While Olam Haba is one of the very foundations of Jewish belief, what our classical sources say about it is not so widely known. The more that we understand Olam Haba ourselves, the better we will be able to explain it to our students. We will address this in two essays.
How much can we really understand Olam Haba?
The Rambam wrote:
The early Sages already informed us that we have no ability to grasp the good of Olam Haba clearly. We can’t know its greatness, beauty, and essence, only Hashem alone can. All of the goodness which the prophets prophesized about to Israel was only concerning physical matters which we will enjoy during the times of the Mashiach (Messiah), when kingship and sovereignty will return to Israel. The goodness of life in Olam Haba, however, is beyond our ability to value or compare. [Therefore,] the prophets never described it, in order to not diminish it through their description. This is what the prophet Yeshaya said — “The [human] eye never saw it, only Hashem alone.” And as the Sages said — “All of the prophets only prophesized about the days of Mashiach, but Olam Haba — ‘The [human] eye never saw it, only Hashem alone.’” (Hilchot Teshuva 8:7).
In fact, Rav Dessler suggested that our inability to understand Olam Haba is one reason why it is never explicitly stated in the Torah. He does mention, however, in the name of the Ramban (Acharei Mot — end), that the kritut of the nefesh (the cutting off of the soul) which the Torah does speak about, gives us a strong confidence in the existence of the souls after death, and in the giving of s’char (eternal benefit) in the world of the souls. (Michtav M’Eliyahu 5:389).
Introduction to Olam Haba
The Ramchal explained in Derech Hashem:
G-d’s purpose in creation was to bestow His goodness to another. (1:2:1).
Man must earn this perfection, however, through his own free will and desire. (1:3:1).
G-d’s goodness decreed that there be a limit to [the time period of] man’s effort required to attain perfection. After this period is completed, he attains his level of perfection, and is then able to enjoy it for all of eternity. G-d therefore created two distinct periods, one as a time of earning, and the other as a time of receiving benefit. (1:3:3).
Since the aspect of good is greater, the period of earning is limited, and lasts no longer than G-d’s wisdom decreed suitable for His purpose. The period of reward, however, has no limit, and man continues to derive pleasure from his earned perfection for all of eternity. (1:3:3).
G-d, therefore, created two worlds, Olam Ha’zeh (this world) and Olam Haba (the world to come). (1:3:4).
The purpose of the creation is that man should merit to attain the true good. The end point of this process is a connection to G-d and tranquility in Olam Haba. However, the Highest Wisdom decreed that it would be most fitting and appropriate for man to first exist in Olam Ha’zeh as the ideal preparation to reach this desired purpose. (2:2:1). The ultimate and main place of benefit for good deeds is in Olam Haba, as we have said. The s’char (benefit) for the one who merits it is an eternal bonding with Hashem, and the onesh (negative consequence) is being pushed away from this true good and being lost. (2:2:3).
The Medrash (Bereshit Rabba 1:14) tells us:
The world was made with the letter “beit” [the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet] to teach that there are really two worlds — Olam Ha’zeh and Olam Haba.
Pirkei Avot (4:21–22) spells out the difference between these two worlds:
Rebbe Yaakov says — Olam Ha’zeh (this world) is similar to a lobby leading into Olam Haba (the World to Come). Fix yourself in the lobby in order to enter the banquet hall. He [also] used to say — One moment of teshuva and good deeds in Olam Ha’zeh is greater than all of existence in Olam Haba; and one moment of spiritual pleasure or satisfaction in Olam Haba is greater than all of existence in Olam Ha’zeh.
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Rabbi Asher Resnick serves as a senior lecturer at Aish HaTorah’s Executive Learning Center, and is a senior training lecturer for Aish’s Rabbinical Ordination program. As a close student of Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, he developed a special expertise in addressing fundamental issues in Judaism, as well as in bringing classical texts to life. As a bereaved parent, Rabbi Resnick’s extensive writings on loss, suffering and trauma provide a sensitive Jewish perspective on coping with these fundamental life cycle issues. OlamiResources.com is happy to highlight several essays over the coming months featured on his website JewishClarity.com. This essay should be l’zechut ul’iluy nishmat Ruchama Rivka, a”h, bat Asher Zevulun.