Pirkei Avot 6:1: Double Worlds: This World and the Next World

Pirkei Avot 6:1: The sages expounded, using the language of the Mishnah (blessed is He who chose them and their teachings)…

The Magid of Kozhnitz explains that the word Mishnah also means “double.” In the context of the mishnah above, it would mean that the ‘language (of the sages) is double – above and below.” When true scholars study Torah, they do so on two parallel levels: the literal meaning of the words is in this world, and the study of the soul root in the next, Divine world (olam habah).

The very fact that there are two worlds, this world and the next world, parallels the journey from the Written Torah to the Oral Torah. In the Written Torah, there is no explicit mention of the next world. It first appears in the Mishnah (Oral Torah), such as in the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot, “All of Israel has a portion in the world to come.”

The Mishnah in the tractate of Berachot explains why there was a need to introduce the concept of the next world:

After reciting a blessing in the Temple, one would say, “Blessed is the God of Israel min ha’olam” (literally “from the world”). But, when heretics (who negated the concept of resurrection of the dead) twisted this to mean that there is only one world, they changed it to, “min ha’olam v’ad ha’olam” (literally, “from the world to the world”).[1]

In Biblical times and until the beginning of the Second Temple era, there were as yet no heretics and there was no need to speak of the next world. It was clear that there was Godliness behind the physicality of this world and that both together reflected God’s will. Just as God is One, so the world is one. Moreover, the Torah emphasizes this world. Its blessings and promises are material and tangible. Thus, it was possible to speak of only one world and to bless “from the world”- which includes both the material and the Divine. An example of this perspective is Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, who regarded death as a simple passage, saying that for him, death is like passing from one room to the next.

Only later, in the time of the Second Temple, when heretics abounded, it became necessary to speak clearly of this material world and the Divine next world: “From the (this) world until the (next) world.” This effectively created a distinction between Godliness and physicality, a distinction that was the product of a flawed reality – in the hope that it would remind everyone of Godliness, even in situations when all that could be seen was physicality. This is the approach of the double meanings of the Mishnah: A person is in this world, but also ‘broadcasts’ to the next world. It is not all literally one.

In the future, however, “On that day God will be One and His Name will be One.”[2]  The distinction created during the exile between Divinity and physicality will be nullified and the fact that the world is one will once again be revealed to all.

The most fitting place for the realization of this unification is in the land of Israel – the land that is so holy that even its stones and dust are holy.[3] Moreover, the unification between world and Divinity in the future will be loftier than it was originally because the uniqueness of each of its components has been elucidated and will be retained. This physical world and the Godly next world will be unified and manifest as one glorious world.

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[1] Berachot 9:5 and following the commentary of Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura)

[2] Zechariah 14:9.

[3] It is only in the Land of Israel that there are mitzvahs that are dependent upon physicality. These are the mitzvahs that can only be performed in the Land of Israel. In addition, the Land of Israel is the Land of our patriarchs, the Land of the Bible, which was originally all one world. Only with the advent of the exile and the descent from the Land of Israel was the concept of a second world, a Divine next world, integrated into Jewish thought.

Photo by Lucas Sandor on Unsplash

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