"Nothing can stand in the way of repentance."
first states that all Israel have a share in the World to Come, but then proceeds to name categories of people who are excluded.
After detailing which kinds of transgressors belong to the categories excluded,
Rambam concludes: "When does the statement that such an individual does not have a share in the World to Come apply? - When he dies without having repented. However, if he repents of his wickedness and dies a penitent,
he will be one of those admitted to the World to Come, for nothing can stand in the way of teshuvah. Even if he denied G-d's existence all his days and repented at the last, he has a share in the World to Come. This is implied by the verse,
'Peace, peace, to the distant and the near, declares G-d, and I shall heal him.' Any wicked person, sinner or apostate, who repents, whether overtly or in private, is accepted. This is implied by the verse,
'Return, wayward children.' Even though he is still wayward, as is apparent from the fact that he repents in private and not overtly, his teshuvah is accepted."
If so, anyone who repents either privately or publicly before he dies will merit a place in the World to Come. But what of those who do not repent before they die?
The Talmudic, Midrashic and Rabbinic sources make it clear that they too will have a place in the World to Come.
- In the first place, a righteous son may secure his wicked and undeserving father admission to the World to Come. Conversely, we find that King David's prayers granted his rebellious son Avshalom access to the World to Come. Moreover, the intercession of R. Yochanan enabled even Acher to be admitted the Garden of Eden, though he was neither a relative nor a student.
- The Talmud138 relates that even though Yehoyakim was a wicked king, he was atoned by the disgrace that his body underwent after death. Elsewhere, too, the Sages teach that the indignity of a body after death is a sign of atonement, and this is stated without any mention of prayers offered by relatives or others.
Moreover, the Jerusalem Talmud states that even Yeravam and his company, of whom the Mishnah says that they will not be granted entry to the World to Come, were in fact admitted after their bodies had been consumed by fire many years after their death.
- The following verse speaks of ultimate repentance: "For die we must, like water that flows on the ground and that cannot be gathered up again; and G-d favors not a soul, but He devises means that he that is banished be not cast away from Him." Citing the closing phrase of this verse as an assurance (that no one banished from G-d by his sins will remain banished), R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi writes that every Jew will eventually repent, either in this incarnation or another.
- The Sages interpret Jeremiah's vision of two baskets of figs, one very good and one very bad, on the non-literal level of derush, making use of the fact that the same Hebrew word (duda'im) can mean either "baskets" or the fragrant plants called mandrakes. To quote their words: "The good figs allude to the perfectly righteous and the bad ones allude to the completely wicked, but lest you think that the latter may be beyond all hope, observe the verse that states, 'And the mandrakes (duda'im) give forth a fragrance.' " The case of the wicked is never hopeless; at some future time, even the basket of seemingly worthless figs will, like the fragrant mandrake, give forth a sweet fragrance.
- The Sages teach that even the sinners among Israel are as full of mitzvos as a pomegranate is full of seeds; they, too, will therefore have a share in the World to Come.
- The Kabbalistic classic entitled Emek HaMelech writes: "Now children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of G-d, and His holy love for us.... Why does G-d trouble Himself with the wicked who anger Him at every possible moment? There are two answers: (1) Even though they are utterly wicked, there are sparks of holiness in them...; their soul which is a part of G-d is eternal...; He breathed it into them; (2) the handiwork of G-d lasts forever and can never cease. It is this second reason that was the point of the patriarch Abraham's prayer when G-d showed him Gehinom and Exile through which all the wicked would be corrected, for He has mercy on all His creatures."
This passage suggests that since the souls of the wicked are "part" of G-d, it is inconceivable that they will not eventually return to Him. It is through the troubles of the exile that this will be achieved. As Rambam points out, based on the opinion of R. Yehoshua, the Torah has promised that at the end of their exile Israel will repent.
- Both Midrash Shmuel and the Alshech write explicitly that the A-mighty troubles Himself with correcting the wicked so that they too will eventually merit a share in the World to Come.
Some path, somewhere, is thus always left open for the footsteps of the wicked who seek atonement. At the end of time, moreover, all the wicked will in fact be granted a share in the World to Come.
