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I Will Write It In Their Hearts - Volume 1
Letters from the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A detailed explanation of the concept that every Jew, regardless of his conduct, will merit resurrection

Translated by: Rabbi Eli Touger

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  The dissemination of the texts published by Merkos L'Inyonei ChinuchTable of contentsA contrast between the war against Midian and the war to conquer the seven Canaanite nations; the Divine service of the tribe of Levi  

No. 85

This letter was sent to Rabbi David Stockhammer, a G-d-fearing and scholarly schochet in Newark, NJ. As the Rebbe's introductory letter explains, Rabbi Stockhammer had questioned public statements made by the Rebbe. The Rebbe answered him with a lengthy treatise explaining that every Jew will ultimately merit Resurrection. That treatise was later edited and published in Kovetz Lubavitch and subsequently, in other sources.
Our translation[1] includes the introductory passage from the original letter, and the treatise as it was later reworked.
B"H, Monday, Tammuz 16, 5703
Greetings and blessings,

You had questioned the statement that I made at the Siyyum of the Six Orders of the Mishnah by Heart: that there is hope for every Jew, whoever he is, even one who has, heaven forbid, been utterly wicked for his entire life. Ultimately, either willingly, or because he will be forced to from Above, in his lifetime or afterwards, he will be elevated from the gates of impurity in which he is mired and will be forced to pass through several stages of purification and refinement until he will also become one with and cling to his source in the Or Ein Sof.

You protested that this statement was problematic and that there were several statements [of our Sages] that appear to contradict it.

The source for this statement is found in several places. Among them:

the maamar entitled Ki Yishalcha Bincha, 5700, sec. 1, which states:

"All Israel possess a portion in the World to Come."[2] [This refers to] the World of Resurrection.... The difference between Gan Eden[3] and the World of the Resurrection is that with regard to Gan Eden, it is written:[4] "Who will ascend the mountain of G-d?... He who has clean hands and a pure heart."

[I.e.,] there are several conditions [that must be met] for a person to ascend to Gan Eden.... There are some who merit to ascend only to the lower Gan Eden and do not merit to ascend to the higher Gan Eden....

In general, the revelations in Gan Eden are to souls [as they are] not [enclothed in] bodies. The World of Resurrection, in contrast, refers to the resurrection of the dead, [when the souls will be enclothed in bodies again]. And our Sages say: "All Israel possess a portion in the World to Come." For everything will come into revelation at the time of the resurrection, although there will be a more severe judgment and trial than is necessary in order to receive the revelations of Gan Eden.... And the revelation as a whole will be [granted] to souls as they are enclothed in bodies....

The foundation for these concepts is found in the maamar of the Alter Rebbe entitled Lehavin Biur Inyan HaAvos Hein Hein HaMerkavah (Torah Or, Parshas Yisro, sec. 3-4) which states:

The [term] World to Come refers to Gan Eden and to the resurrection of the dead. As explained by the commentaries[5] and by the Ramban, Shaar HaGammul, the essential reward of the World to Come will be at the time of the resurrection of the dead. The advantage of the resurrection of the dead is greater than that of the higher Gan Eden. In Gan Eden, the souls exist without bodies... while at the resurrection of the dead, they will arise in their bodies....

Even the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvos as a pomegranate is filled with seeds.[6] Therefore, "All Israel possess a share in the World to Come," i.e., the resurrection of the dead, with the exception of those few mentioned by our Sages.[7]

See also the first maamar entitled Ani Havayah Elokeichem (Likkutei Torah, Parshas Shelach) and the third section of the second maamar of that title [in that source].

Since there are some statements [of our Sages] that - at first glance - [appear to] contradict these statements, I will quote some other statements of our Sages which, in my humble opinion, served as a source for the statements in these maamarim, and [will attempt] to explain and resolve the questions that can be raised concerning them.

  1. At the outset, it should be explained using [sources within] the Talmud and the halachic authorities that there is a possibility that even utterly wicked people who have committed severe sins[8] will ultimately merit the resurrection (but not Gan Eden, as above). Among them:

    1. The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 90a) states: "All Israel possess a portion in the World to Come.... These are [the individuals] who do not possess a portion...: Yeravam, Achav, and Menasheh." The Rambam rules (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah, ch. 3):

      All Israel, even those who have sinned, possess a portion in the World to Come.... These individuals do not possess a portion....

      When does the statement that all such individuals do not possess a portion in the World to Come apply? When they die without having repented. However, if [such a person] repents of his wickedness and dies in teshuvah...even if he denied G-d's existence all his days and repented at the end, he has a portion in the World to Come. (See the Talmud Yerushalmi, Pe'ah 1:1).

      The Rambam proceeds, continuing:

      All the wicked, the apostates, and the like who repent ... [even] secretively ... [are accepted].... Even though [a person] is still wayward, as is apparent from the fact that he repents in private and not overtly, his teshuvah is accepted.

    2. On a lower level are those who did not repent, even secretively, but instead, died in their wickedness. Is there a possibility that [their situation be] amended?

      Our Sages comment (Sanhedrin 104a): "A son brings merit to his father." This means that a righteous son may secure his father admission to the World to Come. [This applies in an instance when the father] has died and would otherwise be included among those who do not possess a portion in the World to Come. [The son's influence helps,] even though he does not pray for [his father's sake]. For with the influence of prayer, even a father can bring merit to a son, as stated in the second resolution offered by Tosafos, entry diassuyei (Sotah 10b).[9]

      Moreover, the efforts and the prayers of others who share no family connection can also avail. Thus Chagigah 15b states that the intercession of R. Yochanan aided Acher[10] (and even enabled him to be admitted to Gan Eden), though he was neither a relative nor a student.[11]

      - The prayers of others are not, however, as effective as the prayers of a son or a father. [Indeed, we find] several levels of prayer dependent on [the nature of] the person praying, the place of prayer, and other factors. This is not the place for the discussion of that issue. -

      There is another proof that the prayers of others can be effective even after [a person's] death. The Sifri (the conclusion of Parshas Shoftim) states that all the [Jews who] left Egypt and died [many years] previously are granted atonement when the elders of one city bring an eglah arufah. See the interpretation of this statement at the conclusion of Sefer Chassidim.

