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Parashat Behoqotai 5770: Why No Mention of Olam Ha-Ba in the Tochachah?

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May 4, 2010

Parashat Behoqotai 5770: Why No Mention of Olam Ha-Ba in the Tochachah?

Leviticus 26:11-12 (part of the initial berachah part of the tochachah) states:

I will establish My abode in your midst, and I will not spurn you. I will be ever present in your midst: I will be your God

Where will the presence of God in the midst of the children of Israel be? The simple explanation is, here on earth, in Israel. Rashi, however, writes otherwise:

I will (as it were), walk with you in the Garden of Eden as though I were one of you, and you will not be frightened of Me. One might think (that this implies) you will not fear (i.e., have no reverence) for Me. Scripture, however, states ([but] I will be your God (that is, although you will be with me in the Garden of Eden and not be frightened of Me, you will still possess reverence for me.) (Translation taken from Rosenbaum and Silbermann , Pentateuch with Rashi’s Commentary [London, 1932], pp. 123a.)

(It is certainly appealing to apply the categories of R. Isaiah Ha-Levi Horwitz, the author of the Shneh Luhot Ha-Berit {Shelah} here: According to Rashi, when one will be with God in Gan Eden he will not possess yire’at ha-onesh {fear of punishment}, but will nonetheless possess  yire’at ha-romemut {awe of the majesty of God}.)

The source of Rashi’s comment is the Sifra, Midrash Halakhah on Leviticus. But one must ask why Rashi saw fit to quote this passage, and not to interpret the verse according to the plain meaning, viz., that God will be with the righteous here and now in this world. Why did Rashi choose to cite this interpretation?

R. Solomon Ephraim Luntshitz, the author of the commentary Keli Yaqar on the Torah, theorized that Rashi was coming to answer a question that has been (and still is) addressed to religious Jews throughout the ages who believe in an afterlife: If there is indeed an afterlife, why is there no mention of olam ha-ba (the World to Come) in the Torah?

One should note that this question holds whether one adopts the Maimonidean view that olam ha-ba is equivalent to the philosophical notion of immortality of the soul, which itself is interpreted as eternity of the intellect, (according to the Rambam, clear distinctions are made between the terms olam ha-ba {the telos of existence in this world}, tehiyyat ha-metim {a temporary, transient miraculous phenomenon that will only happen in the future to a small amount of people who will subsequently die again in any event}, and the Messianic Age {a purely political concept}) or whether one adopts the Nahmanidean view, a position that does not distinguish between these terms in the same manner.)

Keli Yaqar writes that Rashi is coming to respond to a certain type of scholar. This person may say, since there is no mention of the World to Come in the Torah, one must surely deduce that the power of mitzvoth only serves to obtain greater benefits in this world. But this despised world is not worth much! (Remarkably, Keli Yaqar does not remark that one who reasons this way will sink into a life of hedonistic excess. One the contrary, he may still be an intellectually-minded scholar. But he will not value the system of acts commanded in the Torah.)

Keli Yaqar proceeds to summarize seven opinions as to why the Torah does not mention the rewards of the World to Come.

(1) Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Sefer Ha-Madda (Hilkhot Teshuvah 9:1): The rewards promised in the Torah only serve to remove impediments that could distract one from serving God. But the Torah never mentions the ultimate reward of Olam ha-Ba. Why? In order to reach the religious/intellectual level in which service towards God can be for its own sake (li-Shemah), and not for the receipt of reward or fear of punishment.

(2) R. Abraham ibn Ezra in Parashat Ha’azinu (Deut. 32:39): not even one out of a thousand people can intellectually grasp the notion of olam-ha-ba, but the Torah was given to all the children of Israel. Keli Yaqar adds that since a physical being cannot understand the non-physical nature of olam ha-ba, the Torah simply hid mention of this from the masses, due to their feeble intellects. But the ultimate reward is in the World to Come.

(3) R. Bahya ibn Pakuda (Keli Yaqar refers to him as R. Bahya Ha-Zaqen; “the Elder.” This appellation apparently serves to distinguish him from R. Bahya ben Asher, student of the Rashba and author of a popular commentary on theTorah. This view is also cited by the ibn Ezra in Parashat Ha’azinu, and the Ramban appears to have inclined to his view as well.): The rewards of the Torah are all supernatural. For how else can the meteorological phenomenon of rainfall be dependent upon a certain people observing specific commandments?  But the soul is by nature a metaphysical being, and it is not unnatural that it will (eventually) leave the body and this physical realm. Indeed a verse in Psalms (37:34) essentially states this. From the fact that only the wicked who receive karet do not merit a share in the world to come, one can deduce that as a matter of course, one who is not wicked will indeed receive a share. Hence, there was no need for the Torah to mention the obvious!