What, then, is meant by the mishnah which declares that there are those who have no place in the World to Come?
A close scrutiny of its wording reveals its true intent: "All Israel have a share in the World to Come, as it is said, 'Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in whom I take pride.' And these have no share in the World to Come:..." - and those categories of people are enumerated in the passages that follow. Now surely one would have expected the mishnah to read, "All Israel have a share in the World to Come... except..." The mishnah, however, does not use this word, which would present its two stances as outright opposites. How, then, can it enumerate categories of people who have no share in the World to Come if all Israel do have a share in it?
By way of a solution: The World to Come as mentioned in the mishnah refers (as discussed above) to the Resurrection, viz., the return of the soul into a resurrected body. When the mishnah says that all Israel have a share in the World to Come, it refers to the soul: all souls will eventually be resurrected, even the souls of the wicked, but not all bodies will necessarily be resurrected. As stated above, all souls are repeatedly reincarnated until they have fulfilled all the commandments. If a person was wicked in one incarnation, that body will not be resurrected; instead, his soul will be resurrected in a body that dates from one of its other incarnations.
The above explanation, which builds on the writings of the AriZal, is based on the premise that the soul is cleansed through the process of reincarnation even more than through Gehinnom.
The plain meaning of this punishment, which the Torah reserves for a limited number of serious offenses (including breaking the fast of Yom Kippur), is that the soul is cut off. This is further implied by a statement of the Sages
regarding excision both in this world
and the next.
Rambam defines it as follows: "The reward of the righteous is that they will merit this bliss [i.e., the World to Come] and take part in this good. The retribution of the wicked is that they will not merit this life, but will be cut off and will die. Whoever does not merit this life is truly dead and will not live forever, but will be cut off in his wickedness and perish like a beast. This is the kares of which the Torah writes, 'That soul shall surely be cut off.' [Considering the dual form of the verb, hikares tikares,] the oral tradition explains: hikares means that the soul will be cut off in this world; tikares means that it will be cut off in the World to Come. [Such] a soul that is separated from the body in this world does not merit the life of the World to Come. Rather, even in the World to Come it is cut off....
"The retribution beyond which there is no greater retribution is that the soul will be cut off and not merit this life; as it is written,172 'That soul shall surely be cut off: his sin shall remain upon him.' This is the obliteration of the soul which the prophets referred to metaphorically as 'the pit of destruction,' or 'obliteration'.... All the synonyms for annihilation and destruction are used to refer to it, for it is the ultimate annihilation after which there is no renewal and the ultimate extinction that can never be undone."
There were many who misinterpreted these statements of Rambam as implying that a sinning soul would not undergo punishment in Gehinnom, which is a state of purgatory in the World of Souls. In fact this was one of the reasons for the proposed banning of this work. In its defense, however, Ramban (Nachmanides) cited proofs that Rambam also believed in the existence of other punishments, though he saw excision as the ultimate and final punishment.
At the same time, a concept that left Ramban unconvinced was the ultimate obliteration of a wicked soul. As he writes, it is inconceivable that a sublime soul which is in fact a "spark of G-d" should ever become extinct.
The Kabbalists offer an explanation which is something of a compromise. It is well known that the soul comprises (in ascending order) five levels:
Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah, Yechidah - and only the level of Nefesh can be affected by excision.
As an alternative solution: One of the sources for the concept of everlasting retribution for the worst of the wicked is the Talmudic statement that certain non-believers, informers and others "will descend to Gehinnom and be prosecuted for endless generations...; Gehinnom will eventually come to an end but [their punishment] shall not." According to the simple and classical interpretation of this teaching, though Gehinnom is only a means of correction for the soul, and at some future time it will no longer be needed, these sinners will nevertheless continue to suffer.
The respective authors of Asarah Maamaros and Emek HaMelech interpret otherwise: Gehinnom, which is a negative force, will come to an end, and these souls will eventually be reaccepted and purified.
Combining the above explanation with the Kabbalistic view, it could be said that those in the most extreme of the above categories will be subjected to a long period of excision and will undergo the cleansing of Gehinnom, but when the time comes and Gehinnom has completed its mission in the universe, they too will have been rectified and rehabilitated.