      It is possible to make a distinction in this instance, [arguing] that [with regard to an eglah arufah], the court are the agents of the entire city and a sin was committed in that city. Thus they are only removing from [the Jews who] left Egypt [the responsibility] for the transgression perpetrated by the people on whose behalf the court acted and they atone [for only this matter].

      This, however, does not appear [to be the intent of the Sifri]. For from this passage, [our Rabbis] derive the practice of making vows of charity for the sake of the dead, as stated in [the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch] (Orach Chayim, the conclusion of ch. 621). And it is Jewish custom to make vows even for the sake of deceased individuals who are not one's relatives.

      Nevertheless, the situation is not entirely comparable to the matter discussed here. For there, the discussion concerns righteous people who have died who, we would assume, would have given charity while alive. Such gifts are not, however, effective for the wicked, as the Magen Avraham states [in his gloss] there.

    3. On a lower level is a person [whose conduct is comparable to] those of whom it is said that they will not be granted a portion in the World to Come; they did not repent; nor did anyone pray on their behalf, nor was charity given for their sake. Nevertheless, a portion in the World to Come will be withheld from such a person only when he did not receive retribution[12] after death. If, by contrast, he did receive retribution, this retribution saves him and enables him [to receive a portion in the World to Come].

      In this vein, our Sages (Sanhedrin 47a) state that it is a positive omen for a deceased person to receive retribution after death. (Rashi states that this conveys atonement upon him.) Even very exceedingly wicked people can be aided in this manner. Thus [Sanhedrin 103b] states that Yehoyakim was [a wicked king and] it would have been appropriate to mention him together with Yeravam, Achav, and Menasheh. Indeed, he angered [G-d] more than Menasheh.[13] Nevertheless, he was granted atonement because of the disgrace [that his body underwent] after death.

      Moreover, even with regard to Yeravam and his company, of whom [the Mishnah says] that they will not be granted entry to the World to Come, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Kilayim 9:3) states that the attribute of judgment was visited upon them when their bodies were consumed by fire many years after their death. Together with the merit of Eretz Yisrael, that will enable them to merit resurrection.[14]

      There is no room to question [this interpretation], asking: If so, what is the difference between Yeravam and his colleagues who are mentioned by the mishnah as examples of individuals who will not receive a portion in the World to Come although [according to the Talmud Yerushalmi] they received atonement afterwards, and Yehoyakim who is not mentioned.[15]

      Nevertheless, the two situations are not comparable. With regard to Yehoyakim, the decree to be buried like a donkey[16] was [the chastisement meted out] for his sin, and this was decreed upon him during his lifetime.[17] With regard to Yeravam and his colleagues, in contrast, the punishment of burning was not decreed against their [bodies], but on Eretz Yisrael [as a whole]. And this decree was [issued] many years [after their death].[18] Nevertheless, they were buried there, and their bodies were also burnt. Thus with regard to them, as they exist in their own right, it can be said that they do not possess a portion in the World to Come.[19]

  2. After explaining the possibility [that these souls will merit a portion in the World to Come] above, it is appropriate to bring proof that this will in fact be true. Each and every Jew, whomever he may be, will ultimately become one with his root and source. To elaborate:

    It is explained above that teshuvah abets all. And our Sages state (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5, following the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua in Sanhedrin 97b): "The Torah has already promised that ultimately the Jewish people will repent at the conclusion of their exile."

    It is possible to say, however, that this statement follows the general rule[20] that "the Torah speaks with regard to the majority," i.e., the majority of the Jewish people [will repent]. Thus it is not a proof that every Jew, even the utterly wicked, will repent.

    That concept is, however, stated in Eruvin 21b where [our Sages interpret Yirmeyahu's vision[21] of two baskets of figs, one very good and one very bad, on the non-literal level of derush].[22] To quote: "The good figs allude to the perfectly righteous and the bad ones, to the utterly wicked. Lest you think that the latter may be beyond all hope and their opportunity lost, observe the verse that states,[23] 'And the mandrakes (duda'im) give forth a fragrance.' Implied is that both [baskets] will ultimately produce fragrance."

    The statement that they will produce fragrance serves as proof that the intent is not merely that ultimately, the judgment being visited upon them will cease, and they will neither live, nor be subjugated to punishment, but they will remain without experiencing good or evil, as stated by Tosafos, entry Chutz, Bava Metzia 58b.

    [Instead, the intent is that the wicked will ultimately reveal their positive potential. This interpretation is borne out by] the interpretation (Shabbos 88b) of the verse:[24] "While the king was at his table, my nard[25] gave forth its fragrance."[26] See also Rashi's commentary to Shir HaShirim 7:14: "The mandrakes give forth a fragrance": "Both the good and the bad[27].... These are the sinners of Israel.... All seek Your countenance. At our entrances, we have all sorts of delicacies in our hands, i.e., the reward for many mitzvos." [His rationale is,] as stated above, that even the sinners among Israel will receive a portion in the World to Come, for they are as full of mitzvos as a pomegranate is full of seeds.

    In a parallel discussion (Eruvin 19a), our Sages interpret Yeshayahu 66:24, "And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men who have rebelled.... Their fire will never be extinguished" as referring to the sinners among the gentile nations. With regard to the sinners of Israel, "They will be required to abide in Gehinnom for a limited time and then Avraham Avinu will release them (i.e., their judgment ceases) and (moreover,) he accepts them." Although the Talmud states that this does not apply to a person who had relations with a gentile woman, Tosafos (entry Chutz, Bava Metzia 58b) explains that such a sinner does not ascend immediately, but instead he must remain in [Gehinnom] for twelve months. [Ultimately, however, even he ascends.]

