Weekly Torah Commentary — Emor May 2, 2014

Vayikra/Emor 21 – 24

NOTE: Because of the interruption of the Torah readings two weeks ago during Pesach, we mistakenly posted a commentary on EMOR last week. Since it is actually read this week, we are offering an additional commentary on this reading.

This week’s Torah Portion ends with the distressing story of the son of an Egyptian man and Jewish woman who committed the grave sin of blasphemy and as a result was severely punished. The episode begins with the words, “the son of an Israelite woman went out – and he was the son of an Egyptian man – among the Children of Israel…”

The Rabbinical sources and the commentaries point out that the significance of the words, “he went out” is unclear – where did he go out from? Rashi’s explanation is that the man went “out of his world.” In other words, that through blasphemy, he abandoned his place in the World To Come, Olam Haba. Another commentary agrees with this understanding by making note that the wording deliberately says he left “his world” as opposed to “the world”.

This explanation provides us with an important understanding of the Torah outlook with regard to reward and punishment in the world to come. One may think that a person in this world has no intrinsic connection to the next but rather when he dies and goes up, he will receive ‘prizes’ for his good deeds and lose status there because of his sins. The ‘reward’ in the afterlife is viewed as being his prize, similar to the way in which a person collects his reward after winning a raffle.

According to Torah understanding, this is not at all the case. Rather, from birth, we have a soul connection to the next world, to eternal life. Every good deed is noted by God and nourishes our soul towards holiness, thereby directly preparing our place in Olam Haba. In the case of the young man in question here, the sin of blasphemy was so great that he forfeited his place in the world to come. The Here is the key – mark it well: Reward and punishment in the next world is not arbitrary; rather each person creates his own Olam Haba or lack thereof by how we live our life here on this earth.

There is an interesting statement in the Mishnah: “Every Jew has a Portion in the World to Come…”

The commentaries ask is it really true that every Jews is received in the world to come? Actually in a later portion, the Mishnah actually describes those Jews who receive no reward, no place in Olam Haba!

What’s going on here?

The answer is that every person (Jew and Gentile alike) has a place reserved for him BUT each one ‘decides’ by how he lives his life whether or not to maintain that place or not. An analogy of owning land can be used to help further understand this concept. The portion described here is like a plot of land; each person inherits a bare plot of land. It is up to him to tender the plot and plant it so that healthy crops grow in it. If, at the end of one’s tenure of the crop, he has developed it well, then he can reap the rewards of his hard work by enjoying a bountiful harvest. If, however, he neglects the crop, then it will remain undeveloped, and if he mistreats it, by throwing dangerous chemicals into it, for example, then he will damage it. At the end of his tenure he will be left with a useless piece of land.

So too, everyone is born with a lofty soul that is our connection to God and to the next world. If a person busies himself with seeking to know God and doing good works, improving his own moral character with right choices, then we will elevate our soul so that after our deaths our souls will be fitting vessels to enjoy the spiritual wonders of Olam Haba. If, however, he neglects and damages his soul, giving no thought or concern for spiritual matters, that person will be unprepared for the inevitable meeting with his Maker at the end of life.

The way we conduct ourselves in this world determines the state of our portion in the Next World.

There are natural spiritual consequences to one’s actions. Thus, just like in the physical world, it is understood that certain actions, such as walking off the roof of a building, will cause great damage, the same is true in the spiritual world. It is true that no one is perfect and everyone fails. However, God has provided a way for us to turn back to Him – repentance. When we repent of our failings and sins, He forgives us and puts us back on the path of righteousness.

In Tune with Torah this week = Is the reality of a ‘world to come’ a part of your life? Does it impact your decisions and behavior? If not, it needs to, beginning right now. Let us live, not just for today, but knowing that one day all of us will face our Maker. May we be prepared to enter into Eternal Life in peace and joy at that time.

Shabbat Shalom