It is also in this light that the commentaries explain the teaching of the Sages,180 that those who sin bodily "descend to Gehinnom where they are prosecuted for twelve months, after which their body ceases to exist and their soul is burned, and the wind scatters them under the feet of the righteous." Here, too, a superficial glance might well give the impression that the souls of the wicked will be destroyed. However, the above commentaries explain that these souls will undergo a change of form: just as something burned returns to ashes, so too will the souls of the wicked be reformed - except that their standing will be far inferior to that of the righteous.
states clearly that the Resurrection applies to Israel, while the commentary entitled Yfei Toar explains that it includes righteous gentiles as well. The Zohar
implies that the idolatrous nations of the world will not be resurrected.
R. Saadiah Gaon
makes a calculation
that when the time comes the world will be extensive enough to accommodate all those resurrected. R. Yaakov Emden
dismisses this calculation: just as the Resurrection will be miraculous, so, too, at that time the earth will miraculously cope with all its inhabitants. In this spirit the Talmud often speaks of situations (such as in the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash
) in which G-d's transcendence of space so completely permeated the physical universe, that a limited area miraculously held many people. The Midrash teaches even more specifically:
"When G-d told Moshe Rabbeinu to convene the Jewish people at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, Moshe complained, 'A-mighty G-d: How can I possibly stand 600,000 men and 600,000 youths at the entrance to the Tent which is a plot of land that is only big enough to yield two seah of grain?' And G-d replied: '...So, too, in time to come, will I do the same in Zion: All the world's population from Adam until the Resurrection will come and complain about the shortage of space, and I will broaden it for them.' "
As to feeding such a population, the Midrash writes: "He who brings the people will provide for them."
After undergoing various forms of rectification, including even reincarnation followed by cleansing in Gehinnom,
all Jewish souls - including the souls of the wicked - will eventually be resurrected, though not all bodies. The principle that "all Israel have a portion in the World to Come" thus refers to the souls. The teachings of the Sages regarding those individuals who will not rise at the Resurrection refer to the bodies of the wicked, whose souls will be resurrected in different bodies.
As to the delicate question of who are the wicked, we can do no better than conclude our chapter with the same quotation with which the Rebbe chose to conclude his classic responsum on this subject: "Blessed be G-d - the G-d of Abraham, the epitome of kindness - Who has not removed His kindness from His people Israel. None shall be left forlorn, for His mercy has no end, and 'all Israel have a share in the World to Come'; as it is written, 'Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in whom I take price.' "
- (Back to text) Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 3:14.
- (Back to text) Sanhedrin 11:1.
- (Back to text) Hilchos Teshuvah 3:6-14. (See also Margaliyos HaYam on Sanhedrin 90a.)
- (Back to text) In the original, baal teshuvah. This, incidentally, is the only correct usage of the Hebrew term. Strictly speaking, a person who today is loosely called a baal teshuvah should be called (as in Shabbos 68b) a tinok shenishba bein haakum (lit., "a child taken into captivity among the gentiles"): since his ignorance stems from circumstances beyond his control, he is obviously blameless.
- (Back to text) Yeshayahu 57:19.
- (Back to text) Yirmeyahu 3:22.
- (Back to text) Sanhedrin 104a.
- (Back to text) Sotah 10b.
- (Back to text) From Sanhedrin 104a it is clear that a father cannot help his son in this way, whereas from Sotah 10b it appears that he can. To resolve this apparent contradiction, Tosafos (Sotah 10b) explains that a righteous son can help his father even without praying, whereas a father must pray for his wicked son. See also: Reishis Chochmah, the chapter entitled Gidul Banim, and Chanoch LaNaar by the Rebbe Rashab, p. 19.
- (Back to text) Chagigah 15b.
- (Back to text) I.e., R. Elisha ben Avuyah.