    It is, however, possible to refute this proof based on the statements of Tosafos (entry Posh'ei, Chagigah 27a) which excludes "the sinners of Israel with their bodies." There is no room to question [the interpretation of] Tosafos in Chagigah based on the passage in Eruvin which refers to sinners among the gentiles and not to "the sinners of Israel with their bodies." For [by speaking of the sinners among the gentiles,] the interpretation receives more widespread application. [This resolution of Tosafos' position is, however, somewhat forced. Also, some explanation is required to reconcile the Tosafos in Chagigah with Tosafos' comments Rosh HaShanah 17a, entry Ki.

    The verse from the Tanach which serves as a source for the concept that each and every Jew will ultimately cling to his source is II Shmuel 14:14: "He devises means so that the estranged will not be cast away from Him." The Alter Rebbe cites [the closing phrase of] this verse in his Shulchan Aruch (Hilchos Talmud Torah 4:3) as the prooftext for the concept that "[Every] wicked person will turn to G-d in teshuvah in one incarnation or another." And in Tanya, end of ch. 39, he cites it as a prooftext for the statement: "Certainly, he[28] will ultimately repent in one incarnation or another." Note further references to this verse.

    (There is a need for some explanation with regard to the statements of the Ramban in the Shaar HaGammul, the passage beginning viachshav nachzor. There he writes: " 'So that the estranged will not be cast away from Him' with the exception of those who are not vindicated in judgment, are cut off within [Gehinnom] and perish there.")

  3. When we deepen our understanding of the motivating rationale for this principle, it is obvious that it must be true.

    [As a basis,] I will quote - since the text is not easily found - [the Kabbalistic classic entitled] Emek HaMelech (Shaar Tikkunei Teshuvah, end of ch. 3):

    No. children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of G-d,[29] and His holy love for us, the children of the living G-d.[30] Why does G-d trouble Himself with the wicked who anger Him at every possible moment? There are two answers:

    The first answer is that even though they are utterly wicked,... there are sparks of holiness in them.... They are "the branch of My planting."[31]... [Their souls] are a part of G-d which is eternal...; The souls are the imprint of the light of His essence. And anyone (perhaps the intent is "Because anyone") who breathes deeply, breathes out from his depths.[32] Moreover, the Jews are "the work of My hands in which to take pride." The Holy One and His handiwork remain alive forever and ever. It is impossible that they will be nullified.

    The second answer is that [this] results from our Patriarch Abraham's prayer.... The Holy One showed him Gehinnom and the subjugation [Israel would suffer under] the gentile nations through which all those who would perish could be corrected... for He has mercy on all His created beings.

    Similar statements are found in Shaar Olam HaTohu, ch. 31. And in Shaar Abba VeImma, at the end of ch. 46, he writes:

    "So that the estranged will not be cast away from Him."... Why all [these efforts to bring back the estranged]? Because the Holy One Himself built worlds and destroyed them[33] so that there would be good and evil in the world. These individuals were overcome by evil to the point that they inherited Gehinnom.... Nevertheless, since He caused their harm, [as it were,][34] He "lowers to the grave and raises up,"[35] lifting [the wicked from Gehinnom.... And they will proceed from strength to strength until after much time they will be able to be included among the righteous.

    Similarly, the Midrash Shmuel, in the beginning of his commentary to Pirkei Avos, in the interpretation of the mishnah, "All Israel possess a portion..." writes:

    The intent of the term "World to Come" here is the World of Resurrection. G-d will not bear the soul of the wicked [to remain in its depravity;] thus ultimately it will be purified and come to rest among the righteous.... A similar pattern will apply for all souls until they all are rectified.... This is implied by the prooftext: "Your nation are all righteous," i.e., ultimately, they must all become righteous because He devises means so that the estranged will not be cast away from Him."

    Similar concepts are also found in the commentary of the Alshich, Parshas Shemini.

    The foundation for all these statements is found in Likkutei HaShas of the AriZal, tractate Avos, which states:

    "All Israel possess a portion in the World to Come."... It is only that one [soul] will correct itself in a short period of time, and another, in a longer period. Ultimately, however, [all] will be included among the righteous. For this purpose, the Holy One, blessed be He, troubles Himself, as it were, with these type of wicked men to correct them.... Why all these [efforts]? Because they are "the shoot of My planting." And they are the imprint of the light of His essence, for anyone who breathes deeply, breathes out from his depths.

    See also the Ramban, Shaar HaGammul (which is quoted later on) who states: "The soul which is from above cannot possibly be nullified or perish."

  4. After explaining in the previous sections:

    1. It is possible that every Jew, regardless of his identity, will merit the resurrection of the dead;

    2. that it is stated in many sources that this will in fact transpire; and

    3. we are [logically] forced to say that this is true,

    we will explain some of the statements of our Sages which appear to contradict this principle. [From] the explanations which are provided, a person will be able to understand the remaining references.

    1. The mishnah states (Sanhedrin 90a): "All Israel possess a portion in the World to Come.... These are [the individuals] who do not possess a portion."

      It was explained in sec. I that repentance, retribution after death, prayer and other factors can enable even such individuals to receive a share in the World to Come. Nevertheless, the individuals from this category who did not repent, did not suffer retribution, and for whom others did not pray will not arise at the resurrection of the dead. - Indeed, this is stated in the maamar entitled Lehavin Inyan HaAvos cited in sec. I, which states: "All Israel possess a share in the World to Come ... with the exception of those few mentioned by our Sages."

      {The possibility that there will be individuals who will not merit resurrection] appears to contradict the explanations in sec. III which state that every soul must be eternal; it is impossible for it to be nullified, because it is "the shoot of My planting," and [hence,] it will ultimately be included among the righteous. Just as there can't be a soul which is not "the shoot of My planting and the work of My hands"; so, too, it is impossible that even one soul will perish and will not arise in the resurrection of the dead.

