Our Portion in Olam Haba
The Torah Portion ends with the distressing story of the son of an Egyptian man and Jewish woman who committed the grave sin of blasphemy and as a result was severely punished. The episode begins with the words, "the son of an Israelite woman went out - and he was the son of an Egyptian man - among the Children of Israel..." (1) The Rabbinical sources and the commentaries point out that the significance of the words, "he went out" is unclear - where did he go out from? Rashi, quoting the Medrash, explains that the Torah is telling us that, "he went out of his Olam (world)." (2) The commentaries explain that this means that he forsook his portion in Olam Haba through the terrible sin that he committed. The Taz in his commentary on the Torah notes further the use of the language, that he left "his world" as opposed to, "the world". The Taz explains: "The explanation seems to be, that, from the day of his birth, every member of the Jewish people is connected to the Upper World [i.e. Olam Haba] in a Holy place. But when he sins he leaves that place where he is connected; therefore it says that he 'went out'." (3)
This explanation provides us with an important understanding of the Torah outlook with regard to reward and punishment in Olam Haba. One may think that a person in this world has no intrinsic connection to Olam Haba, rather when he dies and goes up, he will receive prizes for the Mitzvot he did, and will lose things for the sins he did. The reward that is 'Olam Haba' is viewed upon as being his prize, similar to the way in which a person collects his reward after winning a raffle. The Taz shows us that that is not the case - rather from his birth, a Jew is intrinsically connected to Olam Haba - what is the cause of this connection? It is obviously his soul; by performing Mitzvot he nourishes his soul and thereby 'improves' the nature of the Olam Haba that he will 'receive'. By sinning he damages his soul and thereby loses certain elements of his Olam Haba - and without teshuva (repentance) he has to go to Gehinnom to cleanse himself from the impurities on his soul because of the sin.(4) The sin of the mekalel was so great that he lost his Olam Haba . Thus, we see from here that reward and punishment in the next world is not arbitrary, rather a person creates his own Olam Haba or lack thereof.(5)
There is a second important lesson that can be derived from the Taz: Some religions believe that people are intrinsically evil because of the sin of Adam, and that one must get out of that state of inherent evil. We see from the Taz that the exact opposite is true. We are intrinsically good and Holy and connected to Olam Haba - our job is just not to lose our inherent connection, rather to tend to our Portion well.
This concept is brought out by the Mishna in Sanhedrin which states: "Every Jew has a Portion in the World to Come..." (6) The commentaries ask is it true that every Jews gets Olam Haba? Indeed the Mishna later enumerates the people who get no Olam Haba! The answer is that the Mishna does not say that every person ultimately receives Olam Haba rather that they all have a portion but it is up to them to maintain and develop that portion. If they neglect their job then they are in danger of losing it, as was the case with the people mentioned in the Mishna. An analogy of owning land can be used to help further understand the Mishna. The portion described here is like a plot of land; each person inherits a bare plot of land. It is up to him to tender the plot and plant it so that healthy crops grow in it. If, at the end of one's tenure of the crop, he has developed it well, then he can reap the rewards of his hard work. If, however, he neglects the crop, then it will remain undeveloped, and if he mistreats it, by throwing dangerous chemicals into it, for example, then he will damage it. At the end of his tenure he will be left with a useless piece of land. So too, we are all born with a lofty soul that is our connection to Olam Haba. If a person observes the Torah and Mitzvot then we will elevate our soul so that after our deaths our souls will be fitting vessels to enjoy the spiritual wonders of Olam Haba. If, however, he neglects and damages his soul, then they will be so badly stained that they will not be able to benefit from Olam Haba, and that soul will have to undergo the painful process of Gehinnom in order to be able to enter Olam Haba. (7)
We have seen how each Jew has an inherent connection to Olam Haba and that the way we conduct ourselves in this world determines the state of our portion in the Next World. There are is a very important practical lesson that should be derived from this knowledge. A person's yetser hara (negative inclination) sometimes tells him that even if he acts incorrectly, God will easily forgive his transgressions and he will avoid negative consequences, without having to do teshuva. However, this understanding is totally incorrect - when a person knowingly sins, he automatically damages his soul - it is not a matter of God 'letting him off or not', rather God has set up a system whereby there are natural spiritual consequences to one's actions. Thus, just like in the physical world, it is understood that certain actions, such as walking off the roof of a building, will cause great damage, the same is true in the spiritual world. Only teshuva can rectify the damage done by the sin.(8) May we all merit to tend to our Portion of Olam Haba in the most optimum way possible.
1. Vayikra, 24:10.
2. Rashi, Vayikra, 24:10, in the name of Vayikra Rabbah, Emor, 32:3.
3. Divrei David, quoted in Tallelei Oros, 24:10.
4. The topic of the nature of Gehinnom and its purpose is beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice to say that the non-Jewish conception of 'Hell' bears no resemblance to the Torah's depiction of Gehinnom. In brief, despite is' clearly unpleasant nature, Gehinnom serves a beneficial function in that it cleanses a person to the extent that he is now able to enter and benefit from Olam Haba.
5. The Eitz Yosef on the Medrash notes that it is evident that the Mekalel did not do teshuva for his sin, from the fact that the Medrash says that he lost his Olam Haba.
6. Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek, 90a. It is also the Mishna that is found at the beginning of each Chapter of Pirkei Avos.
7. The Chofetz Chaim used a very similar analogy to explain this Mishna. It is found in, 'Mishel Avos' Volume 1, p.6.
8. It should be pointed out further that the teshuva of one who sins with the intention of doing teshuva after the sin, is not accepted. It is only if he sins out of weakness and then genuinely regrets his actions that he is forgiven.