- (Back to text) The Lubavitcher Rebbe (in Igros Kodesh, Vol. I, p. 143) explains why it was specifically R. Yochanan who prayed for Acher, though he had no family connection. The Sages teach (see Chagigah 15a, Tosafos s.v. Shuvu, citing the Yerushalmi, Rus Rabbah 3:13, Koheles Rabbah 7:8, and Yalkut Shimoni there) that the first of the many reasons for which Acher became a sinner was the fact that when his mother was pregnant with him, she was overpowered by the smell of meat of an idolatrous sacrifice, which she then ate. Might this not serve as an alibi for Acher? The Talmud states (Yoma 35b) that if anyone blames his poverty in this world for his ignorance, the Heavenly Court will cite the example of Hillel, who was extremely poor and yet spent his time in study. So too, the only person whose example could be used to point an accusing finger at Acher was R. Yochanan: his mother also ate such meat before he was born (Yoma 82b), yet he grew up righteous. It was therefore only R. Yochanan who could effectively pray on his behalf.
- (Back to text) See also Sifri (end of Parshas Shoftim) regarding atonement for those who left Egypt by means of an eglah arufah (see end of Sefer Chassidim), but cf. Igros Kodesh (Letters) of the Rebbe, Vol. I, p. 144.
- (Back to text) Sanhedrin 47a, and Rashi there.
- (Back to text) Kilayim 9:3.
- (Back to text) As to the citation in the Talmud Bavli (Rosh HaShanah 17a) of Yeravam as an example of one who will be eternally damned, this could be regarded as describing his spiritual state when alive, without considering the atonement that he was later granted when his body was burned.
- (Back to text) II Shmuel 14:14.
- (Back to text) Both in the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch (Hilchos Talmud Torah 4:3) and in Tanya, end of ch. 39.
- (Back to text) Yirmeyahu, ch. 24.
- (Back to text) Eruvin 21a.
- (Back to text) Shir HaShirim 7:14.
- (Back to text) See also: Rashi on Shir HaShirim 7:14; Shabbos 88b; Tosafos, s.v. Chutz, on Bava Metzia 58b.
- (Back to text) Chagigah 27a.
- (Back to text) In a parallel discussion (Eruvin 19a) the Sages comment on Yeshayahu 66:24, "And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men who have rebelled against Me": This alludes to the sinners of the nations, whereas the sinners of Israel will do penance in Gehinnom, from which Avraham Avinu will ultimately free them. The Talmud excludes one who had relations with a gentile woman, but Tosafos (s.v. Chutz, on Bava Metzia 58b) explains that even this sinner leaves Gehinnom after twelve months. However, Tosafos (s.v Posh'ei, on Chagigah 27a) excludes certain sinners, and see also Tosafos on Rosh HaShanah 17a.
- (Back to text) Shaar Tikkunei Teshuvah, end of ch. 3.
- (Back to text) In the original text, the author cites two phrases from Yeshayahu 60:21: "[The Jewish people are] the branch of My planting, the work of My hands...." The first of the above two answers is based on the former phrase, which likens the soul to a branch of G-d, and the second answer is based on the latter phrase, which affirms that the work of G-d's hands is eternal.
- (Back to text) Similarly, see there in Shaar Olam HaTohu, ch. 31, and in Shaar Ava, at the end of ch. 46.
- (Back to text) Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5.
- (Back to text) Sanhedrin 97b.
- (Back to text) Beginning of Pirkei Avos.
- (Back to text) On Parshas Shemini.
- (Back to text) Sanhedrin 11:1.
- (Back to text) Yeshayahu 60:21.
- (Back to text) Igros Kodesh (Letters) of the Rebbe, Vol. I, p. 149, footnote 7.
The entire thrust of the present chapter rests heavily on this comprehensive and closely-documented letter (beginning on p. 141), which the Rebbe wrote in 5703  in response to the query of a private individual.
- (Back to text) As explained in the above-quoted source, the mishnah is to be understood as follows: "All Israel have a share in the World to Come..." - this refers to the souls; "and these have no share..." - this refers to those bodies that will not merit the Resurrection. Since the two parts of the mishnah thus speak of two diverse subjects, it is obvious that it would be inappropriate to say "except."
Suppose it were to be argued that the mishnah says "and these" and not "except" because, after having interpolated a prooftext from Yeshayahu, it was obliged to resume its theme by reiterating a phrase that recalls its opening statement. The reply: Parallel cases in the opening mishnah of Zevachim and of Menachos (and see also Yevamos 2:5) likewise interpolate explanatory matter between a general principle and its exceptions, but still revert to the exception with "except".