      It is true that there are some matters - including some mentioned in Scriptures and in the Talmud at length - concerning which our Sages say: "They never existed and they will never exist" (Sanhedrin 71a).[36] Nevertheless, it would be very forced to explain that there never was and there never will be a person from the category of those who will not possess a portion in the World to Come, who did not receive retribution and for whom others did not pray. [Thus, the question remains: seemingly, the fact that there will be individuals who do not arise in the Era of the Resurrection would appear to be a contradiction to the explanations above concerning the eternality of the soul.]

      In truth, however, there is no contradiction. For as mentioned in the beginning of this treatise, the term "the resurrection of the dead" is universally interpreted as referring to the resurrection of the soul and the body. With regard to those whom our Sages mentioned as not arising in the resurrection, the intent is that their bodies will be destroyed and perish. Their souls, which are "the shoot of My planting," will arise in the resurrection in another body.[37]

      This concept is explained in Shaar HaGilgulim, Introduction 11, and in Sefer HaGilgulim, ch. 5, which state:

      If the spark (i.e., a particular soul) ... will commit a sin of the type [for which the retribution is that] the body will be destroyed and perish and will not arise in the World to Come... since that body will be destroyed, the spark will reincarnate in another body. [That other body] will arise in the Era of the Resurrection with all the elements of the spark, and the first body will perish and be cut off.[38]

    2. Taanis 7a states: "Rabbi Abahu declares: 'The day of rain is greater than the Resurrection of the Dead. For the Resurrection of the Dead is only for the righteous, while rain is for the righteous and for the wicked.' " The Talmud does state that this statement differs with Rav Yosef's view. Nevertheless, the fact that the Rambam (in his Commentary to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10:1) cites[39] Rabbi Abahu's statement appears to imply that the halachah follows this view. Thus this appears to contradict the above statement that every Jew will be resurrected.

      The apparent contradiction is even greater according to the version of the passage from Taanis (quoted by the Sefer HaIkkarim, Maamar 4, ch. 31, and Avodas HaKodesh, Vol. II, ch. 42): "The Resurrection of the Dead is only for the completely righteous." The question is further magnified by the explanation in Tanya (chs. 10 and 14) of the nature of [the rung of] the completely righteous, that with regard to them, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said:[40] "I saw lofty men and they were few." It is a level which is a microcosm of the World to Come.

      The statement of Rabbi Abahu thus requires explanation regardless, for otherwise it will appear as a contradiction to the mishnah which states: "All Israel possess a portion in the World to Come" with [only several exclusions], "those who say that the Resurrection of the Dead does not have a source in the Torah...."

      Therefore we are forced to say that Rabbi Abahu is speaking about "the righteous" mentioned in the verse: "And Your nation are all righteous," with the exception of those mentioned by our Sages. For, as the commentaries explain, there are many rationales on which basis the entire Jewish people can be described as righteous.[41]

      Based on the explanations in sec. III, the explanation of this concept can be expanded. There it was explained that before [the wicked] will merit the Resurrection of the Dead, they will be refined and purified from their sin until they will be on the level of the righteous. Only then will they "inherit the land." Thus everyone who will possess a portion of the World to Come will attain the level of the perfectly righteous beforehand and then they will arise in the Resurrection. (As explained above, Tanya [states] that [the level of] a perfectly righteous man is a microcosm of the World to Come.) Thus Rabbi Abahu's statement can be understood in this manner.

    3. With regard to the punishment of kares for idolatry and severe sins of this type, our Sages state (Sanhedrin 64b): "[It is written:][42] apbv ,rf, ,rfv, 'That soul shall surely be cut off.' [The repetition of the root in the expression hikares tikares, leads to the interpretation] hikares in this world; tikares in the World to Come."

      [On this basis,] the Rambam [rules] (Hilchos Teshuvah 8:1): "The wicked will be cut off and will die.... He will be cut off in his wickedness and will perish. This is [the meaning of kares]."[43]

      The Ramban in Shaar HaGammul (- quoted somewhat differently in the Mefaresh on the Rambam -) does not think this way. He states:

      [With regard to being] "cut off":... This soul, which is sublime, cannot possibly be nullified or perish. Nor will it return to an animal nature and be joined to the four elements. [Instead, after death, the soul,] because of its intellect, is drawn to ascend and cling to the higher realms, as is the tendency of all entities to return (to their elemental state). Nevertheless, the thick coarseness and the crudeness of the sins that separate it from its Creator prevent it from doing so.... This is the intent of "being cut off," that [the soul] is cut off from its elemental state.

      [Despite this explanation of the eternality of the soul,] the Ramban nevertheless states that: "The absolutely wicked [who commit] severe [sins] will be judged for generation upon generation ... as it is written:[44] 'Their decay will not cease.' "

      He is referring to the heretics and apostates of whom our Sages said (Rosh HaShanah 17a): "They will descend to Gehinnom and be prosecuted for endless generations...; Gehinnom will eventually come to an end, but they shall not."[45]

      See Likkutei Torah by the AriZal, Parshas Bo; Sefer HaLikkutim, Parshas Lech Lecha; Sefer HaGilgulim, ch. 6, which state: "Kares affects only the level of nefesh ... but with regard to the levels of ruach and neshamah ... there is no concept of kares."[46] (See also Amek HaMelech, Shaar Olam HaTohu, ch. 63.)

      [An alternative solution is offered by the text] Assarah Maamaros (Maamar Chikur Din 5:1) which mentions six different categories with regard to the Day of Judgment. [The severe sinners] mentioned above are in the sixth category. That text concludes:

      Gehinnom will be locked shut for them, and they will be prosecuted there for generation upon generation.... After endless generations, however,... it is possible that they will also appreciate the hidden wisdom of He who "devises means so that the estranged will not be cast away from Him."

