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Rabbi Michael Laitner

D'var Torah: The world to come, "Olam Haba": Is it referenced in the Torah?

"And I will walk amongst you, and I will be God to you and you will be a people to Me." Vayikra/Leviticus 26:12

This pasuk (verse) appears almost at the end of the section of blessings at the start of this week’s Sidra (Torah reading). What though is the practical culmination of these blessings? Where will this take place?

The answer to these questions is not immediately clear from the text of the Torah. Rashi, (1040-1105), the premier Torah commentator, explains “And I will walk amongst you”, as God walking with us in the Garden of Eden, i.e. the world to come (if we have gone in God’s ways as set out previously in this Sidra). This would be the culmination of the blessings and provides an answer as to where this culmination would take place.

Why though does the Torah not state this explicitly and why is the world to come, which essentially appears to be a spiritual reward, not mentioned in the Torah itself?

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Lunchitz (15th and 16th century) provides a lengthy discussion of this question, in his commentary to our pasuk, by summarising several different approaches before presenting his own commentary. Rabbi Lunchitz’s commentary is called “Keli Yakar”; this is the appellation by which he is usually known.

The first approach brought by Keli Yakar is that of Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204), in Hilchot Teshuva, the Laws of Repentance, 9:1. Rambam suggests that reward (in this case, the world to come), should not be the main driver for us to keep mitzvot.

Rather, we should perform mitzvot with appropriate sincerity because this is what a Jew does, not simply in order to receive reward (see the Mishna in Pirkei Avot 1:3, page 524 in the green Siddur). Accordingly, the Torah does not mention the reward of the world to come so that we have the proper focus when we perform mitzvot.

The second approach cited by Keli Yakar is that of Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, (1089-1167) known as “the Ibn Ezra”. In his commentary to Devarim 32:39, the Ibn Ezra notes that the world to come is a complex concept to consider.

We may infer from the Ibn Ezra that, perhaps, the Torah, which plays a primary role in teaching us about being Jewish in this world, does not contain information about the world to come so as to avoid presenting material which may be beyond the comprehension and perhaps the immediate necessity of the average person. This pragmatic approach fits in with that of Rambam presented above. Live a life of Torah and do not worry about contemplating the world to come.

These are but two approaches to consider why the Torah omits explicit mention of olam haba, the world to come. Have a look at Keli Yakar if you are interested in the other approaches that he brings.

Shabbat Shalom

Although there is no mention in the Torah, doesn't the Mishna express very clearly those who don't have a share in the World to Come? And although it doesn't require a single mitzva to qualify, it it very clear that you have to have very specific and unambiguous beliefs. Can we not infer from this that it doesn't matter what you do provided you think in a certain way - not really the same as what maimonides was saying?

Rabbi Michael Laitner, Education Coordinator of the Living & Learning Department and Assistant Rabbi at Finchley United Synagogue (“Kinloss”):

Thank you Alan for your comment and for having read the Devar Torah. I’d agree with your point about the Mishna listing those who lack a share in the World to Come (other readers, see for example, the final chapter of Masechet Sanhedrin, “Chaylek”, if you are not familiar with this already).

I can’t do justice in this context to your questions about either the Mishna or Maimonides’ subsequent writings so will recommend some further reading that I have found useful on these questions.

In addition to studying the Gemara’s treatement of that Mishna, I’d recommend looking at Maimonides’ commentary to that chapter (not just his 13 principles which are more “headlines” than details). After that, I’d recommend looking at Rabbi J.David Bleich’s “With Perfect Faith” and Professor Menachem Kellner’s “Must a Jew Believe Anything?”, for contrasting understandings of Maimonides.

In short, though, I’d disagree with your inference! Please feel free to contact at the US office if you’d like to discuss further or perhaps we could consider some shiurim in your shul on this topic if there is a group that would be interested to attend.

Shabbat Shalom


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