Alternatively, it might be argued that the mishnah finds it appropriate to introduce its lengthy list (of those who do not have a share in the World to Come) not simply and briefly with "except", but with a more portentous phrase. The reply: In a parallel case at the very beginning of Tractate Chagigah (and likewise in the above-mentioned citations from Zevachim and Menachos), the word "except" is nevertheless used.
It is thus clear that the expression "and these [have no share in the World to Come]" is used advisedly because - unlike "except" - it does not connote utter exclusion. Since it expresses a more temperate reservation, it allows us to understand that in each of the cases enumerated only the body will not return, whereas the soul will be resurrected, since all Israel have a share in the World to Come.
- (Back to text) Shaar HaGilgulim, Introduction 11, and Sefer HaGilgulim, ch. 5.
Other contradictions, too, may be resolved by this explanation. For example: The Talmud (in Sanhedrin 107b) states that the generation that built the Tower of Babel (and was thereafter dispersed throughout the world) have no share in the World to Come. As pointed out by the Rebbe Maharash (in Toras Shmuel, Shaar 6, ch. 14, and also in the derush on Parshas Tzav, 5639), this would appear to contradict the statement in Pri Etz Chaim (Shaar Chag HaMatzos, ch. 1) that the Jews in Egypt were a reincarnation of that generation. Perceived from the above perspective, the seeming contradiction disappears: The bodies of that generation will indeed not be resurrected; their souls, however, were refined and elevated in Egypt.
The same perspective can resolve another apparent anomaly: R. Akiva (Sanhedrin 11:3) teaches that the generation that wandered in the Wilderness will have no place in the World to Come, whereas the writings of the AriZal (Shaar HaLikkutim, Shmos 3:4; Shaar HaGilgulim, Introduction 20) state that the generation of the Wilderness will be reincarnated in the generation before Mashiach comes. (In Sefer Asarah Maamaros, Maamar Chikur Din 2:8, the view of R. Akiva is explained differently.)
The same distinction between the sometimes separate destinies of soul and body is to be found in the commentary of Mikdash Melech on the Zohar (III, 276a) that explains the statement of the above-quoted mishnah in Sanhedrin (11:3) that the Spies have no share in the World to Come: though their bodies will not be resurrected, their souls will be. (This resolution also solves the problem raised by Nitzutzei Oros on the Zohar there.)
The teaching of the Jerusalem Talmud (Kilayim 9:3) on Yerovam, that was mentioned early in this chapter, may also be interpreted in this light.
See also Igros Kodesh (Letters) of the Rebbe, Vol. I, p. 149, footnote 8.
- (Back to text) Reishis Chochmah, Shaar HaYirah, end of ch. 3, in the name of the Ramak; see also Shiur Komah, ch. 84. See also ch. 4 above.
- (Back to text) Sanhedrin 64b, reflected in the quotation from Rambam below.
- (Back to text) In former times, a person punishable by kares would die before reaching the age of fifty (Moed Katan 28a, and see Tosafos there). In Tanya - Iggeres HaTeshuvah, ch. 5ff., the Alter Rebbe defines the Kabbalistic sense of kares and explains why this is not evident today.
- (Back to text) Hilchos Teshuvah 8:1.
- (Back to text) Bamidbar 15:31.
- (Back to text) Hilchos Teshuvah 8:5.
- (Back to text) Tehillim 55:24.
- (Back to text) Ibid. 88:12.
- (Back to text) See the commentary of Rambam LaAm on Hilchos Teshuvah, p. 248.
- (Back to text) For Ramban in Shaar HaGemul - quoted somewhat differently in the Mefaresh on the Rambam - excision means that the Divine soul naturally wishes to return to its true source. However, since the coarseness of its experience in the body prevents it from doing so, in that sense it is cut off. What remains problematic is the Ramban's forecast of everlasting judgment for the absolutely wicked and the non-believers, based on the statement of the Sages (Rosh HaShanah 17a) that "they will descend to Gehinnom and be prosecuted for endless generations...; Gehinnom will eventually come to an end but [their punishment] shall not."
