The tenth perek begins25
All Yisrael have a share to the World to Come26, as it says, “And your nation, they are all righteous, they will inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, my handiwork in which I delight” (Yeshayahu 60:21).
At a cursory glance, this statement could lead to complacency. By virtue of being part of Yisrael, one has their share without doing anything. People might then, G-d forbid, only heed to Hashem’s command or be motivated in spiritual endeavours at the their convenience, as their share appears to be guaranteed. A closer analysis of this statement however leads to the opposite conclusion.
The initial assumption that a guaranteed share implies a utopian result for all is smashed by the Meiri (Sanhedrin 90a). He writes that indeed both tzadikim and reshaim27 have a share, but we forget about the process that a rasha undergoes before he can enjoy that share. The Meiri explains that first the rasha is judged and then punished appropriately, both in terms of severity and duration. Similarly, the Tosfot (Ketubot 103b, mezuman) explain that there are exceptional individuals that avoid this process altogether.
The Maharsha highlights a different implication of the above statement. Granted that even those given a capital punishment have a “share”, not all “shares” are equal. He sites another Gemara (Bava Batra 75a) that states in the future each tzadik will be “singed’ by the “canopy” of other tzadikim. The Maharsha there explains that the “canopies” will be constructed in merit of the mitzvot performed. It will be recognisable in these “canopies” the excellence in which the mitzvah was performed. Now each tzadik has a particular mitzvah in which they excelled over and above other tzadikim. Therefore they will not be embarrassed in the face of other tzadikim, but rather “singed” at the recognition of how they could have better performed other mitzvot. The natural reaction should be dread for those that have not excelled in any. This is supported as the Gemara continues by lamenting “Woe to the [future] shame, woe to the [future] disgrace.”
R’ Chaim Volozhiner (Ruach Chaim) hits a similar point by being precise in the language in the Mishnah. He explains that the Mishnah is commonly explained as saying that “All Yisrael have a share in the World to Come”. Such a reading would imply that there is a fixed share awaiting each person; one just needs to earn the “entry-pass”. The real translation however is that “All Yisrael have a share to the world to come.” The difference is astounding. All of Yisrael have the entry-pass; what one finds there however is a direct product of his actions.
What does R’ Chaim then derive from the word “chelek” (essential to the opinion of the Maharsha)? One could perhaps suggest that this “entry-pass” is not a dedicated pass for each individual, but rather each person has a share in this pass – the “le’olam”. Who are the “share-holders”? “Kol Yisrael” – those that bear the name Yisrael – explaining the continuation of the Mishnah that enumerates those that loose that title.
One could suggest that there is a difference between the Maharsha and R’ Chaim. We have stated that according to the R’ Chaim all that is there in the World to Come is product of one’s actions; all we have guaranteed is the “le’olam” – the entry pass. The Maharsha derives his point from the word “chelek”. One could suggest that accordingly even a portion is guaranteed, but the quality of that portion is determined by our actions. The “land” can either be nourished and developed or, G-d forbid, sullied and ruined.28 This is perhaps what is implied by the Maharal who explains that when the pasuk writes “And your nation, they are all righteous”, it means that the nation, prior even to any mitzvot or good deeds have a share as they were created in a pristine condition. One learns that we were given a treasure – do not spoil it!
Therefore while the Mishnah provides consolation for those punished for a capital offence, it also serves as a stark reminder of the very real ramification of our actions.
25 The Gemara reverses the order of the last two perakim (this perek being the eleventh). See the Tosfot Yom Tov for the rational of both orderings. Also, the Chochmat Shlomo has a version of Rashi that explains that this statement is an Aggadah and instead the Mishnah really begins with, “These are the people that have no share to the world to come.” It was added to ensure that the perek begins on a high note.
26 The meaning of this term is debated by the Rishonim, which is however beyond the scope of this article.
27 The Meiri explains that the term “rasha” here refers to those whose sins outweigh (not outnumber) their good deeds.
28 See Shmirat HaLashon (2:2) for a vivid description of this concept.
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