Dynamism and Rest in the World to Come

  • Rav Yitzchak Blau
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Understanding Aggada
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur 25: Dynamism and Rest in the World to Come

by Rav Yitzchak Blau

R. Chiyya bar Ashi said in the name of Rav: "Talmidei Chakhamim have no rest in this world or in the next world as it says 'They will go from strength to strength and appear before God in Zion' (Tehillim 84:7)." (Berakhot 64a)

Let us begin by noting the part of the statement that seems easy to understand. We can well appreciate Rav Ashi's idea with regard to this world. Indeed, we do not envision the goal of this world as achieving an eternal siestsa on the beach with a pina colada in hand. Rather, we view this world as a place for constant striving and accomplishment. The ubiquitous challenges of character refinement and depth of Torah knowledge insure a continuous sense of growth potential. Indeed, if we truly understood the potential worth and value of every day, we could not possibly aspire to years of serene laziness.

Soren Kierkegaard employs a clever parable for those who would like to finish their responsibilities in life early in order to free themselves up for fun and games.

When in a written examination the youth are allotted four hours to develop a theme, then it is neither here nor there if an individual student happens to finish before the time is up, or uses the entire time. Here, therefore, the task is one thing, the time another. But when the time itself is the task, it becomes a fault to finish before the time has transpired. Suppose a man were assigned the task of entertaining himself for an entire day, and he finishes this task of self –entertainment as early as noon: then his celerity would not be meritorious. So also when life constitutes the task. To be finished with life before life has finished with one, is precisely not to have finished the task. (Concluding Unscientific Postscript)

However, the other half or Rav Ashi's statement surprises us. Rav Ashi states that the scholars will not know rest in the world to come either. Is not the world to come about finding our well-deserved rest after a lifetime of toil and effort? Do we not refer to the future existence as a "day that is all rest and a tranquility for eternal life?" Or do we suddenly discover that we will have to deal with pains, frustrations, sweat and tears in olam haba as well?

R. Shmuel Edels (Maharsha) explains that the righteous sit in the world to come and enjoy the splendor of the divine radiance that comes from intellectual comprehension. On the one hand, this means a constant activity of the mind and soul. On the other hand, the activity in question represents the greatest sense of delight and tranquility. Thus, no contradiction exists in saying both that the world to come represents the ultimate rest and saying that the righteous will not know rest in the world to come.

The Maharal (Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha-Torah 9) concurs with this line of interpretation, arguing that the talmid chakham will know rest but not completion because there is no end to understanding. He adds that it is for this reason that the Torah was given on Shabbat. All aspects of the six days of creation know a cessation of activity on the seventh day. The Torah, which burst forth in its creative splendor on a Shabbat, knows nothing of its activity coming to rest; it does not belong to the physical world of the six days of work

Lest the preceding thoughts about comprehending Divinity appear overly intellectual, I feel confident in stating that these commentaries assume that only those with refined character succeed at enjoying the comprehension of the Divine radiance. We do not need to fully work out this interplay between character and intellect in order to understand that two lifetimes of activity constitute human destiny. Success, when the activity involves a good deal of difficulty and effort, enables the future more serene activity of enjoying our closeness and comprehension of the Divine.