(4) Rabbenu Nissim Gerondi, in his comments on Parashat Bereshit, utilizing an idea that is already found in R. Yehudah Ha-Levi’s Kuzari, writes as follows: at the time when the Torah was given, the nations of the world denied the possibility of Divine Providence. They also asserted that whatever was done in the world was done out of necessity, not out of choice. The Torah wished to strengthen the concept of Divine hashgahah (and of human free choice as stimulating the possibility of hashgahah) as a cornerstone of Jewish belief. Had the Torah mentioned the reward in the World to Come instead of reward in this world, people would have simply persisted in their erroneous belief. (However, by emphasizing that the fall of rainfall, for example, was not necessary but was contingent upon human action, the Torah sought to refute that view.) Keli Yaqar approvingly cites the remark of the Khazar King to his Jewish friend (the haver), to the effect that people would not mind delaying their reward in the World to Come, if they could live a little bit longer here on earth. Thus, even though the ultimate reward is in the World to Come, the Torah presented a reward that people naturally desire, and taught that it is in human power to achieve it.

(5)  R. Sa‘adiah Gaon, in his Emunot be-De‘ot, and the Rambam in the 3rd part of his Guide for the Perplexed both write that the nations of the world at the time when Moses received the Torah sacrificed towards the stars and constellations in order to receive agricultural benefits (rainfall and the like). When God gave the Torah, He wished to wean the children of Israel away from these behaviors, and therefore emphasized that observance of the laws of the Torah will yield these benefits, whereas any sort of idolatrous worship will produce the opposite result.  But He did not need to promise them anything regarding the world to come, for the nations of the world were not promised success in the World to come for their efforts in the first place.

(6) The Torah actually does hint at the World to Come. For when the Torah writes such verses as I will be ever present in your midst (Lev. 26:12, the aforementioned verse upon which Rashi comments that “the righteous will walk with God in Gan Eden” ) it is referring to the propinquity between the Shechinah of God and the virtuous Jewish soul in this world. One can now utilize a qal va-homer and deduce the following; if the soul can cling to the Shechinah even in this world, surely it will be able to cling to the Shechinah in the non-physical world to come. Keli Yaqar notes that R. Yehudah Ha-Levi, at the end of the 1st Book of the Kuzari, writes how the Torah promises children of Israel rewards in the World to Come, just as the other false religions promised their adherents bliss in the World to Come, and this is seen from the words of the Prophets of the Bible as well. Keli Yaqar writes that R. Nissim Gerondi in his Derashot made this point as well.

(7) Finally, Keli Yaqar quotes R. Joseph Albo (Sefer Ha-Iqqarim, chapter 40), who presents an idea found already in the Ramban to Parashat Eqev (Deuteronomy 11:13) that the mundane rewards cited in the tochachah are meant for the Jewish nation as a whole. But the reward of any individual person can only be according to the (sum of his) deeds.

After mentioning these seven views, Keli Yaqar adds his observation. The Torah tells us the extent of the love of God for Abraham Isaac and Jacob. If rewards in this world was the sum total of the rewards that God would give anyone, how could Abraham claim to have had more success than Nimrod? The latter ruled over the world, whereas Abraham lived as a nomad his entire life. The same point could be made for the other two patriarchs Isaac and Jacob. It would not do, he adds, to write that that the blessings that their descendants received would constitute their blessings, for what good would that accomplish for someone after his death. The only way to make sense out of the life of the patriarchs, he concludes, is to posit the existence of a World to Come in which the righteous will indeed prosper. To be sure, he finally concludes, this portion in the World to Come was not the exclusive property of the patriarchs, it was (and is) the reward that God promises to all the righteous people through the ages, for they all possess the same Torah.

(This dissertation by the Keli Yaqar can serve to reinforce an impression that I have gleaned from his writings. Although not a Maimonidean, he is certainly not as anti-rationalist as is generally assumed in certain circles. In this piece, R. Solomon Ephraim Luntshitz displays both a command of the Jewish medieval philosophical literature, sensitivity to both exegetical and moral/philosophical issues, and a profound sense of righteousness, a theme that pervades all of his writings.)  


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