      This is reflected in our Sages' statement: "Gehinnom will eventually come to an end, but they shall not." We interpret this as our Sages[47] interpret the verse:[48] "I will exhaust My arrows against them," i.e., My arrows will be exhausted, i.e., this is the ultimate suffering, [but they - the Jewish people - will not]. Similarly, Gehinnom, which is the ultimate punishment, will come to an end. [G-d's] arrows and Gehinnom will not cease for the entire time [G-d] is wrathful upon them and rebukes them.[49] But ultimately, [the wicked themselves] shall not come to an end. (Instead, they will be rectified in the all-inclusive rectification.)... In truth, there is nothing eternal except the attribute of goodness. (Suffering and Gehinnom, by contrast, will come to an end.)

      The Emek HaMelech (Shaar Tikkunei HaTeshuvah, sec. 3) echoes this understanding, stating with regard to very grave sinners:

      They are estranged completely... until the coming of His word with His great and abundant mercies which He expresses "so that the estranged will not be cast away from Him." At the time of His reckoning, He elevates them little by little to correct them and to refine them. At first, they reincarnate....

      Similar concepts apply with regard to the mystical interpretation of kares. One might think that the soul will be obliterated entirely. This is not so. Instead, the interpretation is that [the soul] is cut off from the source of life and reincarnates.

      See also Shaar Kiryat Arba, sec. 152, where further explanation is added:

      After the Era of Mashiach, the Holy One will renew His world. And the place of Gehinnom will also become purified and sanctified. It will be added on to the boundaries of Gan Eden, together with the wicked and the sinners of Israel that are within it.... The arrows of Gehinnom will be exhausted and will be purified by the holiness of Gan [Eden]. There will be a holy dance there, together with the righteous.

    4. Pesachim 54a [quotes Rabbi Yossi as] stating: "The light that G-d created on the second day of Creation [Rashi: 'i.e., the light of Gehinnom'] will not be extinguished forever." This appears to contradict the above explanations.

      [A resolution to this difficulty] has, however, been offered by Asarah Maamaros, Maamar Chikur Din 5:5, and Emek HaMelech, Shaar Shaashuei HaMelech, ch. 1. To quote:

      When Rabbi Yossi says that [the light of] Gehinnom will never be extinguished, his intent is not that it will be perpetuated eternally, but rather that it will continue for the entire duration of this world.[50] When, however, the Holy One, blessed be He, will destroy [the existing gestalt of] our world, nullifying evil, and the tranquillity of Shabbos will encompass all existence, Gehinnom will also be nullified.

    5. Rosh HaShanah17a states that "The sinners of Israel with their bodies descend to Gehinnom where they are prosecuted for twelve months, after which their bodies cease to exist. Their souls are burned, and the wind scatters them under the feet of the righteous." Here, too, [a superficial glance] gives the impression that these souls will not be resurrected. The Ramban, Shaar HaGammul, however, [offers a resolution which reconciles this passage with the above concepts]. To quote:

      "Their souls will be burned and become dust"; i.e., they will undergo a change of form from their previous state, just as something burned returns to ashes. The spirit of the Holy One, the spirit of magnanimity and gratification, will scatter them under the feet of the righteous; i.e., on a level below the pleasure and tranquility enjoyed by the righteous.

      A similar interpretation is offered in Asarah Maamaros, Maamar Chikur Din 5:7 and in Emek HaMelech, Shaar Abba VeImma, ch. 46. To quote:

      This is a wondrous divination reflecting the kindness and truth [G-d bestows] upon the wicked.... They will become entirely holy, close to the level of the righteous who will be above them to the extent that they can be described as "the ashes under the feet of the righteous."

  5. There remains to explain [a concept which] is not understood: How can [the wicked] be corrected?

    It has been explained above that completely wicked people [who have committed] serious [sins] will be rectified through reincarnation. See Reishis Chochmah, Shaar HaYirah, end of ch. 13, in the name of his teacher, the Ramak (this concept is also stated in Shiur Komah, ch. 84) which explains that the process of reincarnation cleanses and augments [the soul] in a manner which cannot be accomplished through Gehinnom.

    If so, it is difficult to understand, for our Sages state that the soul will reincarnate only three times (aside from the first time it descended to the world, as stated in Shaar HaGilgulim, Introduction 4, and Sefer HaGilgulim, ch. 6). The source for this statement is the Zohar Chadash (Parshas Ki Seitzei, p. 107):

    Rabbi Shimon says: "These liable ones, if they do not rectify themselves in these three opportunities [in which they reincarnate], they will never be corrected. This is the intent of the verse: 'That soul shall surely be cut off before Me.' "

    This limitation applies only to "the liable ones." The righteous, in contrast, may reincarnate many times, as [intimated by the verse]:[51] "He performs kindnesses thousandfold to those who love Him" (as stated in the Tikkunei Zohar, the conclusion of Tikkun 32; see also Shaar HaGilgulim and Sefer HaGilgulim, loc. cit., which explain the rationale). Thus it would appear that there is no hope for the wicked people [who committed] serious [sins] and were reincarnated three times, but failed to correct their iniquity.

    This difficulty is, however, resolved in several sources, among them the Sheloh (Torah Or, Parshas Ki Seitzei) quoting Rav Shlomo Alkabetz:

    Those people who reincarnate, but who have not repented after their third reincarnation ... will no longer reincarnate [as humans], but [instead,] as beasts and animals, both pure and impure. The less serious [judgment] receives precedence. This is intimated by the verse:[52] "G-d does all these things with man two or three times." [I.e., in a human form, two or three times;] afterwards, as an animal.

    A person who did not descend to the ultimate G-dly intent of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai might think that he placed a distance [between sinners and G-d through his statements in the Zohar Chadash]. A person who contemplates his words, however, appreciates that he drew them close.

