Elisha ben Avuya 2


(This is a follow-up question to a question that was previously asked).

According to what you are saying, the story about the boy who died trying to fulfill his father's wishes and the disgrace to the teacher of Torah (Kiddushin 39b) seem to be the stimuli that evoked Elisha ben Avuya's initial doubts about Divine providence and justice and that if these unanswered concerns had been resolved by Rabbi Yaakov's principle that "there is no reward for a mitzvoh in this world," the downward slide would never have begun. But according to Tosfos, Abayei also rejects this principle. Apparently, rejecting it still leaves a person with a perfectly acceptable philosophy that will not lead him down the road towards heresy.


According to Tosfos, Rabbi Yaakov
maintains that it is impossible for people to be rewarded for mitzvos in this world.
The nature of eternal good, which is the experience of being close to Hashem, cannot
be duplicated in this world. All the pleasures experienced by all humans who ever
lived throughout history put into one moment cannot even approximate the kind of
pleasure that is found in olam habo. How many toffees does it take to match
the pleasure of having a wife? Abayei disagrees. He holds that it is possible
for Hashem to recompense a person in this world for Torah and mitzvos.

Abayei was not the only one to
believe that a reward for mitzvos is possible in this world. The well-respected
medieval philosopher Rav Yosef Albo wrote the same notion in the year 5185 (1425).
In Sefer Ikarim (4:36), Rav Albo postulates that technically it is only fitting
for Hashem to reward people for their actions in this world with benefit in this
world (olam hazeh). He argues that when there is a wage dispute between an
employer and an employee as to what standard should be used to assess compensation;
whether it should be according to the benefit to the employer or according to the
work of the laborer, the wages should be determined on the basis of the nature of
the work done. Remuneration should correspond to the work as much as possible. Therefore,
if a person used his body to do things, he should be compensated in some way that
the body can benefit. The same is true for punishment. Someone who caused another
person to suffer for an hour should suffer a similar pain himself for an hour. The
reward should not be based on the benefit to the employer and according to the employer's
standard. Hashem in His mercy has decided to reward us according to His standards
and compensate for actions in olam hazeh with olam habo. (This is
Rav Albo's thesis. Personally, I see grounds for debating his logic. Perhaps we
can view Torah and mitzvos as affecting much more than the physical world. If man
can affect the spiritual world through his actions, he should be entitled to a heavenly
reward. Rav Albo's novel approach goes further, stating that punishment technically
goes according to the heavenly dimension, since the essence of sin is a refusal
to listen to Hashem. Since the offense is spiritual in nature, the retribution should
be spiritual.)

Perhaps the best way to understand
how Hashem gives a reward for a mitzvoh here in this world may be to view
sechar mitzvos not merely as payment for doing something good, but as a natural
result of the mitzvoh. The action itself brings the neshomoh closer
to Hashem; it purifies and perfects the soul.[1]
If the earned perfection of the neshomoh is realized in the next world, the
neshomoh will shine with radiance befitting the excellence it actually attained.
It will experience closeness to Hashem that is an indescribable pleasure from our
earthly perspective. In this world, the reward can only be in earthly parameters,
expressed as physical pleasure.[2]
But since olam habo is eternal pleasure, no amount of pleasure in olam
can be equivalent to it. It is not as if Hashem would exchange two units
of olam habo pleasure for two hundred units of olam hazeh pleasure.
Rather, the same perfection of the neshomoh will be manifested in dramatically
different ways depending on where the change to the neshomoh is actualized.[3]

The radiance of the neshomoh
shines forth in the next world with such brilliance that the effect is eternal pleasure
of the most extraordinary type. The reason is that olam habo has the right
tools with which to decrypt the perfection the neshomo attained when the
person did a mitzvoh. This earthly world is not well equipped to unmask the
perfected neshomo and will only unveil the benefits that can be revealed
in this physical world.

I suggest that Abayei and Elisha
thought it possible to benefit from the perfection of the neshomoh in this
world. Elisha assumed that the Torah promises such a benefit.[4]
Abayei understood that it is possible and Rabbi Yaakov maintained that it is impossible.

This is merely my speculation.
I am reminded of the words of the Noda Biyehuda:

וז''ל כל
דברי בעלי התלמוד כלם ניתנו מרעה אחד ואין בהם דברי ריק ובטל, ואם ריק הוא מאתנו הוא
לקוצר שכלנו ולחולשת עיני אור השגתינו להשיג מה שרמזו בהם, ובודאי האדם לעצמו כשיש
לו פנאי ראוי לחקור בכל כחו גם בדברי אגדה, אבל אני לא אמרתי אלא שאין דרכי להשיב בהם
לשואל כי כל דברי רז''ל בדברי אגדה סגורים וסתומים וכלם קשים להבין, ואם באנו להשיב
בהם אין לדבר סוף, ובפרט איש כמוני אשר עול הרבים עלי, די שאני נפנה להשיב בדבר הנוגע
למעשה עכ''ל הנו''ב במהדו''ת יו''ד סימן קס''א.

BookID: 10 Chapter: 15a


Reward received for positive behavior is not an entirely separate entity
from the behavior that caused the reward. The behavior itself creates a
spiritual realm (specific to the type of mitzvoh done) that can transmit
positive influence to the world and particularly to the neshomoh that is most closely associated with that newly formed realm, i.e., the
neshomoh that produced it. The opposite happens when an aveiroh
is done. Thus, every action carries within it the reward or punishment.


