Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 5 October 2002 / 29 Tishri 5763

Olam Haba; Is Mankind Evil

The Color of HeavenArtscroll

What is Olam Haba?

From: A. T. at Johns Hopkins University

Dear Rabbi,

What is the World-to-Come, Olam Haba?


Dear A. T.,

Western society understands the after-life as two different places: Heaven and Hell. Heaven is where people are rewarded after life, and Hell is where they are punished.

However, Judaism does not accept this idea of two different places. Rather, there is one World-to-Come. Its nature, however, depends on one’s manner of conduct in this world.

A powerful, yet cryptic description of Olam Haba is found in the writings of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin:

"The actions themselves of the person constitute the reward in Olam Haba. After the soul departs from the body it rises to take pleasure and satisfaction with the light, energy, and worlds of Kedusha (Holiness) that have been added and multiplied by his good actions. This is what the Sages meant when they said that "All of Israel have a portion to the World-to-Come [We translate it as in the World-to-Come, but the literal translation is to the World-to-Come] and not in the World-to-Come. "In" implies that Olam Haba is ready and waiting from the time of Creation, as if it where something with a separate existence, and if man warrants he will receive a portion of it for his reward [like a piece of candy waiting in G-d’s pocket to be given to whoever deserves it]. In truth, Olam Haba is [made up of] the actions of the person, which he expanded and added and perfected into a place for himself [to dwell]...and so it is with the punishment of Gehenam, the sin itself is his punishment [it becomes the "space" that he will occupy during the time of his "reward"].

As you can see, this is a very complex subject; too complex to deal with in such a short column. I advise you to study the following source texts for a better understanding of this fundamental topic.

Sources:

  • Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan - The Handbook of Jewish Thought, Moznaim Publishing Corporation, edited by Abraham Sutton, 23:11-19.
  • Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin - Nefesh HaChaim 1:12.
  • Rabbi Y.M. Tucazinsky - Gesher HaChaim (The Bridge of Life).

Is Mankind Intrinsically Evil?

From: B. at Columbia University

Dear Rabbi,

Does the fact that we have a Yetzer Hara mean that Mankind is intrinsically evil?


Dear B.,

The Yetzer Hara is commonly translated as the "Evil inclination." Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (the Ramchal) in "The Way of G-d" describes the role of the Yetzer Hara in man’s quest for perfection.

"Man is the creature created for the purpose of being drawn close to G-d. He is placed between perfection and deficiency, with the power to earn perfection. Man must earn this perfection, however, through his own free will...

Man's inclinations are therefore balanced between good [Yetzer Hatov] and evil [Yetzer Hara], and he is not compelled toward either of them. He has the power of choice and is able to choose either side knowingly and willingly..."

The Ramchal explains that this balance existed prior to the sin of Adam. After his sin, however, he became more inclined to listen to the wiles of his Yetzer Hara. His job is now two-fold: First, he must even the balance between the spiritual and the physical. Then, he can work to perfect his soul until his spiritual so overwhelms the physical that the physical becomes elevated to its level of perfection.

The Yetzer Hara is an inclination to "stray," but Mankind has the wherewithal to overcome it. The pull of the Yetzer Hara is the more powerful of the two inclinations, but is by no means impossible to conquer.

The Torah states:

"G-d said to Cain, ‘Why are you so furious? Why are you depressed? If you do good, will there not be special privilege? And if you do not do good, sin is crouching at the door. It lusts after you but you can dominate it.’ "

And the Talmud tells us how:

"So said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Israel: ‘My son, I created the Yetzer Hara and I created for it the Torah as an antidote. If you toil in Torah you will not be handed over into his hands...’ "

Sources:

  • Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto - The Way of G-d, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Feldheim Publishers.
  • The Book of Genesis, 4:6-7, [translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in "The Living Torah", Moznaim Publishing Company].
  • The Talmud - Tractate Kiddushin, p.30b.
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