    (See also relevant statements in the Tikkunei Zohar, the conclusion of Tikkun 32; see also Shaar HaGilgulim and Sefer HaGilgulim, loc. cit.)

    The Emek HaMelech (Shaar Tikkunei HaTeshuvah, ch. 1) [echoes this conception,] stating:

    "[The limitation of three times applies] "with man"; i.e., he will no longer reincarnate in a human form so that he would become "a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth."[53] [Instead,] he will reincarnate in inanimate matter, plants, animals, or in demons and harmful spirits.... [These forms] are below the source of life. This is the intent of the verse:[54] "That soul shall be cut off before Me." It is decreed that they will suffer more severe punishments than those of Gehinnom. (And then they will spend twelve months in Gehinnom.) Ultimately, there is hope for them, once they have received their punishments. For His mercies to His created beings have not ceased.

To conclude with a quote from the Emek HaMelech (Shaar Raisa DeZaer Anpin, the conclusion of ch. 48):

Blessed be G-d - the G-d of Avraham, the personification of kindness - who has not removed His kindness from His people Israel. None shall be left forlorn, for His mercy to every created being has no end, as it is written: "His mercy is upon all His creations." Thus "'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 pride.' "

With the blessing, "Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,"

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Chairman of the Executive Committee



  1. (Back to text) [An adaptation of this letter was printed in To Live and Live Again (SIE, NY 5756). Our translation has borrowed from that text and its references.]

  2. (Back to text) [Sanhedrin 10:1.]

  3. (Back to text) [The non-corporeal world of the souls.]

  4. (Back to text) [Tehillim 24:3-4.]

  5. (Back to text) See the commentaries to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin, loc. cit., Rav Saadia Gaon in the text HaEmunos VehaDeos, in the conclusion of the discourse on the Resurrection of the Dead, the commentaries to the Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 8:9. A reply was given to the opinions which differ with the thesis expounded in this treatise by the text Avodas HaKodesh, Vol. II, chs. 41-43; a digest is quoted by the Shaloh, in the introduction to the portion Beis David.

    At that time, there was a possibility for there to be a divergence of opinion regarding these matters. Nevertheless, after the word of G-d has been revealed to (to borrow the wording of Rav Chayim Vital in his introduction to Shaar HaHakdamos) "... the great, G-dly, and pious Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi (the AriZal) who is filled with the Torah as a pomegranate [is filled with seeds] regarding Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud, with regard to the dialectic discussion of the Midrashim, the Aggados, with regard to the secrets of Creation and the secrets of the Divine chariot," there is no longer any room for a difference of opinion and the halachah follows the words of the AriZal. His opinion is that stated above and explained further on.

  6. (Back to text) [Chagigah 27a.]

  7. (Back to text) [I.e., the individuals mentioned in the mishnayos, Sanhedrin, ch. 10.]

  8. (Back to text) See Yevamos 32b; Sanhedrin 47a.

  9. (Back to text) [Sanhedrin 104a states that a father cannot help his son attain a portion in the World to Come. Sotah 10b, however, states that through King David's prayers, his rebellious son Avshalom was granted such a privilege. 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.

  10. (Back to text) [I.e., R. Elisha ben Avuyah, a student of Rabbi Akiva who achieved great success in Torah study. He was called Acher, the other, i.e., the estranged, because despite having reached these heights of study, he deviated from Jewish practice. See the sources mentioned in the following note.]

  11. (Back to text) On the surface, explanation is required: Since R. Yochanan shared no special connection to Elisha ben Avuyah, why was it he who sought to - and was able to - save him?

    It is possible to offer the following explanation. Our Sages cite several incidents, each occurring at different times, as factors which led Acher to abandon Jewish practice. It is likely that the Sages are not arguing about the events, [i.e., whether or not they occurred]. Instead, one cited one factor and one cited another, but they all indeed transpired. Or perhaps, the Sages are arguing as to which factor is most important, but they agree that they all are relevant and that they all served as causes.

    The first of the many reasons [they cite] was the fact that when Acher's mother was pregnant with him, she was overpowered by the smell of the meat of an idolatrous sacrifice, and she was compelled to eat from it (see Chagigah 15a, Tosafos entry Shuvu, citing the Yerushalmi, Rus Rabbah 3:13, Koheles Rabbah 7:8, and Yalkut Shimoni there; see also the discussion of this incident in Letter No. 132 [translated in this text]) .

    This incident could serve as an defense to minimize the guilt of Elisha ben Avuyah [for the cause for his transgression had its source in his mother's conduct, not his own]. Nevertheless, to cite a corresponding situation, our Sages state (Yoma 35b): "Hillel obligates the poor," [i.e., if anyone blames his lack of study on his poverty, 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, yet he [grew up righteous] (Yoma 82b; see also the Yalkut Shimoni, Koheles, loc. cit., which states regarding Acher's mother; she could not contain herself until they gave her...).

    Therefore the requests of a person other than R. Yochanan would not be as effective on Acher's behalf, for the situation of R. Yochanan would still obligate him. Therefore it was R. Yochanan who could have been an accuser, who became his defender.

  12. (Back to text) [I.e., shame or embarrassment.]

  13. (Back to text) [Sanhedrin, loc. cit.]

  14. (Back to text) It cannot be argued conclusively that the passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi does not follow the accepted halachah, because it contradicts the Babylonian Talmud. [To explain: the Babylonian Talmud,] Rosh HaShanah 17a, states that "the minnim (heretics) ... who sinned, and caused the many to sin like Yeravam and his colleagues will descend to Gehinnom and will be judged there for generation upon generation." (See the explanation of this passage later on.) It is, however, possible to explain that Rosh HaShanah, op. cit., is speaking about people who conduct themselves like Yeravam and his colleagues, but not about they themselves, because "the attribute of judgment was visited upon them" afterwards.

