The Future Near and Far
"The Sages did not use the expression 'World to *Come*' because that
world does not exist now -- that this world will have to be destroyed and
only then will that world come. The matter is not so. Rather, that world
already exists, as it is stated 'that which You have hidden [for those who
fear You], that which You have made [to those who trust in You' (Psalms
31:20 (written in the past tense)). [The Sages] called it the Word to Come
only because that life comes to a person after living in this world -- in
which we exist as body and soul. [Life in this world] is what occurs to
every person first."
This week's law takes up one final issue regarding the World to Come. With
this the Rambam closes the chapter.
The Rambam points out that the World to Come is not some distant period,
separate and removed from the current universe. It rather exists today -- as
the reward the righteous enjoy upon their deaths. It will no doubt exist on
a grander scale in the End of Days when all the worthy will live eternally.
But there is nothing qualitatively different about the Heaven we will enjoy
upon our deaths and the ultimate Hereafter at the end of time.
The truth is, this law of the Rambam diverges from the opinion of almost all
the other major thinkers. At the beginning of the chapter, I provided a
lengthy introduction to many of the concepts the Rambam discusses here. We
noted (in 8:1(c); www.torah.org/learning/mlife/LOR8-1c.html) that the reward
an individual receives upon his death is not the World to Come per se. It is
what is generally termed the World of Souls. It is a resting place for the
righteous. As their bodies decay in the earth and their bones await the
Resurrection, their souls reside in Heaven. They study Torah in the company
of all the greats of history. Their understanding of G-d's wisdom will
increase and intensify. Their souls will wax greater. They will exist in a
However, as we explained, that is not the ultimate state of man. It isn't
even "reward" per se; it is more a pleasant holding pattern. The ultimate --
the true World to Come -- is the Resurrection -- when man's body will be
recreated in a higher state and reunited with his soul. He will enter the
physical Eden and live eternally. As Adam and Even in the Garden, man's
physical and spiritual sides will exist in a perfected state, both in
perfect harmony with each other and in perfect closeness to G-d.
The Rambam, by contrast, does not mention any of this. He wrote earlier
(8:2; www.torah.org/learning/mlife/LOR8-2.html) that the World to Come will
be entirely spiritual. And so, the world we will enter upon our deaths is
not so different from the End of Days.
In that earlier class we offered suggestions for reconciling the Rambam's
view with that of the other philosophers -- as well as with the many Jewish
sources which make the Resurrection and the world's destruction and
recreation after 6000 years unequivocally clear. In fact, the Rambam himself
lists the belief in the Resurrection as one of his 13 fundamentals of faith.
In a word, the Rambam clearly subscribes to the Resurrection but sees it as
a temporary stage. Physical man will rise again and live in a perfected
physical-spiritual state. But that will end with the souls of man entering
the true World to Come to live eternally.
It should be mentioned that the Rambam, in spite of his virtually unmatched
mastery of the entire Torah, did not appear to be versed in Kabbalah. The
classic work of Kabbalah, the Zohar, authored by R. Shimon bar Yochai during
the Mishnaic period, seems to have gone underground for many centuries. It
was an unknown work to almost all, perhaps only passed down from teacher to
select student -- as Kabbalah is classically taught (see Mishna Chagigah
2:1). The text of the Zohar as we have it today was brought to light only in
13th century Spain, shortly after the Rambam's passing. (It gained immense
popularity (and its authenticity became universally accepted) fairly rapidly
from that point.)
As a result, in spite of the Rambam's greatness, his word is not considered
final in matters of mysticism. The Jewish world generally subscribes to a
more Kabbalistic view of the Messianic Era and the End of Days. (Of course
it is not really not ours to "decide" anyway. What is in store for the
future is up to G-d and in His capable hands. I also mentioned earlier
(8:1b; www.torah.org/learning/mlife/LOR8-1b.html) that the Talmud itself
states that how miraculously the End of Days will arrive depends upon our
own worthiness. There are actually many ways the End may be.)
Yet there is a fascinating caveat to this. The Jewish world, and in
particular communities which revere the Zohar, revere equally the works of
the Rambam. Yemenite communities generally follow the opinions of the Rambam
for all matters of Jewish law yet venerate the Zohar for all matters
mystical. I believe it was the great Kabbalist R. Yeshaya HaLevi Horovitz
(of 16th-17th century Czechoslovakia and later Israel, known as the Shelah
after the acronym of his primary work), who stated that all the words of the
Rambam are wholly consistent with the "soad" -- the secrets of Torah.
This thus serves as an excellent illustration of one of the more beautiful
aspects of Judaism. The Torah is so broad and all-encompassing that there
are many wholly different yet equally valid angles through which it may be
viewed. The Rambam was the master rationalist, discerning the logical beauty
of the intricacies of Torah law and finding rational meaning in them. The
Kabbalists view Jewish practice and legend through an entirely different
lens, viewing the fantastic, the myriad levels beyond the physical -- where
human logic holds no sway. Yet both perspectives are equally valid. And in
fact, one perspective without the other would miss Judaism's essence.
Stated somewhat differently -- but quite significantly -- a rationalistic
view of Judaism which does not entertain nor conform to the metaphysical
side of the Torah would not be true to Judaism. Conversely, Kabbalistic
forays into Judaism without a solid basis in practical Jewish law -- both in
understanding and in observance, equally misses what the Torah is all about.
Judaism is not only about practical law nor is it only about contemplating
the divine. It is everything at once, often with different aspects of it
speaking more dearly to some than to others. But no part of it is in vain or
can be dispensed with.
The Rambam was able to take the entire breadth of the Torah and use his vast
mind to arrange it in logical order. The Kabbalists would see infinite
levels of depth beneath the surface meaning of the Torah. Both views are
completely accurate, merely being different perspectives on a single,
all-encompassing Truth. And only through them all does the entire gamut of
Torah wisdom coalesce into an awe-inspiring whole.
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org