Assuming that reward is created as soon as a mitzvoh is done and
the spiritual realm formed is a metaphysical reality waiting for the neshomoh that created it to draw influence and benefit from it, perhaps
another stage can be suggested. The reward (which already exists in the
spiritual realm as soon as a mitzvoh is done) can metamorphose from
spiritual to physical. The very same reward that in the spiritual realm
is eternal and infinitely holy can take on finite, physical characteristics.
In the transformation from the spiritual to the physical realm, pleasure
and enjoyment as found in the spiritual realm are reduced to fleeting, mortal
pleasures here in olam hazeh.


The natural place for the manifestation of the perfection of the neshomoh
is the spiritual realm. The neshomoh is a spiritual entity and perfecting
it creates a closeness to Hashem that is properly appreciated in that realm.
It is difficult to find a good analogy. To clarify my point, I will try
to offer some analogies and explain why I think they are imperfect.

Likening the spiritual realm created
by a mitzvoh to a cloud may help in understanding reward in olam
. The cloud remains a cloud in its environment only. As soon as
climactic changes take place, the cloud changes form and precipitates as
rain or snow. The new form of the same water molecule is appropriate for
the new environment. Similarly, when the perfected neshomoh created
the spiritual realm, it was appropriate for the metaphysical world. If it
is brought into the environment of olam hazeh, it changes form and
takes on physical characteristics that are recognizable and appropriate
for olam hazeh. The analogy is imperfect on many accounts. For one
thing, clouds are also part of the physical environment and the system is
set up so that the clouds will eventually reach the precipitation stage.
In contrast, the spiritual realm is not physical at all and is never really
meant to transform into something physical. However, it can when Hashem
decides that it should. When that happens it loses all spiritual attributes
and adopts physical properties. That is because only such features can be
observed in olam hazeh.

To illustrate this, I shall offer another
analogy. Some creatures
have more retinal cell types than others and can see much more. Humans,
for example, have a paltry four retinal cell types and cannot see either
UV or polarized light. The peacock mantis shrimp (and some other Stomapods),
have 16 different kinds of light-sensing retinal cells. They have four for
UV light, plus sensitivity to patterns of polarization and exceptional spatial
perception. They are the unrivaled visual masters, with the world's most
complex eyes. This allows them to see things in the depths of the reef that
others cannot see. In natural light, 80 feet down in the reef, red is invisible,
blue dominates and yellow blends in with the reef. Absorbed by water molecules,
plankton and debris, the longer wavelengths of red dissipate at about 30
feet of vertical depth. If an artificial strobe light 80 feet below the
sea's surface is aimed at the reef, brilliant shades of red will become
visible. Some creatures see it all the time; some don't. It all depends
on your eyes.

the neshomoh is only properly appreciated in the spiritual world
and not in olam hazeh. Therefore, when the spiritual realm created
by the mitzvoh is forcibly transposed to exist unnaturally in olam hazeh, Hashem gives it characteristics that are suitable for the
dimension we live in. The "reward"
carries none of the spiritual aspects that it had while in the spiritual
realm. The reward becomes something that our senses can enjoy and derive
pleasure from.

is part of why the second analogy is also not perfect. The reef and fish
deep in the sea can be seen at the same time by mantis shrimp at their high
level of vision and by humans at their level. They have the same characteristics
no matter who is looking at them, but not all of these characteristics are
recognizable by humans.

way I understand reward for neshomos is quite different. The neshomoh
attains perfection when the body it is in does, says, or even thinks something
right. The perfected neshomoh can experience its reward in only one
realm. The natural place for this to happen is the spiritual world—olam
. If the neshomoh must realize its pleasure in this world
(olam hazeh), it will do so, but then it can only be appreciated
in the physical dimension. Once the permutation has taken place, the good
produced by the perfected neshomoh will have been used in this world
for whatever can be appreciated here and cannot afterwards be reactivated
in the next world.

The idea
that one can use up one's merit of olam habo while still in this
world seems quite clear from a number of aggadic sources. When Rabbi Eliezer
was ill, his students came to visit him and cried. Rabbi Akiva, his disciple,
was joyous. He explained that he was happy to see his master suffering,
since now he was convinced that Rabbi Eliezer had not received the reward
he deserved in this world (Sanhedrin 101a).

Rabbi Shimon
ben Chalafta didn't have enough money to buy food for Shabbos. He prayed
and received a precious gem from heaven. But when he sold the gem and brought
home food for Shabbos, his wife demanded that he return the money, since
she did not want them to use up a significant portion of pleasure in heaven
for physical, earthly benefit. They brought their disagreement to his rebbi,
who eventually sided with his student's wife (Midrosh Rabbah, Parshas Pekudei

The explanation
I have suggested may resolve the issue of how this is possible even though,
clearly, there can be no fair trade between rewards in olam habo
and rewards in olam hazeh.


Whether Elisha thought pleasure is possible only in this world and not in
olam habo is unclear to me. Perhaps he realized that the neshomoh
can achieve perfection and pleasure in the next world but was certain that
the Torah meant the text literally.

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