- (Back to text) Bereishis Rabbah 14:9; Devarim Rabbah 2:9.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah by the AriZal, Parshas Bo; Sefer HaLikkutim, Parshas Lech Lecha; Sefer HaGilgulim, ch. 6.
- (Back to text) Rosh HaShanah 17a.
- (Back to text) Maamar Chikur Din 5:1.
- (Back to text) Shaar Tikkunei HaTeshuvah, sec. 3; see also Shaar Kiryas Arba, sec. 152.
- (Back to text) At first glance, the suggestion that Gehinnom will come to an end would appear to contradict the Talmudic teaching (Pesachim 54a), that "the light that G-d created on the second day of Creation [Rashi: 'i.e., the light of Gehinnom'] will not be extinguished forever." However, it is pointed out in Asarah Maamaros, Maamar Chikur Din 5:5, and in Emek HaMelech, Shaar Shaashuei HaMelech, ch. 1, that when the Talmud uses the expression olamis ("forever"), it does not mean "for eternity," but for the entire duration of this world (olam - lit., "world"). When, however, we move into the era of the World to Come, i.e., when G-d will remove all evil and the tranquillity of Shabbos will reign, then Gehinnom will also cease to exist.
- (Back to text) See Ramban, Shaar HaGemul; Asarah Maamaros, Maamar Chikur Din 5:7; Emek HaMelech, Shaar Ava, ch. 46.
- (Back to text) Bereishis Rabbah 13:6.
- (Back to text) I, 181b.
- (Back to text) See also Rabbeinu Bachye, Parshas Noach 6:12, 11:10. Abarbanel, however, in Maayanei HaYeshuah, p. 11a, writes that Resurrection will apply to all of mankind. He notes two purposes in this: (1) It would be unfair to all the generations who hoped for the coming of Mashiach if only those who had the good fortune to be alive at that time would be privileged to enjoy the benefits of the Redemption. Therefore all the dead will be resurrected - the righteous to enjoy the benefits they merited, and the enemies of Israel in order to witness their own ultimate downfall. (2) The nations then to be resurrected will realize the folly of their beliefs and will acknowledge G-d's sovereignty, in the spirit of the prophecy that appears (for example) in Zephaniah 3:9: "For I shall then make the nations pure of speech, so that they will all call upon the Name of G-d and serve Him with one purpose."
Other authorities, however, hold that only the righteous will merit resurrection; see: R. Saadiah Gaon, Emunos VeDeos, ch. 7; Rambam, Peirush HaMishnayos, Sanhedrin, ch. 10; Ramban, Shaar HaGemul, sec. 11.
- (Back to text) Emunos VeDeos, Maamar 7:8.
- (Back to text) Explained by Mabit in Beis Elokim, Shaar HaYesodos, ch. 59.
- (Back to text) In his commentary on the Siddur, in the Maamados for Friday.
- (Back to text) Avos 5:5.
- (Back to text) Tanchuma, Parshas Tzav, sec. 12.
- (Back to text) Koheles Rabbah 5:10. See also at length in Emunas HaTechiyah, ch. 6.
- (Back to text) Ch. 10 below cites the view that there will be no eating - for nutritional purposes - after the Resurrection.
- (Back to text) Emek HaMelech, Shaar Tikkunei Teshuvah, ch. 1.
- (Back to text) Midrash Talpios (Anaf Chelek LeOlam HaBa) cites a different interpretation in the name of Rabbeinu Bachye and Recanati: The statement of the mishnah, "And these have no share in the World to Come," means that these individuals have no recognizable share of their own, but they do benefit from the "storehouses of charity" that are reserved for those who did not merit a share in the World to Come.
In his Igros Kodesh (Letters), Vol. I, p. 150, the Rebbe explains the teaching of the Gemara (Taanis 7a) that "Resurrection is only for the righteous."
- (Back to text) From Emek HaMelech, Shaar Reisha DeZa, end of ch. 48.
- (Back to text) Igros Kodesh (Letters) of the Rebbe, Vol. I, p. 153.
- (Back to text) Sanhedrin 11:1.
- (Back to text) Yeshayahu 60:21.