4/21/20234 min read


The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1) states: All Israel has a share in the world to come. [Is. 60. 21] In Ethics of the Fathers (4:16) Rabbi Ya'akov Kursai, rabbi of Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi said that this world is like a vestibule before the World to Come. "Prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you may enter into the hall of the palace. 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 soul, being "a part of G-d," is immortal: it exists both before its descent into the body and after its departure.The purpose of its descent is twofold:

By serving G-d while clothed in the body below, the soul is enabled to upgrade the status that it will enjoy after leaving the body. Its descent was thus undertaken for the sake of a subsequent ascent. (Conversely, if the soul fails in its mission, it later finds itself below the level which it left before descending into the body.)

King Solomon says (Mishle 20:27): "The soul of man is a lamp of G-d." But why does the Creator of light need a lamp? - Because since the world is dark, the soul of man (a spark from the Divine luminary) is placed within the body and the physical world in order to illuminate it. By thus revealing the hidden Presence of G-d, the soul constructs a dwelling place for Him.

There are two schools of thought as to what is the World to Come:

Rambam [Hilchot Teshuvah 8:1-8; Midrash Tanchuma, Vayikra, sec. 8; Rabbeinu Bachya, Chovot HaLevavot 4:4; R. Yehudah HaLevi, Kuzari 1:109; R. Yosef Albo, Ikkarim 4:30, 33; R. Yeshayahu HaLevi Horowitz, Shnei Luchot HaBrit: Bet David 1:16d] maintain that the World to Come (Olam HaBa) is the World of Souls (Olam HaNeshamot), which is often referred to as the Garden of Eden (Gan Eden). It is from this pool of souls in the spiritual realms that a soul descends into a body, and it is to this same state that the soul returns when it leaves the body at the conclusion of its mission. When the time comes for the Resurrection, the soul will re-enter the resurrected body to receive reward or punishment the body will again die, and the soul will return to the World to Come, i.e., to the World of Souls.

Rambam states: The good that’s sequestered for the righteous is referred to as “life in the World to Come". It is [a form of] life without death, [of] good without bad. It is what the Torah was referring to when it said: "... that it may go well with you, and that you may have length of days" (Deuteronomy 22:7) which means according to the tradition, "... that it may go well with you" in a world that is all good, and "that you may have length of days" in a world that is everlasting, i.e., in the World to Come. This is the sort of delight and goodness that the righteous merit. The retribution the wrongful endure for their wrongdoing entails not meriting such a life and experiencing spiritual excision and death [instead].One who doesn’t merit such a life will [simply] die as if never having lived, for he’ll be spiritually excised for his wrongfulness and will be undone like an animal. This spiritual excision is the one referred to in the verse [that reads]: "That soul will be utterly excised" (Numbers 15:31), which means according to the tradition, "that soul will be ...excised" in this world, "[and] utterly [so]", in the World to Come. That is, the soul that had been “excised” [i.e., cut off] from its body in this life will not merit life in the World to Come, which it will be excised from as well…There is no corporeality in the World to Come, only the bodiless, angel-like souls of the righteous. And since there is no corporeality there, there is neither eating nor drinking, nor anything else there that human physicality requires in this world. In fact, none of the physical things that occur in this world occur there: there’s no sitting, standing, or sleeping; no death, sadness, amusement, or the like…Rather, the righteous sit with crowns on their heads there and bask in G-d's Presence" (Berachot 17b)…when they say that the righteous "sit" there they mean to say allegorically that the souls of the righteous there are unburdened with effort or toil. And when they say that they sit "with crowns on their heads" the sages were referring to the righteous one’s intellect, with which they merit life in the World to Come, and they are saying that it remains with them there…And what they mean when they say that the righteous "bask in G-d's Presence" is that they comprehend and grasp the truth of G-d to a degree which they could not have in a murky and lowly body…Our sages didn’t refer to it as “the World to Come" because it doesn’t yet exist or because this world would eventually be destroyed and be replaced by it. That’s simply not so. The World to Come exists right now. As it is written: "How great is Your goodness [right now, G-d], which You hid away for those who revere You" (Psalms 31:20). The only reason it is called "the World to Come" is because it comes upon a person after life in this world…

In contrast to the view of Rambam, most authorities Ramban, Shaar HaGmul; [Rabbeinu Saadiah Gaon, Emunot VeDeot 6:4 (end of sec. 47 and sec. 49); Raavad on Hilchot Teshuvah of the Rambam 8:8; Kesef Mishneh 8:2; Shnei Luchos HaBrit: Bet David; Chida, Avodat HaKodesh 2:41; Arizal hold that the phrase "World to Come" in the Talmud refers to the era of the Resurrection of the Dead. (This state is called Olam HaTechiyah; literally, 'the World of the Resurrection.')

It goes without saying that both Resurrection and the World of Souls are fundamental concepts in the thinking of all the authorities concerned See Ikkarim4:31; Kesef Mishneh 8:2. The difference lies in the following question: What is the ultimate good? Is it the spiritual World of Souls, as Rambam maintains, or (as conceived by most authorities) will that good become manifest within the context of material reality at the time of the surrection of the Dead.