    See Sanhedrin 104b which states that "The interpreters of the verses would say that all of them (i.e., even Yeravam and his colleagues) will enter the World to Come." Nevertheless, the wording of the passage gives the indication that this opinion differs with that of the Mishnah.

    It does not appear to me that the Amoraim of the passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi follow the approach of "the interpreters of the verses" and differ with the Mishnah which states that Yeravam and his colleagues will not receive a portion. For the fact that the passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi does not mention the mishnah from ch. 10 of Sanhedrin indicates that it is not relevant to the subject under discussion.

    The explanation is as above: After the passage of time, retribution was visited upon Yeravam and his colleagues. Under such circumstances, even the mishnah would agree [that they receive a portion of the World to Come]. The question and the doubt raised by the Talmud Yerushalmi was only whether the retribution [they received] and the merit [of Eretz Yisrael] will be sufficient or not.

    There is another difference between the mishnah in Sanhedrin and the passage from the Talmud Yerushalmi. The mishnah speaks about the resurrection of the body and the soul together. In that context, it states that Yeravam and his colleagues will not be resurrected, for their bodies were destroyed. The Talmud Yerushalmi, in contrast, is speaking about their souls. They will arise in the Era of the Resurrection, but in other bodies. See the statements in Sefer HaGilgulim, ch. 5, and Shaar HaGilgulim, Introduction 11, which are quoted in sec. IV [of this Epistle].

    Support for the thesis that the mishnah concerning Yeravam and his colleagues is not speaking about [the resurrection of] their souls can be derived from another mishnah in that same chapter, concerning the same subject. Sanhedrin 107b states: "The generation of the dispersion [that occurred after the construction of the Tower of Babel] will not possess a portion of the World to Come. A question was raised concerning this (in Toras Shmuel of the Rebbe Maharash, Shaar 6, [Hemshech Zos Chanukas HaMizbeach, 5640] ch. 14, and similarly, in the maamar from Shabbos Parshas Tzav, 5639) based on the statements of the Pri Etz Chayim (Shaar Chag HaMatzos, ch. 10) that the Jews in Egypt were a reincarnation of the generation of the dispersion. This difficulty is resolved by explaining that the bodies [of the generation of the dispersion] will never be repaired, but their souls were refined through the enslavement in Egypt.

    A similar resolution must be offered according to the opinion of Rabbi Akiva who states (in the mishnah cited) that the generation which journeyed through the desert [with Moshe] will not be given a portion in the World to Come. For it is stated (Shaar HaLikkutim, Shmos 3:4; Shaar HaGilgulim, Introduction 20) that the generation which journeyed through the desert will be reincarnated in the final generation [before the coming of Mashiach]. See, however, the text Asarah Maamaros, the maamar entitled Chikur Din, sec. 2, ch. 8, which interprets Rabbi Akiva's statements otherwise.

    Afterwards, I found an interpretation of the statement of the mishnah (Sanhedrin, loc. cit.): "The spies will not receive a portion in the World to Come" in the Zohar (Vol. III, p. 276a) which states: "[The spies] were smitten in their bodies; they died a bodily death." The Mikdash Melech interprets the Zohar as follows: "'The death of their bodies' is what the mishnah meant by saying that they will not receive a portion in the World to Come; their bodies will not be resurrected. Their souls, however, will reincarnate [and thus merit the resurrection in other bodies]." (This interpretation resolves the question of the Nitzutzei Oros to the Zohar, loc. cit.)

    Similarly, Megaleh Amukos, Ofen 158 (quoted in Yalkut Chadash, the conclusion of Maareches David) states that in the Future Era, Yeravam will be rectified ... for his spark comes from holiness. It can be explained that the intent is with regard to his soul alone.

    A simple reading of the passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi, however, appears to imply that even the bodies of Yeravam and his colleagues will arise in the Era of the Resurrection.

    Regardless of the manner in which the passage from the Talmud Yerushalmi is interpreted, with regard to [people of] those categories concerning whom our Sages said they will not receive a portion in the World to Come, the intent is that their bodies will be destroyed, but their souls will arise in the Era of the Resurrection, as stated in Sefer HaGilgulim and Shaar HaGilgulim, loc. cit.

  15. (Back to text) [I.e., seemingly, the same concept applies to Yeravam as Yehoyakim; because of his own conduct, he was not worthy of receiving a portion in the World to Come, but because of the retribution his body received after his death, he will be granted such a portion.]

  16. (Back to text) Yirmeyahu 22:19.

  17. (Back to text) [Hence it can be considered as being relevant to his individual destiny.]

  18. (Back to text) [Thus it did not relate to them individually.]

  19. (Back to text) [I.e., although they will in fact merit resurrection, with regard to their own spiritual destiny, they are not worthy of it.]

  20. (Back to text) [Moreh Nevuchim 3:34.]

  21. (Back to text) [Yirmeyahu, ch. 24.]

  22. (Back to text) [Their interpretation is based on the fact that the same Hebrew word duda'im can mean either "baskets" as in the passage from Yirmeyahu or refer to the fragrant plants called mandrakes.]

  23. (Back to text) [Shir HaShirim 7:14.]

  24. (Back to text) [Ibid. 1:12.]

  25. (Back to text) [A fragrant herb; see Kerisus 6a.]

  26. (Back to text) [The Talmud interprets the verse as implying that a bride - even when unfaithful - still may be considered attractive. Implied is that even sinners who have not been faithful to G-d may still produce appealing fragrance.]

  27. (Back to text) [I.e., referring to the passage from Eruvin cited above.]

  28. (Back to text) [A person who serves G-d without the proper intent.]

  29. (Back to text) [Cf. Tehillim 34:12.]

  30. (Back to text) [Cf. Hoshea 2:1.]

  31. (Back to text) [Yeshayahu 60:21 which states: "[The Jewish people are] the branch of My planting, the work of My hands...." This verse is also the prooftext cited by the mishnah: "All Israel possess a portion in the World to Come."]

