The World to Come

It's an individual Jew's ultimate reward, but the nature of the World to Come has always been disputed.

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Yet the statement of the second-century teacher, Rabbi Jacob, also in Ethics of the Fathers (4:17) acts against a too‑hasty claim that according to the Rabbis this world is only a preparation or school for the World to Come and has no intrinsic good. Rabbi Jacob's famous teaching reads: "Better is one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the whole life of the World to Come; and better is one hour of blissfulness of spirit in the World to Come than the whole life of this world."

the world to comeSignificant in this connection is the saying of Rav (relied on by Maimonides for his identification of the World to Come with spiritual bliss of the soul rather than the resurrection): "In the World to Come there is no eating nor drinking nor propagation nor business nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the Shekhinah" (Berakhot 17a). Yet the Jerusalem Talmud (Kiddushin 4:12) quotes the same teacher, Rav, who is so eloquent on the purely spiritual nature of bliss in the Hereafter, as saying that in the World toCome a man will be obliged to give an account and a reckoning before the judgment seat of God for every legitimate pleasure he denied himself in this world.

Very striking, too, is the saying (Berakhot 57b) that three things afford a foretaste in miniature of the bliss of the World to Come: the Sabbath, sexual intercourse, and a sunny day, although the Gemara is doubtful whether sexual intercourse should be included since it results in weakness of the body.

In the light of the above it is difficult to give an unqualified reply to the question of whether Judaism is a this‑worldly or all other‑worldly religion. Risking a generalization, it can be said that the other‑worldly thrust predominates in times of oppression and the this‑worldly in times of prosperity.

The Purpose of This World is to Get to the Next

Moses Hayyim Luzzatto's The Path of the Upright, compiled in the eighteenth century, is typical of the other‑worldly approach. Luzzatto begins his guide to holy living with these words:

"It is the foundation of saintliness and the perfect worship of God for a man to realize what constitutes his duty in his world and to which aim he is required to direct all his endeavors throughout his life. Now our Sages, of blessed memory, have taught us that man was created only to find delight in the Lord and to bask in the radiance of His Shekhinah for this is the true happiness and the greatest of all possible delights. The real place in which such delight can be attained is the World to Come, for this has been prepared to this very purpose. But the way to attain to this desired goal is this world. This world, the Sages remark, is like a vestibule before the World to Come. The means by which man reaches this goal are the precepts God, blessed be He, has commanded us and the place in which the precepts are to be carried out is only in this world. Man is put here in order to earn with the means at his command the place that has been prepared for him in the World to Come."

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.