chinam (free gifts). This internal spark of kedusha, which was given to us as a matnat chinam when we were first created, still exists inside of us [even] after we transgress, and it will remain within us [even] when we leave this world. However this person is [certainly] different from one who is a true ben Olam Haba. The one who earned Olam Haba through his good choices in his service of G-d can still continue to grow and develop, both himself and his understandings, while the one who got there through the treasury of matnat chinam has no ability to continue to grow in his understanding or elevation. (Michtav M’Eliyahu 290).

Rabeinu Bachya revealed a remarkable point:

Those people that the Mishnah in Sanhedrin (90a) told us have no portion in Olam Haba  — this means that there is no chelek which is specific to them. However, they can [still] have pleasure and nourishment from the many treasure houses of tzedaka (charity) that have been hidden away for those who did not merit [on their own]. This is like a poor person who has nothing in his hand to eat and relies on the table of his friend. Even those complete rebels whom we are supposed to pull down and [certainly] not pick them up, will have menuchah (a rest and tranquility) on Shabbat and the holidays. Therefore, we can explain that it is impossible for the nefesh hasichlit (the intellectual force) to be nullified completely. When the verse says — “that soul (nefesh) shall be cut off from its nation,” it means that it will be cut off from the place that had been carved out [specifically] for it. After all, how would it be possible to make a decree to nullify the nefesh completely? Behold, it says in the Gemara Rosh Hashanah (17a) — “It will be judged there for all generations.” The intention is not for nullification, but rather to be kept in existence — for an eternal onesh for all generations. And certainly, there were never evil people who caused destruction (mach’chishim) in terms of Hashem and His servant Moshe more than Korach and his group, who were banished from Olam Ha’zeh and Olam Haba. And even so, they were not nullified, since they are living in Gehenom, and existing with their onesh. And, in the future, they will merit Techiat HaMeitim (the revival of the dead) along with the other souls that are in their nation. Their nefesh will derive pleasure from ziv haShechina (the splendor of G-d’s presence), away from their proper place, once they have accepted that they are cut off from the particular place that was carved out for them, and this is the opinion of the Ramban. (Vayikra 18:29).

The Rikanti takes this one step further:

Every case where Chazal told us that one has no chelek in Olam Haba, it means that they will have no separate place in Olam Haba, no treasure house in their own area, which they can rule over. That would all be [part of] having a dignified place. One with no merit, however, will still be able to stand in the place of the masses. He will not have the chelek which was known, and was shown to him before he came into this world. But G-d will [still] give it to him as tzedaka once he has received his onesh. And in terms of what Chazal say that this person has no portion in the world to come, the meaning is that this transgression destroyed the person’s chelek which he would have had independently. However, there is still a place for him where the masses are standing.

Final Points

Rav Dessler concluded:

In the earlier generations, before the churban (destruction) of the first Beit HaMikdash, when there was nevuah, (prophesy), the Shechina (G-d’s presence), and open miracles, people felt in their hearts that there was really only a single world. They saw a spiritual world in the present. For that generation, Olam Ha’zeh was merely a hidden Olam Haba. For them, therefore, there was no need to imagine Olam Haba as a separate world. However, when the hearts became smaller, nevuah was removed, and there was no Shechina during the second Beit HaMikdash, people needed to speak about two different worlds — Olam Ha’zeh and Olam Haba. They then described Olam Haba as a separate world, spiritual and complete, in order to connect it to their heart.

In the times of the second Beit HaMikdash, the Tzedukim (a group of heretics) saw only one world — Ha’Olam Ha’zeh, like the widespread hashkafa (perspective) of our present generation. The perspective of the ben Torah [today] is exactly the opposite. The ben Torah [also] sees only one world, but it is a spiritual world. And if he relates to two different worlds, it is only to distinguish himself from the Tzedukim, and for the sake of conceptualizing it better. There is, however, a danger of laxity with this. The yeitzer [hara] (negative inclination) can manipulate this to prevent our connection to spirituality, and to say that Olam Ha’zeh is also a world. The essential point is that inside [ourselves] there must be only one world, of only ruchniyut. Besides this world of spirituality, there can be no other world, except as a tool to connect with the world of spirituality alone. (Michtav M’Eliyahu — 390 — Dorot HaRishonim, Bizmaneinu).

Rav Chaim m’Volozin wrote, in the beginning of Ruach Chaim —

One who does a mitzvah finds himself instantly in Olam Haba, even though he may not be aware of this. The rei’ach (scent) of Gan Eden enters within him and his life, and orients him to do more mitzvot. In other words, the s’char of the mitzvah is the mitzvah  itself. One of the Gedolei haChasidim wrote that it is not the tzadik who is in Olam Haba, but rather Olam Haba which is in the tzadik. And similarly, at the end of the Zohar, it is written that Olam Haba already existed before the six days of creation, i.e., the ohr haganuz (the light that was set aside) for the tzadikim. (Michtav M’Eliyahu — 390 — Olam Haba b’Tzadik).

G-d willing, these understandings about Olam Haba should help all of us to live richer and more meaningful lives in Olam Ha’zeh.

This should all be l’zechut ul’iluy nishmat Ruchama Rivka, a”h, bat Asher Zevulun

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