  32. (Back to text) [The intent is, as reflected in Tanya, ch. 2) that G-d endowed man with life by "breath[ing] into his nostrils a living soul" (Bereishis 2:7). The Torah employs the simile of breathing to teach that the soul has its source in G-d's core, because "when one breathes deeply, [he] breathes out from his depths."]

  33. (Back to text) [Koheles Rabbah 3:1. This refers to the creation and destruction of the world of Tohu. The Kabbalists explain that the shattering of the vessels of that world led to the materialistic gestalt that permeates our existence and allows for the possibility of evil.]

  34. (Back to text) [For He destroyed the world of Tohu which brought about the possibility for evil.]

  35. (Back to text) [I Shmuel 2:6.]

  36. (Back to text) Similar concepts are reflected in Makkos 7a which states: "Were we to have been among the Sanhedrin, no person would ever have been executed." And Zavim 2:2 states: "You are not obligated to declare people as zavim." There is, however, a slight challenge to the [thesis that Torah laws could have been commanded though they never would be applied] from Menachos 37a which quotes [Rebbe as telling a student]: "Either accept exile or a ban of ostracism" [for asking about a totally theoretical situation which could never actually happen]. See also Bava Basra 23b and Niddah 24a. Also note the maamar entitled Lehavin Paretei HaHalachos in Kuntres Acharon in Tanya. This is not the place for further discussion of this issue.

  37. (Back to text) According to this explanation, the clause "These are [the individuals] who do not possess a portion" is not the direct opposite of the opening clause of the mishnah: "All Israel possess a portion in the World to Come...." For with regard to the souls, the souls of [all Jews,] even those singled out as not having a portion, will possess a portion in the World to Come.

    On this basis, we can appreciate the precise wording of the mishnah which uses the phrase: "All Israel possess ... These are [the individuals] who do not possess a portion..." instead of saying - using more common and also more concise wording - "All Israel possess... except."

    It is not appropriate to argue that the mishnah says "These are" rather than "except" because it interrupts by citing a prooftext: "And Your nation..." after making its opening statement. For we see that the opening mishnah of both Zevachim and of Menachos likewise interpolate explanatory matter between a general principle and its exceptions, and still conclude using the expression "except." (See also Yevamos 2:5.)

    Similarly, it is not appropriate to argue that the mishnah does not use the term "except," because it is necessary to introduce its lengthy list (of those who do not have a share in the World to Come). For we see a parallel case at the beginning of Tractate Chagigah (and likewise in the above-mentioned citations from Zevachim and Menachos), [where many exceptions are mentioned,] and yet the word "except" is nevertheless used.

    The rationale is that the term "except" implies an absolute exclusion, while "These are" expresses a more temperate reservation.

  38. (Back to text) The AriZal's Shaar Maamarei Razal (Sanhedrin 90a) and Shaar HaGilgulim, Introduction 24, explain a distinction between the souls of all Israel who will possess a portion of the World to Come and those singled out by our Sages as not possessing a portion. Nevertheless, there is no contradiction to the explanations above that the souls of the entire Jewish people without any exception will arise in the Era of the Resurrection.

    [The resolution is] that the statements in these works of the AriZal refer to the reward granted the souls in the World to Come - i.e., the non-corporeal world of the souls, which the soul experiences directly after its death. This is also referred to as the World to Come. See the maamar entitled Lehavin Inyan HaAvos. (See also Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 8:8. His statements on this subject reflect the comments found in Midrash Rabbi Nechuniah ben HaKanah which are taken from Sefer HaBahir and found in the Hashmatos LiZohar, Vol. I, p. 265a. They are quoted by the Ramban, Shaar HaGammul and the Ikkarim. The text Avodas HaKodesh differs concerning this. Explanation is necessary.) Thus those statements do not at all refer to the Era of the Resurrection and the reward which the souls will experience in a body.

  39. (Back to text) Explanation is required as to why the Rambam cites this opinion in the name of Bereishis Rabbah (13:6; note the commentary of the Yefai Toar) and not in the name of the Talmud in Taanis.

  40. (Back to text) [Sukkos 45b.]

  41. (Back to text) See Zohar, Vol. I, p. 93a, 59b; and Or HaTorah of the Tzemach Tzedek, the beginning of Parshas Noach.

  42. (Back to text) [Bamidbar 15:31.]

  43. (Back to text) [Implied is that kares has two dimensions:

    1. Premature death; 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 understanding of kares and explains why this does not always happen in the present era.

    2. The cutting off of the soul, implying that it would perish. This point appears to contradict the thesis that the soul is eternal advanced by the treatise.]

  44. (Back to text) [Yeshayahu 66:24.]

  45. (Back to text) [According to the simple meaning, our Sages are saying that their punishment will not end. Note, however, the Kabbalistic interpretations mentioned further on.]

  46. (Back to text) [As stated in Bereishis Rabbah 14:9; Devarim Rabbah 2:9, there are five levels within the soul (in ascending order): nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah, and yechidah. Kares affects only the level of Nefesh, the lowest level which is most closely associated with the body. It cannot affect the higher, more spiritual dimensions of the soul.]

  47. (Back to text) [Sotah 9a.]

  48. (Back to text) [Devarim 32:23.]

  49. (Back to text) [Cf. Yeshayahu 54:9.]

  50. (Back to text) [The word used by Rabbi Yossi olamim can be interpreted as "for eternity." The root olam, however, also means "world." Thus his statements can be interpreted as meaning that Gehinnom will be perpetuated for the duration of this world.]

  51. (Back to text) [Shmos 20:6.]

  52. (Back to text) [Iyov 33:29.]

  53. (Back to text) [Cf. Bereishis 4:14.]

  54. (Back to text) [Vayikra 22:3; i.e., the soul will exist on a plane of existence that is not "before G-d."]

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